Key Changes: Machine Gun Kelly and Mainstream Sellout

As someone who’s had the song Emo Girl (featuring Willow Smith) stuck in their head on and off for weeks, I think this is a perfect time to explore controversial artist Machine Gun Kelly’s professional journey from hip-hop and rap to pop-punk and mainstream success, culminating in 2022’s appropriately-named album Mainstream Sellout.

He rose to fame with a series of rap and hip-hop mixtapes (generally acclaimed) before releasing studio albums, starting with Lace Up in 2012, General Admission in 2015, and Bloom in 2017. Notable features included rapid-fire flow and pride in an unattractive underdog image. Then in 2020 he made a dramatic shift from rap to pop/punk with the release of Tickets to My Downfall – a shocking, impressive, and fluid album still with rap-inspired elements.

Why did he make the move? Without knowing details, it reminds me of Lady Gaga’s professional journey (which is a blog post in itself) in which she made mostly loud statement pieces until she’d captured public attention and then, fame established, moved to a more stripped-down mainstream sound in albums like Joanne. (Lady Gaga, of course, has now moved back to her outlandish roots with the flashier album Chromatica, but I digress.) Sometimes musicians want to try something different and explore their other interests, but don’t have the freedom to do so until they’ve reached a certain level of success.

Whatever the reason he seems satisfied with his new career track, since he continued with pop/punk in 2022’s album, Mainstream Sellout. The reviews have been mixed, but the album has had big commercial success debuting high on the Billboard 200 charts. Emo Girl ft. Willow is particularly good track (though I may be biased in saying that) — it’s a good example of the overall pop punk revival going on in the 2020s, partly because it’s extremely self-aware of how it’s referencing a scene more than participating in it. Rolling Stone called it “gleefully derivative” and on the whole the feeling is of playing a part and having a ton of fun with it.  Willow Smith’s vocals shine, her gen Z energy a good balance to Kelly’s so-called “buzzsaw bubblegum”.

For myself, I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I enjoy Machine Gun Kelly better in pop-punk, which is one of my favorite genres. I know I may be in the minority; what are your thoughts on Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, or the pop-punk revival? Let us know in the comments!

The Latest from Pop Punk Princess Avril Lavigne

Love Sux is Avril Lavigne’s latest album, and if you grew up like I did yelling along with her angsty bops, this is the perfect album for you.

Her first album was smash hit Let Go, containing tracks like Sk8er Boi and Complicated which rocketed her to fame. Next was Under My Skin, a darker grunge-inspired album whose most lasting track was My Happy Ending. The Best Damn Thing was album number three, and had several good tracks including Hot, Keep Holding On, and the yearning When You’re Gone, but most notable was Girlfriend, possibly her most popular song to date. Number four was Goodbye Lullaby, which has some of my personal favorite songs on it, including What The Hell and Smile. After that came self-titled album Avril Lavigne which is bursting with catchy tracks like Sippin’ On Sunshine and Here’s To Never Growing Up, alongside the controversial j-pop inspired Hello Kitty and the ballad Let Me Go with then-husband Chad Kroeger. After her battle with lyme disease she released Head Above Water in 2019, a bit of a departure in style as she processed the pain of her experiences; the main song with her signature rebelliousness is Dumb Blonde with Nicki Minaj, while the rest are slower, ballad-style tracks about helplessness and struggle to break free.

Love Sux is a return to form, with energetic rock-style tracks expressing defiance at every stage of relationships. The energy starts strong with Cannonball and doesn’t let up through a duet with Machine Gun Kelly, two dysfunctional love songs, and the eponymous Love Sux. Things might mellow a little by the end, but the whole effect is vintage Avril – which only fuels the Internet’s speculation that she doesn’t age (or ages very well). I’m always impressed at the way her music naturally matures as she does, while keeping her signature style; Let Go‘s “let’s crash the mall” skater vibe was definitely a teenager’s point of view, but Love Sux listens well from an adult perspective, even though it still probably has youth appeal.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Avril Lavigne or just like rock music with punk vibes and pop appeal, you’ll probably enjoy Love Sux.

St. Punktrick’s Day

We’ve gotten a taste of springtime.  That’s when mother nature melts away winter’s desolation to reveal your pets’ nasty lawn-offerings,  and the creepy crawlies that have been festering in wait come alive.

PUNKS!  Lots of them!  This many in a month can not be a coincidence!   Artistic relevance optional…

1) Blink 182’s drummer has a promising solo effort with various hip-hop artists
Travis Barker – Give the Drummer Some

2) Dropkick Murphys let their Boston-baked punk effort loose for proper staggering just days before custodians mop up half-digested Guiness stout at your local corporate Irish-themed pub.
Dropkick Murphys – Going Out in Style

3) Garage rock dressed like the Ramones for hipsters:
The Strokes – Angles

4) I guess?
Avril Lavigne – Goodbye Lullaby

5) As if it wasn’t destined for multiplatinum status, Billie Joe and Co. have impishly included  half of a swear word on the cover for maximum fifth-grade shock value.  Here’s crossing fingers that he tilts at the windmills of perceived authority and administers a remedial civics lesson over someone else’s obligatory three chords.  I find that in his matured efforts he uses this hands-free specialization to focus his efforts on gesticulating, standing on speakers, and wearing eyeliner.

It worked on me 16 years ago, and he’ll do it for your high-schoolers today.  Wait, that means they’re old enough to be my….. and that makes me……..  AWW MAN!!!!

Green Day – Awesome as F**K

6 and 7) I’m not familiar, but hey, let’s milk this for all we’ve got…

Rise Against – Endgame
Yellowcard – When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes

8)  Their lead singer just got divorced from the gal in #4.   My money is on lyrical combinations of  life’s unfairness, pain, and unrequited love.

SUM 41 – Screaming Bloody