All photos by Alberto Vargas via PR

We Made Actual Emos Review Princess Nokia's Emo-Inspired Mixtape

The versatile New York rapper put out 'A Girl Cried Red' last Friday, so we got some ex-diehards to chat about it.

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Apr 17 2018, 2:30pm

All photos by Alberto Vargas via PR

Look, emo is having a moment. It’s not my intention to brag, but Noisey sort of called this last year around the time artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and the late Lil Peep were tying the genre to rap in innovative ways. Now, a recent contribution comes from New York rapper Princess Nokia in the form of her emo-inspired mixtape, A Girl Cried Red. You’ve probably already heard about the 25-year-old already, from her four past mixtapes—released under a variety of names, from Destiny to Wavy Spice—and 2017 rap album 1992 Deluxe (an extended version of her 2016 mixtape 1992).

But A Girl Cried Red (named after a song by post-hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance, naturally) sees her tapping into the straightened-fringe-swept-to-the-side roots she’d previously hinted at on “Goth Kid” from 1992 Deluxe (I’m goth as fuck / even when I’m not in black etc) and in interviews. Speaking to Dazed earlier this year, she said that she was “really excited about the emo resurgence that is coming from a genuine place and not just in the way that people are borrowing the word,” adding, “I have to be the first one to be like, Let me be a real representation of this era, because there's a lot to be said about this.” The tape’s eight songs explore Nokia’s emo roots with acoustic guitars, soft vocals and lyrics like “ you’re bleeding on the inside / but nobody here can tell”—which, if it were actually 2005, I would have already pasted into my MSN name.

If it wasn’t clear, like many 25-year-olds, Princess Nokia is emo. Any fans who’ve been following her work or Beats 1 radio show know that this kind of music is her shit. Of course, because emo is so absolutely dominated by aging white male purists who still get wet dreams over Mineral’s debut album, some may refuse to see Princess Nokia’s offering as ‘legitimate.’ They’ve had more than enough trouble wrapping their head around artists like Lil Peep, let alone an afro-indigenous woman who was at school when emo had its first run.

Then again, dinosaurs need to die. And the good thing about Princess Nokia’s A Girl Cried Red is that is basically subverts the toxic masculinity that sits at the heart of the genre; it is pure emo, because it’s someone singing about their pain and longing, but it feels fresh because its creator isn’t another whiny white guy.

Of course, that is what I, an aging emo absolutely sick to death of whiny guy who ruin an otherwise fun genre for everyone else, thinks. But now that Princess Nokia’s staking out her rightful place in the genre I asked some former and current emo diehards of the scene about A Girl Called Red. Would they be ready for its wistful piano, its acoustic guitars, its longing vocals? Is there room for new emo in 2018? Does it “count” if it crosses boundaries into hip hop? Let’s see.

“I think some of the hardcore emo bros are going to hate it”

Noisey: Hi Eddie, what other artists does the tape remind you of?
Eddie, 34: It does remind a bit of Lil Uzi Vert, on tracks that have a more trap-like back beat. But her singing is a lot more informed by third wave emo singers, especially Hayley Williams.

Where do you think A Girl Cried Red fits in with emo as it is today?
I think this is a redefinition of the whole "rap as emo" thing. It's like she took both sides—stuff like Uzi who a lot of people contend isn't emo, and stuff like Paramore—and brought them together on one release to sort of validate the musical duality that older purists refuse to accept exists in modern music.

Do you think it counts as “actual emo”?
Yes it counts as actual emo, but also what is actual emo anyway? I'm old, and I remember even in the late 90s, nobody wanted to admit they were making "emo." People hated that word from day one, and it was only when it became a bigger marketing tool that bands really embraced it.

Do you have any other thoughts about A Girl Cried Red?
I think some of the hardcore emo bros are going to hate it. It goes against everything "emo" has always been—white cis men.

“It’s safe to say there’s no real ‘actual emo’ these days”

Noisey: How emo were you back in the day?
Chad, 22: Put it this way: I used to wear youth large tees paired with a pink studded lowlife belt and dyed black hair, I saw My Chemical Romance support The Used, I named an old band The Repercussions of a Nightmare. I’ve done my time.

What do you think makes an artist emo?
Overtly melodramatic lyrics, arpeggiated acoustic guitar, names like ‘Your Eyes Are Bleeding’ – she’s got it nailed. Subtlety isn’t really the done thing.

Where do you think A Girl Cried Red fits in with emo as it is today?
It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received from people who are yet to check out Nokia. It’s a throwback musically so I’m a little too nostalgia-ridden to see where it fits with younger fans today.

