Alright, I’ll admit it, I enjoyed Machine Gun Kelly’s 2020 Travis Barker-produced pop-punk record Tickets To My Downfall. I found it to be a fun record with some nice, catchy rock songs, particularly “Bloody Valentine” (which appeared in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 remake) and the Halsey collab “Forget Me Too” in particular. I typically don’t believe in guilty pleasures and that one should seize every opportunity to tug on the strings of serotonin wherever possible in this mess of an existence, but my god, MGK has challenged me. No matter how cringe he becomes, that record was undeniably enjoyable despite my initial hesitance.

But a man has his limits. There’s only so far I’m willing to take my defense of MGK. Sure, the brief return to hip-hop he did with his CORPSE collaborative single “DAYWALKER!” was an unexpected delight (once you look past the shoddy production) and it proved that MGK is still capable of relevance in the genre despite decidedly losing the war with Eminem, but his general presence within the world – from creepy comments unearthed in old interviews, to embarrassing TikTok videos, and an unreasonably petty resentment towards Slipknot, among others – leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, his cover of Paramore classic “Misery Business” and the most recent live performance of System of a Down‘s “Aerials” are nearly indefensible. 

Still, the pieces are in place for some solid pop-punk material, and with the right guidance and editing (looking at you, Travis Barker), MGK can stand there, ably play some power chords, and deliver some mid-to-good pop punk when the inspiration strikes. Unfortunately, this follow up to Tickets to my Downfall feels more like a clumsy pastiche of bad pop-punk tropes and hip-hop influences than a particularly inspired nostalgia trip it intends to be. 

mainstream sellout opens with enough promise, with the track “born with horns” pairing Barker’s intricate drumming style with a grooving bassline. The track is catchy enough, but a little light on ideas and some lyrics dripping with a little too much faux-angst for its own good, a problem which never truly lets up. “god save me” immediately follows in the same sonic spaces with MGK waxing sentimental about being lost and “fucked up.” Again, fine, if not a bit tired. The Bring Me The Horizon collaboration “maybe” is an easy highlight with plenty of fun hooks but is ultimately marred by some pretty egregious plagiarism; who would have thought that giving Oli Sykes a verse in what amounts to another “Misery Business” cover would create one of the best moments on mainstream sellout? At least it’s energetic and hooky.

From here, the record starts to get wobbly. MGK and Lil Wayne (who appears on two different but equally questionable tracks) sing about dating a drug dealer and taking advantage of those benefits on “drug dealer,” effectively combining the worst lyrics one could write in both rock and hip-hop. The melodies are catchy and the production is top-notch, but the content that MGK and Co. are peddling is just plainly awkward, if not shallow. The title track isn’t much better, with MGK sneering sarcastically about being a poser and how he’s ruining the pop-punk scene, as if he possesses some self-awareness (he doesn’t). And then there’s “emo girl,” a track so terrible and on-the-nose it could be taken for satire. 

Look, it’s not as if Tickets to My Downfall saw MGK writing the most profound lyrics of his career or in the broader genre, but mainstream sellout digs its heels in even deeper in the façade, and it’s clear he’s gotten comfortable with this genre, yet has made no effort to do it any better. Even the better tracks held within, like “wake up sex” and “fake love don’t last,” reach the heights they do because they border on self-plagiarism and sound indistinguishable from the material on Tickets to my Downfall. “ww4” is literally a sequel to a track from that record, and has the benefit of having such strong lyrics as “your teachers are full of shit / you don’t need to go to school.” Colson, my brother in Christ, you are in your 30s. 

Even the most ardent MGK apologist will have difficulty justifying some of the material on this record, which does absolutely nothing better and everything worse than its predecessor. One could feasibly shut off their brains and enjoy this record, because despite the generic and indistinguishable instrumentals and his limited vocal, emotional, and lyrical range, the songs are often legitimately catchy. But that suspension of critical thinking will be doing a lot of heavy lifting to overlook content that’s at best a shameless caricature of something far better. I’m typically in favor of any mainstream representation of guitar-oriented music at this level, but surely we can do better than this, right?

MGK’s mainstream sellout released March 25th, 2022 on Interscope Records. The record can be purchased or streamed at this location.

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