Machine Gun Kelly – Mainstream Sellout

A brash but ultimately shallow return...

Over the last few months, Machine Gun Kelly has become an incredibly divisive figure within the rock community – the mere uttering of his name will spark discussion, whether that discussion centres around his personal life, musical endeavours, or choice of footwear. One thing that can’t be denied, however, is the impact that he has had on the pop-punk scene’s mainstream visibility. With its soaring riffs and rousing choruses, 2020’s ‘Ticket To My Downfall’ marked the start of an entirely fresh era of Travis Barker-tinged pop-punk – for better or worse. Kelly’s latest release, ‘Mainstream Sellout’, is very much a middle-finger to those believing the latter. However, this desire to bite back at those pushing him out of the scene has inadvertently dampened his spark – too distracted by the haters, this release forgets to give the fans more of what they love.

Kelly wastes no time addressing the elephant in the room – opening track ‘born with horns’ is marked by calls of “alienate me!”. However, this alienation seems to have make its mark on Kelly, the theme reappearing throughout the album. As title-track ‘mainstream sellout’ proclaims: “I heard the feedback – I’m a poser.” This awareness of his public perception seems to dominate the album, even in the tracks that don’t outright address it.

As a result, the overall mood is far less authentic. There is a resistance of vulnerability where ‘Ticket To My Downfall’ wholeheartedly embraced it; ‘god save me’ feels like a messy patchwork of sensations, hinting at themes of loss, mental health and drug abuse, but never allowing anything the time to be fully explored. This consciousness of public perception is further highlighted by the line “now smile for the camera” – with the knowledge that this release will be placed firmly under the magnifying glass, being entirely raw was never going to be possible.

The emotional depths pale in comparison to tracks like the deeply confessional acoustic ‘play this when i’m gone’. Certain tracks feel incredibly surface level – a blatant example being Lil Wayne feature ‘drug dealer’. This bouncy track happily lusts after the mystical “drug dealer girl”, which almost spits in the face of Kelly’s previous reflections on drug usage, romanticising the idea of drug-fuelled relations entirely. Needless to say, the track is also no-way-near as charming as ‘emo girl’, yet the similar approach of ‘*insert aesthetic/occupation* girl’ does feel a bit hollow.

The moments where Kelly is not restraining himself are undoubtedly the album’s standouts. ‘sid & nancy’ is infused with that classic MGK pop-punk feel, while ‘twin flame’ feels like this album’s answer to ‘banyan tree’, an acoustic confessional with a scattering of intimate voicemails that is blissfully honest.

Kelly’s ability to churn out infectious bangers is also still present in select tracks. ‘emo girl’ is a bucketload of charm; serving as a playful twist on the classic, doe-eyed poppy love song, the lyrics are so ridiculously self-aware that you can’t help but love it. Bring Me The Horizon feature ‘maybe’ is also a total delight, with Linkin Park-y guitars and a slick, irresistible flow. ‘fake love’ and ‘5150’ could have fit perfectly on Kelly’s previous release, filled with a vibrancy that leaves you desperate for more.

In a way, the fresh coat of reflective paint on Kelly’s guitar feels symbolic. Rather than the playful, boisterous, chaotic energy of electric pink, we’ve moved into an era of hyper-awareness of the public eye. ‘mainstream sellout’ is a mirror of what people expect to hear from Machine Gun Kelly, rather than the unexpected brilliance captured on ‘Ticket To My Downfall’. It’s a shame that Kelly couldn’t release a follow-up equally as fresh and fluid to really prove he truly isn’t a “poser”, as actions always speak louder than words.

6/10

Words: Emily Swingle

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