Are Linkin Park Emo?
Are Linkin Park emo? Are Linkin Park metal? Are Linkin Park nu metal? Those are just a few of the most asked questions about the band on the internet, and with a band that did so much to break down the barriers of genre and continually evolved over the course of their career, it's probably no surprise that it's rather difficult to put them in one specific category. So let's see if we can break this down.
Are Linkin Park Emo?
That's the question that's launched a thousand heated discussions on Reddit threads and assorted message boards. It's even been a point of contention in the band's own LP Underground fan forum. So let's take a closer look and see if we can garner a consensus from how they are portrayed through the media, how they are defined on informational websites and from clues of what the band members have said.
According to the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, "emo" is defined as "a style of rock music that developed from punk, but has more complicated musical arrangements and deals with more emotional subjects." While Dictionary.com defines it as "a type of guitar-based rock music developed from emocore but having a softer, pop or mainstream sound." "Emo" is also often used when talking about the subculture of fans of that style of music, often characterized as "overly sensitive, emotional and full of angst" while "adopting a certain style characterized by dyed black hair, tight T-shirts and skinny jeans."
But even "emo" itself has undergone an evolution from the hardcore punk scene of the mid-'80s where acts such as Rites of Spring and Embrace were considered early pioneers to something more alternative rock and indie in nature with bands such as Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate taking on the tag by the late '90s and yet another shift in the early 2000s with acts such as My Chemical Romance, The Used and AFI exploring darker themes with a heavier sound.
When it comes to how Linkin Park are often characterized, their Wikipedia page lists their genres as: Alternative Rock, Nu Metal, Alternative Metal, Rap Rock, Electronic Rock and Pop Rock. Over at Allmusic.com, they cite the band for being Alternative Metal, Heavy Metal, Post-Grunge and Rap Rock. So no mention of "emo." But it's not quite that simple.
Despite often dodging the "emo" tag for their overall sound, some of their music has been considered emo. The primary song often lumped in with "emo" lists is the 2003 single "Numb" off the band's sophomore album, Meteora.
In the Buzzfeed list, 23 Songs Every Former Emo Kid Will Never Forget, "Numb" gets a shout out for the angsty lyric, "I've become so numb / I can't feel you there." Meanwhile, the So Emo website takes things a step further shouting out the emo lyrics of "Numb," as well as "Papercut," "A Place for My Head," "Crawling," "In the End," "One Step Closer," "Somewhere I Belong," "Leave Out All the Rest," "Waiting for the End," "Bleed It Out" and many more. And while Wikipedia didn't list "emo" as one one of the band's genres, it does list "emo" as a genre for "Numb."
Linkin Park, "Numb"
One thing is for certain. The lyrics that came from Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda among others definitely fit the definition of "emotional and full of angst" on many occasions, connecting with listeners that felt a sense of social alienation, introversion and anxiety. And that feeling often came through in the raw delivery of the band's vocals.
But when it comes to whether or not the band could be classified as emo, they didn't often address that subject. However, as Linkin Park prepared to release their sixth studio album, 2014's The Hunting Party, Mike Shinoda told The Pulse of Radio (per Louder Sound). “We needed to weed out a lot of the soft, emo approach to our music. We needed to weed out anything that feels aggressive for aggression’s sake." He then added, “We’re not 18-year-old kids making a loud record – we’re 37-year-old adults making a loud record.”
That would seemingly suggest that Linkin Park's music had at least ventured into self-awareness of their "emo" territory on their previous recordings, which is as close as we come to admission from the band that, yes, their music is "emo."
Are Linkin Park Metal?
Once again, let's start with a definition. While metal started with its roots in blues and psychedelic rock, it too evolved with a monumental sound often characterized by distorted guitars, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats and, of course, loudness. The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines it as "a type of rock music with a very strong beat played very loud on electric guitars, often using violent or strange language or ideas."
There is no doubt that Linkin Park can get loud and even a little violent. One of our very first impressions of the group was Chester Bennington forcefully belting, "Shut up while I'm talking to you" on "One Step Closer" and Brad Delson's guitar work, especially on their earlier records, featured some undeniably heavy sounding riffs.
But, while appearing on the Metal Hammer radio show back in 2014, Chester Bennington shunned the idea of Linkin Park being considered a metal band. When asked if he was hurt by some fans claiming that Linkin Park wasn't a metal band, he offered (per Blabbermouth), "It doesn't hurt, because I don't think we're a metal band either. That was actually something that we kind of intentionally wanted to make clear from the very beginning when we were kind of tagged as a 'nu metal' band. Not that we have anything against metal. It's like a facial expression, or like an emotion. It's like someone saying, 'He's an angry person.' And you're, like, 'I can be nice. I can be loving and I can be sensitive.' That's kind of how we feel about ourselves with our music. We aren't just one thing. So there are elements of the band that are metal, there are elements of the band that are pop, there are elements that are electronic, and hip-hop as well. And we've kind of always felt like we weren't bound to just one genre."
