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While literature and film are
popular subjects for modern schools, serving as a great exemplum of the
period’s culture, they are a limited medium. While novels can be translated,
for instance, these translations and adaptations blur the original meaning and
author’s intent, especially given our increased practices of localization and
censorship. Likewise, a fair portion of the world’s population cannot read or
watch films due to physical/ educational restrictions, meaning these works
cannot reach them. Perhaps most importantly of all, literature and classic
films are simply boring to the average individual; the typical high school
student would rather bang their head against the wall than try and wrap their
head around Shakespeare’s foreign and archaic dialect.

            Fortunately,
we have a medium that all people, even the physically impaired and uneducated,
can enjoy: Music. Music is believed to me one of the oldest forms of art and
can be found in some capacity in every culture around the world. Even the deaf
can feel the effects of musical influence, as rhythm can still be felt by
vibration alone. Likewise, music is perhaps the most well-liked medium known to
man, immersing listeners in another culture.

            To
help teach this medium, I have compiled a small canon from an era most
important to the lives of many of my peers: 2000s rock. Growing off the hard
sound of 90s rock/ grunge and gradually steering away from the power ballads of
the 80s, the 2000s brought us some great hits and new artists ranging from the
soft-rock Coldplay to the Chicago-based punk rockers Rise Against. We saw rock
begin to hold back on gruff guitar solos and begin to incorporate more dynamic
lyrics that resonated with a generation raised in a collapsing economy and
post-9/11 America, with a gothic revival edgy enough to rival The Cure and
experimentations that turned New Wave up to eleven.  While it is impossible to fully capture the
raw emotion and ambition of 2000s rock, this canon aims to best exemplify what
this era was all about. In understanding this subject, students can better
understand what it was like to live in an ever angsty decade, a time of war and
cynicism, and maybe then better wrap their heads around our current social,
cultural, and political climate.

            Few
bands could maintain the hardcore punk aesthetic while still finding mainstream
success, but Green Day did just that. While this punk rock trio certainly
earned respect for their raw attitude in the 90s, they found true mainstream
success with American Idiot (2004).
This concept album, which told the story of a young and underprivileged
American, has widely been acclaimed as one of the greatest albums of our
generation, being loved by both punks and more mainstream fans alike. American Idiot resonated with many
Americans at the time, with the politically charged tracks covertly expounding
on the feelings many of us had during the Bush era. For many of my peers, we
can scarcely remember the pre-9/11 days and have been at war for the majority
of our lives, and with that we’ve grown up with a certain unease. This album
manages to capture these feelings of disquiet through not only the heavy lyrics
but the post-grunge music itself.

            On
a similar note, UK-based rock band Muse has been a staple of alt rock/ rebel
music since their conception. With frontman Matt Bellamy’s striking voice and
daunting lyrics accompanied by a heavy electronic influence, Muse has found
massive success both in the mainstream (being featured in movies like Twilight) and the rising alt-rock scene.
Not only that, but they’re considered one of the major influences for the broad/catch-all
genre of ‘alternative’ that we saw reach more mainstream success in the 2010s
with bands like Imagine Dragons and Twenty-One Pilots. While it’s difficult if
not impossible to name an objectively best album from this band’s expansive
collection, Absolution (2003) is arguably
their best work. The album is best described as the apocalyptic wet dream of a hysterical
genius watching the world he once knew crumble before his very eyes, backed
with a masterful hybrid between orchestra, opera, and electronic rock. Religious
undertones and overtones alike, from the Rapture-esque album art to the
explicit “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist” and “Apocalypse Please” tracks, give the
album a dismal tone that carries the listener to a world on the brink of
complete and utter demise. Like Green Days’ American
Idiot, this album was seemingly inspired by the increasingly alarming
conflicts overseas, though in this case we’re left feeling unsure of what to
feel. Regardless, the influence this band and album carry is unquestionable.

            Taking
a brief break from the dismal, dark, and depressing, the early 2000s brought us
one of the most beloved and influential sounds of today with the Las Vegas band
The Killers. Seeming to take influence from the likes of David Bowie, U2, and
Duran Duran, the mix of catchy guitar and light electronic influence has become
a staple of what we know today as Indie music. The Killers’ debut album, Hot Fuss (2004), found so much success
that it’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard at least one song off this
album, which spawned hit singles like “Smile Like You Mean It”, “Somebody Told
Me” and the renowned “Mr. Brightside”, the latter of which is informally considered
the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of millennials. The Killers bring us a softer side of
rock, trading aggressive guitar and harsh vocals for a more casual listening
experience. This isn’t to say that Hot
Fuss is a dull or emotionless album; in actuality, the lyrical content
ranges from lightly cynical in “Mr. Brightside” to flat-out dark in “Jenny Was
a Friend of Mine”. While The Killers have changed their sound up over the
years, Hot Fuss still seems to be
their magnum opus. It’s fair to say that millennials found comfort or pleasure
in the sarcasm of this era, especially when you look at the influence and
success of the next band.

