The Nina mobile app is now available on iOS.Download from the App Store.
hero image

On the Tyranny of “Core”

Magazine Rack

From hardcore to corecore, or what is lost in a world of diminished scenes

By Rob Arcand


What was corecore? For a brief moment last year, social media seemed captivated by the fleeting TikTok trend, which involved collage-like videos featuring clips from well-known movies, memes, video game screencasts, and other digital ephemera. For users casually scrolling through their “For You” pages, the videos were jarring in their glossy production, especially compared with the self-recorded material that largely populates the app. Often paired with emotive instrumental music, shots of sky and landscape, and clips of celebrities like Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, the videos seemed designed to evoke feelings of melancholy or awestruck wonder in viewers, as well as a general sense of alienation from 21st century life.

No one knew what to make of them when they first arrived. In November 2022, the writer Kieran Press-Reynolds published an early piece on the music blog No Bells describing the trend, which, like so much activity on TikTok, provided an opportunity to reflect on youth culture and 21st-century cultural life. Despite this journalistic task, Press-Reynolds ultimately found corecore to be incredibly empty; while the videos were dazzling stylistically, they rarely seemed to communicate anything of substance, prioritizing a general mood or affect over a coherent message of any sort.

“Unlike most previously popular -cores—think cottagecore, normcore, breakcore—corecore has no mission statement, no how-to video, not even a basic description of style,” he wrote at the time. And yet, the emptiness and incoherence of the videos always seemed to be part of the point. Press-Reynolds called it an “anti-trend,” one that spoke to a general exhaustion with internet trends in general. 

Sure enough, corecore sunk into obscurity as quickly as it arrived, with little discussion from the viewers and journalists who were once so captivated by the videos. Their existence points to the strange position that visual culture and its criticism occupies today, moving faster and further on social platforms—and in journalistic trend pieces—than ever before, but also more fleeting.

As an ongoing naming convention, “-core” represents a desire to get to the center of things, to capture the ontological essence of a feeling (or style) in its purest, most concentrated form.

Across the past decade, social platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube,, Bandcamp, and TikTok have become destinations for a particular kind of cultural analysis, one that seeks to provide names for collage-like collections of multimedia objects under the guise of the study of aesthetics. Participants (I’m reluctant to quite call them critics…) bring together images, audio, video, and other atomistic units of popular culture in an effort to define some shared sensibility that persists across the artifacts, and which they feel to be indicative of a larger trend in need of assessment.

After crossing a certain threshold of mass awareness, these social media trends are further amplified by professional writers, who increasingly source their stories based on what’s already trending on social platforms. This results in an internet saturated with hundreds of videos and articles on fleeting trends, many of which fizzle out once the internet has collectively extracted what little meaning they may have once had and moved on to the next thing. (For further evidence of this phenomenon, check out AestheticsWiki, whose ever-growing list of aesthetics scans like a graveyard of micro-vibes.)

As an ongoing naming convention, “-core” represents a desire to get to the center of things, to capture the ontological essence of a feeling (or style) in its purest, most concentrated form. While it’s most recently become associated with visual aesthetics of the “cottagecore” and “corecore” variety, the term has a lengthy history as part of the word “hardcore,” which first showed up in English as a construction term in the 1840s as “hard core,” i.e., earth solid enough to serve as a foundation to build upon. In the 1910s, the term took on a more metaphorical bent as policymakers and other political figures began to use phrases like the “hard core of anarchism,” “hard core of problem families,” and “hard-core unemployed” to describe the ideological foundation of various social structures. Some believe that the term may have also come from the French word “coeur,” or “heart,” which serves as the basis of other English words like “courage,” and is often used to describe the symbolic and geographic center of forests and cities, as well as the irreducible center of a feeling. In the 20th century, “hardcore” evolved to characterize that which embodied the most fundamental elements of a category, before becoming the defining term for a series of musical genres and subcultures that emerged after punk broke.