That said, Bennington did see Linkin Park's importance where metal is concerned. In a 2016 interview with Metal Hammer the singer hit out at those who questioned the group's metal integrity. "I think that's funny — just those words 'the integrity of metal.' In my opinion, we actually kept metal alive," said the singer, who noted how they had become one of the more influential acts for modern hard rock and metal.
“I met a kid a few days ago who said, ‘You were the first rock band I ever listened to’ and I hear that all the time. We played a surprise Vans Warped tour show in California in 2014 and had a whole bunch of singers from other bands come up and sing with us," said the singer at the time, then adding, “Every one of them was either, ‘Your band was my first record’ or, ‘Your band is the reason I’m playing music.’ It was maybe the first time where I felt like we were the band that people looked at in the way that I look at Deftones, Metallica and Stone Temple Pilots."
And we can circle back to those "genre definitions" associated with the band, who have been labeled alternative metal, nu metal and heavy metal. While it may not always be direct heavy metal, there are elements of metal often involved. And while Bennington may not view Linkin Park as a metal band, even he admits that they have had an impact on some of the metal that's being produced by other bands today.
Linkin Park, "One Step Closer"
Are Linkin Park Nu Metal?
This one is one of the easier ones to define, as the band was considered to be at the forefront of the late '90s / early 2000s nu metal movement. According to the Oxford Learner's Dictionary, nu metal is defined as "a type of heavy metal music which is influenced by hip-hop, and has aggressive songs and a heavy drum beat."
Yes there were bands melding hip-hop, rap and metal before Linkin Park, but arguably the apex of nu metal came with the release of the band's 2000 debut album, Hybrid Theory.
It's notable that the band was once known as Hybrid Theory before taking the name Linkin Park. As Mike Shinoda told Kerrang! Radio (seen below), "We, the band, were called the Hybrid Theory before the album, and we played a role in it – none of us tried to claim that we broke the boundaries between genres, but we played a role in breaking boundaries between genres. Some of the new generation don't even know the way things were before bands like us, and then how albums like Hybrid Theory and so on changed the way people looked at music."
He recalled how things once were, noting, "'Hey, what’s your favorite type of music?' 'Oh, whatever.' When I was a kid – when somebody said, 'What's your favorite type of music?' you had an answer. It was rap, it was metal, it was a specific kind of metal, and that was it."
So with the blending of heavy music, with Shinoda's rapping, Joe Hahn's synth beats, Brad Delson's muscular guitar riffs, the heavy low end of Rob Bourdon and Phoenix Farrell and Bennington's aggression, the band definitely fell right in to what was the burgeoning sound of the day.
Mike Shinoda Speaks With Kerrang! Radio About the Band's Origins
But, while they were one of nu metal's brightest stars of the early 2000s, it's not exactly something Mike Shinoda was initially thrilled with. Speaking with Metal Hammer in 2020, the musician noted, "I never wanted to be part of nu metal. There was a moment when that term, and what it meant, was actually pretty cool. It’s almost impossible to imagine!"
Reflecting he adds, "I remember when Korn first came out and when Deftones’ first couple of albums came out, and whatever you think about a group like Limp Bizkit, their first album was really raw. There were all these groups like Snot and Hed PE, and it wasn’t smart music, but there was something really visceral and culture blending that was important. I listened to 90 percent rap music, then I’d look at a lot of rock bands and I’d be like, ‘There’s something too white’ [about it]. That was one of the things that turned me off, especially hair metal. Hair metal felt like very white music, and I was growing up in a very diverse city so I didn’t gravitate to it. That didn’t resonate with me. And it wasn’t just about race. I don’t mean the color of skin. I just mean the culture of it. When nu metal started at the very beginning, it was a very diverse place.”
Though Linkin Park started off almost as poster children for the nu metal sound, they realized over time that they needed to evolve to survive. By their third album, Minutes to Midnight, they had already started to expand their sound. Drummer Rob Bourdon told the Tuscaloosa News in 2007 that producer Rick Rubin helped them feel more confident in the move. "He suggested that we forget about what we think Linkin Park is supposed to sound like and just write whatever type of music we were inspired by at the moment. It's really freeing."
Future records would find the band dabbling in electronic music, art rock, industrial music and progressive rock and indulging some pop influences as well, while still occasionally coming back to the nu metal heaviness that started their career. So while it's easy to say they started out nu metal, the evolution of the band led to a more encompassing sound as the years passed.
Sadly, the band has been on hiatus since the 2017 death of Chester Bennington, though they've returned to the headlines by celebrating their past works. Having already celebrated the 20th anniversary of Hybrid Theory, it's now time for the band to revisit their standout 2003 release Meteora for its 20th anniversary. Just last month, the band debuted the song "Lost" that was recorded with Bennington on vocals but did not make the album due to its close proximity in style to "Numb."