1997, 2000: The Promise Ring vs. Wheatus

It’s no secret that music labelled as “emo” is about nostalgia — not only for the past but also for the present. Few bands embodied that as well as The Promise Ring, with Davey Von Bohlen’s voice and an edgy yet poppy sound that was made to make you embarrassingly nostalgic. In fact, The Promise Ring were especially geeky, with some fans being ashamed to talk about them, mumbling about how they liked their first singles and stopped caring afterwards, yet secretly buying everything and learning their lyrics by heart.

In a way, it reminds me of dork rock bands of the 90s like Wheatus, except Wheatus were bad and their best song (which isn’t saying much) is about a loser who can’t get the girl because he loves Iron Maiden but then the girl turns out to be just like him (except hot). It’s a song custom made for teen movies, even if it hadn’t been included in an Amy Heckerling feature and been accompanied by a video with Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari as fresh faced “teenagers.” Come to think of it, it makes perfect sense that Biggs and Suvari remain trapped in that dated image, for everyone young enough who remembers hearing the song and watching American Pie or the aforementioned Loser, or even hating those movies blindly. Just like “Teenage Dirtbag,” The Promise Ring are not about being nostalgic for specific things in your past, but about the time when those things happened and, yes, sometimes those things can be awkward.

I have very vivid memories associated with “Why Did We Ever Meet,” about times that made me feel happy but now make me yearn for them. I’m willing to guess everyone who likes this song has memories like mine, which tempted me to type the phrase “so it’s not important,” but I actually think that it makes it more important than I thought because it’s what the Promise Ring capture with their music, awkwardness and all.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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