Art by Rasmus Svensson

Hardcore became a descriptor for musical subgenres within punk, hip-hop, and techno that were stridently opposed to mainstream consumption in all of its forms; yet its namesake has become an inescapable part of efforts to make culture legible to mainstream viewer-consumers online. How did the suffix “-core” drift so far away from the adversarial, anti-commercial attitude with which it first took root? Is it possible for strong scenes and subcultures to exist today without submitting to forms of mass consumption on the internet that are increasingly inseparable from the act of putting them into language? Or have we reached a point in history where every new instance of cultural expression will inevitably be forced to surrender to the extractive logics of digital platforms, which are premised upon the ability to treat terms like “grindcore” or “mumblecore” as keywords to assist in delivering relevant information as frictionlessly as possible?

At stake in these questions is the future of culture and its alternatives, which long ago traded its basis in in-person collectivity for social media as its primary organizational logic. What remains are sustained feelings of confusion and fatigue in the space that thriving scenes and cultures once occupied, along with a genuine desire for something new. To better understand this cultural shift, it’s useful to revisit the etymological history of “-core,” its origins in hardcore music, and the unexpected directions in which it has continued to evolve online.

“I’M DOCUMENTING THE AMERICAN HARDCORE PUNK MUSIC SCENE BECAUSE IT’S BEING FORGOTTEN.” Steven Blush opens his 2001 book American Hardcore: A Tribal History with a shout into the void, a defense of the beauty and purity of hardcore as a genre that was distinct from all that came before it. The book arrived roughly 20 years after the Vancouver punk band D.O.A. adopted the term for their 1981 album Hardcore 81, a moment when, Blush notes, its meaning was still largely undetermined beyond vague associations with passionate fans through phrases like “‘hardcore porn’” or “[being] ‘a hardcore football fan.’” As D.O.A. vocalist and guitarist Joey “Shithead” Keithley recounts in the text, the band first encountered the term in the San Francisco fanzine Damage, where it was used to describe the music of Black Flag, an act that was then preparing to release their similarly titled debut album on guitarist and songwriter Greg Ginn’s newly formed label, SST Records.

From its earliest moments, hardcore was motivated by a shared devotion to faster, heavier music and an evolving commitment to doing things independently. Ginn started SST to self-release Black Flag’s debut EP, Nervous Breakdown, in early 1979. The label was one of a handful of others, like Chicago’s Touch and Go Records and Washington D.C.’s Dischord, that were essential in defining hardcore as not only a musical style, but also an ethos and worldview put forward in response to the mainstream music industry’s efforts to repackage punk beneath the market-friendly category of “new wave.” Hardcore rejected just about all of this, doubling down on heavier sonic and visual sensibilities that made it more alienating, inscrutable, and even off-putting to a self-selecting group of insiders, while building out forms of alternative infrastructure in independent labels and zines. While the musical output of 1980s hardcore bands like Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat served as one manifestation of this independent spirit, it would also live on in subsequent musical countercultures, like noise rock and indie rock, that arose out of a similar desire for infrastructural independence.

As a musical term, “hardcore” is fairly nonspecific, emphasizing an intensity of feeling over anything particular about the punk-rock subgenre with which it was first associated. In the late 80s, “hardcore” rappers on the East Coast, like Schoolly D and Boogie Down Productions, adopted the term in an effort to set their music apart from more radio-friendly crossover acts, though the phrase ultimately lost out to “gangsta rap” as acts like N.W.A. rose to prominence on the West Coast. At the turn of the 90s, ravers in cities like London and Rotterdam started using the phrase “hardcore techno” to describe a faster and more aggressive variant of the Detroit-born dance music genre, setting their preferred sound apart in an increasingly crowded musical landscape clustered around various subvariants of progressive electronic music. As with its use in hardcore punk scenes, the term was taken up to name specific moments of realignment in which devoted fans could distinguish themselves from casual observers. While in all three instances, the term “hardcore” was mapped onto very different sonic sensibilities, the central gesture was about reasserting a passion for scene and subculture amid the tightening grip of commerce, a value that transcended (and was never entirely reducible to) specific aesthetic characteristics.