            While
the Windy City may be best known for Blues, the Chicago underground scene has
spawned powerhouse acts like Smashing Pumpkins, Rise Against, and one of the
most commercially successful artists of our time: Fall Out Boy. Starting out
with a punk rock sound, complete with frenzied drums and guitar shredding, Fall
Out Boy gradually changed up their sound over the years until they adopted a
much more mainstream sound, resurging in the early 2010s as one of the only
rock bands to chart and make it on the radio. One of Fall Out Boy’s biggest
influences, however, comes their contribution to the Emo subculture.

            While
bands like The Cure popularized the gothic aesthetic and earlier bands like
Jimmy Eat World and Weezer helped shape the genre, it wasn’t until the 2000s
that this genre/ subculture found it true footing. Emo, otherwise known as
‘emotional hardcore’, has an emphasis on lyrical content unseen in other rock
genres, with explicitly personal lyrics and themes. Few bands can capture this
style better than Fall Out Boy, known for their clever and oddball lyrics
penned by the band’s infamous bassist Pete Wentz. The most infamous examples tell
of Wentz’s recollections of love affairs and even his own attempted suicide. Likewise,
the band popularized what came to be a staple of emo culture: Absurdly long
song titles. With tracks like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”, “A
Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me”, “Our Lawyer Made Us
Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued”, and the meta-ironic
“Thnks fr Th Mmrs”, the band branded themselves as a group not caring about what
the mainstream media thought.

            Ironically,
Fall Out Boy is credited as one of the major forces that pushed emo subculture
into the mainstream, with their second studio album From Under the Cork Tree (2005)
launching them into newfound commercial success. Before this album, emo culture
was a niche for the depressed and edgy teens that stumbled upon it; after it’s
2005 release, however, popularity skyrocketed. Their commercial success brought
more bands into the mainstream as well, giving related acts like Panic! at the
Disco and Paramore newfound popularity. Likewise, this helped integrate emo
culture into mainstream culture, with lyrics beginning to get more personal
once again even outside of this niche.

            From Under the Cork Tree, for these reasons,
is an essential album of this era. While it certainly isn’t the band’s best
work, especially considering they’re even stronger today than they were back
then, it perfectly embodies what the band stands for and what they brought to
the table. Hit singles like “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down” are
considered classics, and without this mainstream success the cultural direction
of the 2000s could have gone a completely different direction.

            But
one cannot talk about emo culture without bringing up arguably the most emo
band of the decade: My Chemical Romance. While My Chemical Romance never got as
solid a footing in mainstream culture as Fall Out Boy achieved, they were the
faces of the emo movement in this era. While it’s difficult to understand why
so many people chose to wear all black, dye their hair weird colors, and remain
as pale as possible, listening to what is considered the most emo album of all
time, MCR’s The Black Parade (2006),
can give a brief insight. The Black
Parade, like American Idiot, is a
concept album that follows a troubled protagonist through a tough point in
their lives. In this case, the protagonist is dying and sees death/ the
afterlife as a parade of the dead. As you can imagine from this dreary premise,
this isn’t a positive or cheerful album. While bands a la Fall Out Boy were
blithe with their cynicism, everything being parody and a part of meme culture,
My Chemical Romance was more serious and dark. Understanding both sides of emo
culture is necessary to understanding the culture of the 2000s.

            With
these five albums, one can get a decent understanding of the 2000s rock era. While
songs of protest culture and rebellion aren’t a new concept, they come off
differently when you’ve been raised in a time of war which has lasted since
your earliest memories. Not only that, but the growing cynicism of our times is
reflected heavily in this era. Back in the day, anyone who was depressed and
acted like they wanted to die was called emo; today, we call said people Americans.
The culture presented in this era of music is even more prominent today and,
given current events, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time
soon.

            This
is why it is important to cover this material in our schools. In order to
understand society as it is, we have to understand society as it was. This is
usually interpreted to mean studying ancient history or the culture of a
foreign people, but it is just as important to study our recent history. We
didn’t take the rising cynicism and darkness of the last decade seriously, and
now that things have gotten even worse we are realizing perhaps too late that
it is a problem. What does it mean for our future that we valued and continue
to value angst so much? Nobody can say for sure, but there’s little reason to
believe it’s anything promising.