While Kendrick Lamar’s contribution to “Control” was arguably the incendiary verse of 2013—with everyone speculating how, exactly, it’d change the game—it’s easy to forget an era existed where beefs were harmless, needlessly violent, and ineffectual. Such was the case with the emo game’s still-biggest beef: we’re talking, of course, about the Taking Back Sunday and Brand New beef.
1. The origin story
The conflict begins on Long Island, the home of both bands. Brand New singer Jesse Lacey and Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan—who penned much of TBS’s Tell All Your Friends and eventually started Straylight Run—were childhood friends. Here they are, hugging it out.
But as with all quality emo, there was an issue, and that issue is invariable: There was a girl. (As Wikipedia correctly notes, the genre is androcentric, or places men at the centre of its perspectives. While women are the frequent topics of songs, their perspectives were shockingly scarce in emo.)
But we digress. The lady at centre of the fiasco was Lacey’s girlfriend, who cheated on him with—yep, you got it—Nolan. Now, these types of romantic trysts among friends are common, if troublesome, but when they involve members of overdramatic emo bands? Well, shit is about to get…. Overdramatic.
The two reputedly ended their friendship acrimoniously. But they didn’t stop communicating with each other—instead, they lobbed passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) bombs at each other in song format, mostly on TBS’s Tell All Your Friends and Brand New’s Your Favourite Weapon.
And shit got salty. Very salty. And that goes beyond Lacey’s famed “Mics are for singing, not swinging” shirt. You ready? Let’s fight.
2. Brand New’s “Seventy Times Seven”
Here, perhaps the most aggressive song in the entire beef: Lacey (who once moonlighted as TBS’s bassist) details discovering the tryst, and then fantasizes about killing Nolan “like only a best friend could.” After admitting to his depression over the incident, Lacey eventually settles on a livid tone, directing most of his ire at Nolan’s dishonesty over the affair—the song’s chorus, after all, is “everyone’s caught on to everything you do.”
Most memorably, though, the song ends on ultra-violence. Let the words speak for themselves: “Is that what you call a getaway / Tell me what you got away with / Because I’ve seen more spine in jellyfish / I’ve seen more guts in 11-year-old kids / Take another drink and drive yourself home / I hope there’s ice on all the roads / And you can think of me when you forget your seatbelt / And again when your head goes through the windshield.”
To summarize: It’s Lacey’s mean-spirited way of saying, “Go home. You’re drunk.”
3. Taking Back Sunday’s “Timberwolves at New Jersey”
For a moment, it looked like TBS’s response to “Seventy Times Seven” would take the high road. After all, the song’s verse opens up with a near-academic criticism of Lacey’s lyrics. (“Those words at best were worse than teenage poetry / Fragment ideas and too many pronouns /Stop it, come on, you’re not making sense now.”)
But of course, that’s not how feuds go. The song’s hilarious passive-aggressive chorus details everything Nolan is, and, in the process, highlights what Lacey isn’t: The TBS songwriter is literate, stylish, kissable, and quiet, which is what “girls dreams are made of.” That passive-aggression eventually verges into polite, self-conscious violence, when the following words are uttered: “This is me with the words on the tip of my tongue / And my eye through the scope / down the barrel of a gun / Remind me not to ever act this way again.”
So watch your back, Jesse. Someone’s got a sniper rifle pointed at you—but at least he’s gentlemanly enough to know that this type of behaviour is, frankly, boorish.
4. Brand New’s “The Shower Scene”
Back in Lacey’s world, he’s going through the phases of grief, and he’s still stuck on anger. By now, his hatred for Nolan is well-documented—he opens the song with, “It’s funny how your worst enemies always seem to turn out to be all of your best friend’s best friends,” then, “I begin to hate you for your face and not the things you do”—but now, he’s widened his scope to include his ex. After delivering an ultimatum in the song’s chorus (choose the bullet or the chapstick, he says, the girl or death), he finally is resigned to one fate: Death. And the girl? She’s included, too. “I hope she’s caught in the explosion,” sings Lacey.
Wait: Is that a bomb threat?
5. Taking Back Sunday’s “There’s No ‘I’ in Team”
“I’ve got a twenty dollar bill,” sings Adam Lazzarra, referencing Brand New’s “Mixtape” sarcastically, “That you’re up late starting fist fights versus fences, wearing your black eye like a badge of honour, soaking in sympathy from friends who never loved you half as much as me.” Ouch. Let’s deconstruct this: First, he calls Lacey and attention-seeking drama queen. Next, he’s saying that our friends aren’t our friends; they’re my friends. Tell all your friends.
Yet the song eventually takes an apologetic tone: The act of cheating, sings TBS, is “just what anyone would do… don’t believe me when I tell you it’s something unforgivable.” Is this the first step to reconciliation?
Well, no. Next, the blame is slung on Lacey—”everything I learned about breaking hearts, I learned from you, it’s true”—before ending with a signature blast of violence: “Best friends means I’ll pull the trigger / Best friends means you’ll get what you deserve.”
These emo boys sure love their guns, no?
6. Brand New’s “Mix Tape”
After directing much of his energy towards Nolan, Lacey’s hatred finally spills squarely into the domain of his ex-girlfriend. “I got a twenty dollar bill that’s saying no one’s ever seen you without makeup,” he says. “You’re always made up.”
Still, pundits (if this feud ever had pundits) have argued that “Mix Tape” is still about Nolan, and perhaps they’re right. “Mix Tape”speaks to a certain resolution—”when I say let’s keep in touch, I really mean I wish that you’d grow up”—while the song ends almost wistfully, pining for the time “before you got too cool.”
Lacey himself isn’t growing up though—the song ends sassily, with “I wish you were still in my shadow.”
7. The reunion
For all the posturing that occurred between both parties, the sides eventually reconciled: There’s footage, in fact, of Jesse Lacey singing “There’s No ‘I’ In Team,” where Lazzara notes that “this is either a Taking Back Sunday song or a Brand New song, depending on which record you bought first.” Future fractions would emerge—notably, Lazzarra and Nolan would feud when the former started dating, and cheating on, the latter’s sister—and reconciliations would happen, too. But let us all enjoy the one moment where Taking Back Sunday and Brand New finally came together to sing, “Best friends means you’ll get what you deserve.”
Let’s never fight again, guys.
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