Art by Rasmus Svensson

Somewhere in this translation process, hardcore became “-core,” a suffix that initially spoke to the fragmentation of hardcore punk into various specialized subgenres as the sound evolved and combined with other styles. Hardcore punk never existed in a vacuum; bands like Void and Agnostic Front always lived in the space between hardcore and metal, and in the 1980s and 90s, terms like “metalcore,” “grindcore,” and “emocore” (itself a take on the more popular “emotional hardcore” that exploded with the commercial rise of emo) were used by critics and fans to speak to the genre’s broader influence. While this particular understanding of “core” is still floating somewhere in the ether (see: the rise of musical genres like “breakcore” and “glitchcore” at the turn of the 2020s), the suffix would eventually find resonance beyond music, with terms like “mumblecore” (in film) and normcore (in fashion) taking seed in the 2000s and 2010s, along with a growing proliferation of “cores” in the social media era, like weirdcore and hopecore, that have very little to do with traditional artistic disciplines at all.

Language is a strange thing, evolving in ways that can feel completely unpredictable to outside observers. Yet the shift from “hardcore” to “-core” tells a specific story about the changing nature of subculture across the past 40 years. Hardcore began in an effort to push back against the relentless capture of subculture by commerce, taking on a life of its own through a rigorous commitment to its politics, community, and visual sensibility. But ultimately, it was the shift to combinatory genre tags like “metalcore” and “grindcore” in 80s that would become the naming convention’s most defining characteristic in the 2010s and 2020s, when, thanks in part to the internet, these increasingly specific microgenres and aesthetics began proliferating at a rate much faster than communities could ever get behind with any sincerity.

With its redundant title and general lack of a coherent message, corecore reveals the fundamental emptiness of this exercise, in which naming trends and producing short-lived commentary functions as the driving force behind cultural development, prioritized over in-person participation in cultural scenes of many sorts. The underlying gesture is curatorial rather than critical, the product of a culture that favors vibe-centric mood boards and affects over the kind of slowly considered assessments that often don’t slot neatly into the language of digital platforms, search engine optimization, and large language models for artificial intelligence. Yet maybe hardcore music—across the scenes described above—provides some model for a path forward, in which participation in music scenes of many sorts is favored over fleeting names and commentary.


Art by Rasmus Svensson

It’s no secret that hardcore techno has returned with a newfound intensity in the wake of the pandemic. Collectives like Helltekk in New York and 140+ in Washington DC have drawn massive crowds to performances that have only gotten bigger as the world has emerged from lockdown. The frenetic tempos and remote locations of their sets have lent them an anti-commercial edge, one that seems to actively resist the kind of legibility that a new term or microgenre might provide. Meanwhile, if both Cowgirl Clue’s trap-pop-country and Jane Remover’s shoegaze emo can comfortably fit under the label “hyperpop,” then what’s the use of genre tags at this point? 

What this means for counterculture generally is anyone’s guess, but it’s inspiring to see newer artists reject the branded, consumerist spirit this nomenclature implies in favor of flagrant genre-agnosticism, discordant sounds, and disparate scenes. Before it was a set of conventions within punk, hip-hop, techno, and beyond, hardcore was an ethos born out of a rejection of forms of easy legibility demanded by the record industry. Faced with a similar choice—to lean into the commercial opportunity that genre tags can provide through the participatory capacities of the social web, or instead seek out local scenes that reject this spirit altogether—a growing number of artists are opting for the latter, refusing to get behind ephemeral labels and the equally fleeting careers they may have once promised. Instead, they’re returning to the basics, connecting with fans and other artists to build out the kinds of communities they want to be part of.

Nina is an independent music ecosystem.

Join over 5000 artists, labels, and listeners using Nina to share their music, build their context and directly support artists.


Now Playing