New Machine Gun Kelly album: pop-punk at its blandest and most derivative



Machine Gun Kelly took a musical pivot two years ago when he swapped rap for 2000’s pop-punk with “Tickets to My Downfall.” A surprisingly slick endeavor, “Tickets” presented a smorgasbord of dumb fun with catchy enough choruses to make up for from its hollowness. But the self-awareness present on that record, which gave Kelly some leeway with embarrassingly immature lyrics, is completely absent from his newest project, “mainstream sellout.” It’s as if he now truly thinks he’s a savior for the misunderstood teens of the 2020’s, tossing skin-deep nihilism over painfully repetitive guitars for 40 straight minutes. Beyond that, the album flat-out refuses to make any engaging sonic choices, resulting in a product that sounds like the same dated song cut and pasted 15 times over.

When single “emo girl” began to make the rounds on TikTok in February, the biggest conclusion I drew was that that Kelly’s marketing strategy is based solely on the saying “all publicity is good publicity”: it was deservedly mocked to hell and back on social media (for reference, he’s engaged to Megan Fox). Aside from the creepiness of Kelly pining over a suspiciously archetypical teenage girl, the song is mind-numbingly moronic. “emo girl” is entirely composed of its subject’s stereotypes: she wears black boots, eyeliner, and a Blink-182 tee.  It surpasses “so bad it’s good” territory altogether, probably landing somewhere in the realm of “so-bad-you-wonder-how-it-ever-saw-the-light-of-day.”

For a body of work that references drugs as much as “mainstream sellout,” you’d expect it to at least try to appeal to an audience that can see R-rated movies. Kelly’s best advice for the younger generation? “Your teachers are full of s**t / You don’t need to go to school / Life’s gonna kick your ass anyway.” He continues to pile on the teen angst. “You make me 5150 / I’m damaged / Please don’t fix me” he shouts on “5150,” referencing California’s code for psychiatric commitment. Clearly, no one told him that wallowing in self-pity stopped being charming when he turned 20 (he’s 31, by the way). 

And the drug references themselves are predicated on the most tired of clichés. Kelly abuses substances to, get this, dull the pain. Isn’t that cool and unique? “Only playlists I like are the sad ones / Yeah I let the medicine in / I know it don’t help in the end” Kelly goes on “ay!,” before launching into a non-chorus that simply repeats the song’s title eight times. The track is unfortunately the second of two Lil Wayne features on “mainstream sellout,” the first being “drug dealer.” While pining over a girl who is, you guessed it, a drug dealer, Kelly manages to namedrop lean, Percocet, cocaine, marijuana, and Adderall in less than three minutes. Is he glorifying addiction? I’d leave that for you to decide, but you shouldn’t have to endure the listen. The answer is yes.

If a single, absolute lowest point of the entire run has to be named, then the opening of the title track takes the cake. Kelly throatily shouts about his reputation in an incredibly irritating inflection, putting a Klaxon-like emphasis on the third syllable of each line. He somehow misses the irony: “I’m a poser / With a guitar / And a choker.” In second place is probably the first verse of “WW4,” where he sing-raps (terribly off-beat) about what can be best described as a delusional recollection of a zombie apocalypse. Nonsensical to the point of unhinged, it’s probably meant to represent Kelly’s perpetually dysfunctional mental state. Again, it all leads back to drugs.

So rarely have I heard anything with so few redeeming qualities. “mainstream sellout” manages to be both bland and annoying, skin-deep and inscrutable. What might just be the saddest part of the whole ordeal, though, is the absolute dearth of self-respect anybody who contributed creatively to this project must have. It doesn’t even work as parody: parody has to have a target, and this album consists of a series of poorly executed, loosely related tropes. Kelly, I beg of you: stay out of this genre and focus on your creepy romance with Megan Fox instead.