'Emo' vs 'Goth': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on September 13, 2023

Are you wondering about the difference between 'emo' vs. 'goth?' I can help!

Here is the short answer: 

  • 'Emo' is a punk-inspired rock music with introspective, emotional lyrics. 
  • 'Goth' is a style of rock music that has lyrics about death and dark subjects.
  • 'Emo' and 'goth' are both subcultures of the punk rock genre that include specific styles and music. 

Learn more about these styles in this guide with definitions, pronunciations, and examples.

What is the Difference Between 'Emo' vs. 'Goth?'

'Emo' and 'goth' are two styles of rock music. Both can be emotionally charged, but 'goth' music tends to be more morbid and less about emotional struggle and pain. It is also a heavier, more intense genre of music.

'Emo' music. on the other hand, focuses on sad topics, like heartbreak, unrequited love, being in a constant state of depression or disappointment, and even suicide.

Music: 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

'Emo' is a relatively new genre compared to 'goth.' It originated in the mid-to-late 80s but did not gain popularity until the mid-90s. During the late-90s and early-2000s 'emo' was a popular genre, but today only a few 'emo' bands remain.

Traditionally, 'emo' music is more pop-rock based. It is generally slower, softer, and closer to poetry than the 'goth' genre, which has heavier basslines and louder, angrier-sounding lyrics that focus on subjects like death.

'Goth' is a subculture derived from the punk music genre in the U.K. during the late 1980s, and while there are fewer 'goth' bands than there were in the 80s and 90s, there are still several well-known bands making 'goth' music, including:

  • Arts of Erebus
  • The Horrors
  • Creux Lies
  • Drab Majesty

Style: 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

The 'emo' style is a sort of cross between 'goth' and punk, but it is cleaner and more fashion-focused. 'Goth' style is meant to be more shocking and dark.

However, people who dress in both styles wear dark makeup and hair. The most popular 'emo' hairstyle is heavily layered hair or a mullet with long bangs that sweep over the eyes covering part of the wearer's face.

While both 'emo' and 'goth' people wear black eyeliner, makeup worn by the former is typically heavier and may include white face makeup with heavily smudged eyeliner and dark eye shadow.

Bands: 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

Knowing which bands are 'emo' and 'goth' can help you determine which style of music you prefer.

Emo Rock Bands

  • My Chemical Romance
  • Jimmy Eat World
  • Fallout Boy
  • Panic! At the Disco
  • Weezer
  • Dashboard Confessional
  • Sunny Day Real Estate
  • The All-American Rejects
  • Good Charlotte
  • Rites of Spring
  • Paramore
  • The Used
  • Taking Back Sunday
  • Death Cab for Cutie

Goth Rock Bands

  • The Cult
  • Type O Negative
  • Joy Division
  • Christian Death
  • Bauhaus
  • Depeche Mode
  • The Cure
  • The Damned
  • The Sisters of Mercy

Definition of 'Emo': What Does 'Emo' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'emo' as a noun that means:

  • A style of punk rock-inspired music that focuses on emotional, sad, or introspective lyrics

It can also be an adjective that means:

  • Something that is sad or fits into the emo subculture

Definition of 'Goth': What Does 'Goth' Mean?

The same defines 'goth' as a noun that means:

It can also mean:

  • A punk rock-inspired genre of music that includes lyrics about dark topics and morbidity
  • Someone who plays goth music
  • A fan of goth music

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

Whether you are learning English as a second language or a native speaker who wants to improve your writing and communication skills, learning pronunciation can help.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can reference for 'emo' vs. 'goth.' 

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'emo':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'goth':


When and How to Use 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

I explained that 'emo' is based more on personal experiences and pain, and 'goth' is darker and focuses more on dark subject matter. However, you may still be unsure of when and how to use these terms. So, here are some tips for using 'emo' vs. 'goth.'

  • Use 'goth' to talk about the more shocking dark style people wear fans of the 'goth' genre wear.

For example, you might say:

The goth girls I went to school with spent hours getting ready for school, and every day, their styles were more shocking. 

As an example, I might say:

I dyed my hair black in high school, and suddenly, the goth kids wanted to be my friends. 

  • Use 'emo' to describe the toned-down punk/goth style fans of the music wear.

So, you could say:

I contemplated getting an emo haircut, but I felt like it was overplayed. 

  • Use 'emo' as an adjective to describe something that fits within the subculture.

For example, you might say:

Do we really have to listen to your depressing emo playlist the entire road trip? 

  • Use 'emo' to describe someone or something as being emotional.

So, you might hear someone say:

Don't be so emo. How can you expect to be happy if all you think are sad and depressing thoughts? 

Sample Sentences Using 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'


  • I never really got into emo music. It was too depressing for my taste.
  • I don't like to hang out with him because he is so emo. It is like he is constantly looking for something to be upset about.
  • Don't be emo. Instead, hang in there and think positive thoughts.
  • There are plenty of punk rock bands that have a few emo songs, like Sum 41 and Green Day.


  • Goth started as a dark style that embodied taboo subjects like death, but now there are fairy goths, Victorian goths, pastel goths, and Lolita goths.
  • When I think about goths, I think of vampires and Halloween.
  • I know you aren't a fan of goth music, but do you want to go to The Damned concert this weekend?
  • Marilyn Manson's style is goth, but his music is not.


  • There are many bands that mix goth and emo styles.
  • Punk, emo, and goth styles require more effort to maintain than some others, like grunge.

Review of the Difference Between 'Emo' vs. 'Goth'

Finally, let's review what you learned about the difference between 'emo' vs. 'goth':

  • 'Emo' is a subculture influenced by the punk rock genre that focuses on emotional topics like unrequited love, heartbreak, and depression.
  • The 'emo' style is similar to goth and punk but less shocking and extreme. 
  • 'Goth' is a subculture of punk rock that includes heavy basslines, electric and bass guitars, deeper-sounding voices, chanting, and guttural screaming. 
  • 'Goth' fashions tend to include unnatural contrasting makeup that is applied in an attempt to shock and scare people. 

Terms like these with overlapping definitions are often challenging for people. So, if you ever need to verify the meanings or correct usages of words, you can always visit the confusing words section here.

There, you will find hundreds of guides that explain the difference between similar words with definitions and examples. So, they are an effective way to expand your vocabulary while learning essential grammar and usage rules.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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