It took a couple pep talks in the mirror to muster up the confidence to say this, considering that all credible music journalists are expected to unanimously despise everything that Machine Gun Kelly stands for, but I’ll say it with my chest:
I, Aidan James Mega, do not mind MGK’s music.
My readership of tens and tens of people might think less of me now, but I’m tired of living in silence. Say what you will about the guy, I get it — but for every unbearably stereotypical chord sequence that this man throws behind his uber-cringey hooks, I find myself messing with him a little more.
But while I’ll gladly blast “Bloody Valentine” in the shower, and while I hold no qualms with millions of people raving over him on TikTok like it’s a conformist ritual, I do understand that his artistry and impact have become a present foundation of the “rock is dead” argument.
I don’t blame those who look at his music in such a light. The discipline of rock and roll, as left behind by the anarchical savant and now dominated by the pop-punk tropes that have turned TikTok into a breeding ground for superstars, is foreign to whatever our parents consider to be the golden era of the genre.
As the argument has historically stood for those who grew up with Black Sabbath or within the Nirvana-clad portion of Gen. Z who wished they were born in the ‘90s, the traditional pro-rock crowd tends to delve into notions of the mainstream being characterized by the same sounds. They beckon for a voice as unique and riveting as Eddie Vedder’s to sweep the nation, reclaiming grunge or hard rock’s throne atop the mountain of popularity where pop, hip-hop and EDM have long surpassed them.
I wholeheartedly agree that the pop-punk niche is pumping out more generic hooplah than ever before. It’s a state of affairs that the industry was bound to arrive at with the resurgence of pop-punk in the 2000s — the more that people began to crave the accessibility of pop-infused emo outfits like Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie, the more the general appeal of rock began to shift from instrumentalism and societal impact to angst and catchy choruses.
This isn’t to say that these aforementioned staples weren’t immensely talented — I consider Ben Gibbard to be one of the most profound songwriters I’ve ever come across, and vocalists such as My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way are raw evidence as to why new-age rock reigned only a decade and a half ago. I simply feel as though these acts set a precedent for today’s rock stars, like MGK, to seek radio play and streaming allure above all else.
For one, I don’t think that “selling out” is as inherently reprehensible as people make it out to be. If a track has a snappy hook over some basic drums and a guitar that doesn’t make my ears bleed, I can probably tolerate it — to that degree, MGK gets a pass. I don’t think you need one-of-a-kind artistry to make something enjoyable.
My main issue with the “rock is dead” argument, however, is that rock and roll has always centralized around the rockstar image and cultural influence more so than the music itself. With every “Dr. Feelgood” came a drug and intercourse-crazed chaos that catapulted similar efforts to classic status, and this same motif is attributable to every knighted British icon who ruled the States as if the American Revolution never happened.
MGK isn’t the ethereal sex symbol that was Jimi or the revolutionary powerhouse that was Freddy, but his plethora of haters would be lying to themselves if they said that he isn’t sending shockwaves through the fibers of pop culture. He is atop the totem pole of a pop-punk resurgence that manifested out of thin air, and he is effortlessly marketing his image with his newest “Mainstream Sellout” LP — the project raked in 93,000 first-week sales, and he’s set for an international tour of which will cater to 55 different cities.
Mick Jagger even went as far as to say that figures like MGK are vital for the future of rock in a recent appearance on Swedish radio station P4, stating that their “post punk vibe makes [him] think there is still a bit of life in rock ‘n’ roll.” As surprising as that may be, if I haven’t convinced you to hate pop-punk posers a little less, you can take that as some food for thought.
Rock music will likely never revert to the greatness that most herald it for, nor will our common conception of a rock star rise to fame anytime soon. That is a reality that we need to accept. What we have now is a 30-year-old exiled rapper-turned-dude with a black tongue, pink hair and an embarrassingly juvenile persona — but he has tens of millions at his fingertips, many of whom accept him as the only rock star they need. We should give him some credit for that.