Do you think it counts as “actual emo”? Is it possible to be actually emo in the year 2018?
The Sunny Day Real Estate-fanboy purists would probably have problem with it being labeled as such but they’ve been crying about this stuff since Taking Back Sunday came through so it’s safe to say there’s no real ‘actual emo’ these days.

“Let’s be honest, it’s brilliant to see her crushing it”

Noisey: What do you think makes a song emo in the first place?
Nav, 27: For me it definitely starts with the lyrics—which are honest, painfully relatable and often reference themes and thoughts and existential angst that you feel, probably can’t properly articulate or voice and think you’re alone in. And then your favorite band or artists reminds you that it’s totally normal to feel that way and deliver those emotions with a fucking killer melody that just perfectly complements and elevates all those feelings.

What other artists does the tape remind you of?
Immediately upon first listen the mixtape really made me think of Peep. Everything from the topics and lyrics, the delivery and the overall sound—it all made me reminisce about Peep. By default it also reminded me of other artists who shared Peep’s sound and sensibilities, like Lil Tracy and Yung Lean.

Do you think it’s possible to be emo in 2018?
Absolutely. Like many of us, I’m not “emo” in the same way I was in 2005. Times have changed and so have I but there’s still so much about being emo I relate to on the daily. I listen to a lot of the same music as I did then, or at least, the same bands. My personal dress sense still has elements of emo vibes, although I’ve obviously grown up, there’s still hits of it throughout my personality, my interests and style. At the same time, artists like Princess Nokia and others are introducing the ethos of emo to new generations and demographics. The joy of emo really, for those who relate to it, is being able to see and hear mindsets and feelings and experiences that aren’t commonly reflected or talked about in general pop culture.

Any other thoughts?
Let’s be honest, emo, while having quite a large and dedicated female following, has never really been an accepting space for female artists so to see Princess Nokia crushing it, especially as a solo artist, and getting the kind of widespread recognition she deserves is fucking brilliant.

“The video of her chucking soup on that racist guy was punk as fuck”

Noisey: So, Joey, did you already like Princess Nokia before you heard this tape?
Joey, 23: Yeah! I wasn’t a hardcore fan but everything I’d heard I was well into. Plus, I loved the video of her chucking soup on that racist guy on the subway. That was punk as fuck.

What other artists does the tape remind you of?
I mean, GOTHBOICLIQUE, obviously. Spooky Black. It feels like there’s a pretty small pool of influence with this particular kind of music. Like I remember it being a joke for a while, no one could work out if it was ironic. Then when this, the best generation, got to a certain age it was like “nah fuck it, why does everything have to be ironic?” I just like this sound.

Where do you think A Girl Cried Red fits in with emo as it is today?
Well, it’s really exciting. Someone like Nokia doing this sound will bring it to a lot more people who need it. In my opinion, whether you’re looking at this idea of ‘emo’ as kinda owing as much to cloud rap or the older idea with roots in hardcore, the vibe is the same. The best bands develop, and it seems the rap scene is kinda starting to meet the more forward thinking emo bands in the middle.

Do you think it counts as “actual emo”?
Of course! This is so, so emo. But it’s a much needed progression. I want other emo acts to start doing this. I’ve been asking for Max Bemis from Say Anything to drop a tape for a while, where’s the album? Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou drops tight 16s on other people’s records all the time, why not hook up with a producer and make some Christian post-hardcore that slaps.

“It kind of reminds me of Eminem”

Noisey: Hi Mia, my younger sister. Did you like the mixtape?
Mia, 12: No not really but i don't hate it. I like the lyrics but I don't like the beat or the autotune.

What other artists does it remind you of?
Eminem kind of. And a computer-generated person Lil Miquela—she is very modern and the singer reminds me of her.

What’s your favorite song off the mixtape and why?
“Interlude” because the guitar has notes close together played but it sounds good because they put it in the right order.

Do you think it counts as “actual emo”?
I would say it's like emo if it was modernised. She does not sing that emo, but she sings about what's going on a swell but she sings about hating someone. She sings about the bad things that are going on in her life, which is pretty emo.

Who are your favourite emo artists?
I love a lot of different, older emo bands like Panic! at the Disco, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Paramore.

What makes you identify as emo in 2018?
Because it appeals to the way I feel and I have never fit in with "normal people." I want to look different and listen to different things. I wear a lot of black and emo band merch.

You can find Marianne thinking about 2018 emo on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.