March 11, 2021

GUEST ROOM | How Machine Gun Kelly Gave Away His Hope to Others

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Machine Gun Kelly’s newest project, Tickets To My Downfall, has had considerable success since dropping in September. The pop-punk inspired album debuted atop the Billboard Charts after selling 126,000 units in its first week. The collection of songs remains relevant and has championed a revival of the ubiquitous rock sound of the early 2000s. 

Ironically, while clearly a sonic experiment, the project centers around the same conceptual premise Kelly has long asspoused : Life is hard and Kelly’s fame and fortune have only exacerbated his emotional troubles. This is hardly a novel concept in music, yet the particular combination of sound, lyrics and vocals set this album apart and promulgate a unique message we can all learn from.

Tickets to My Downfall explores emotional angst, but to a celebratory and passionate tune. The blistering percussion and warm guitar strums are upbeat while the accompanying lyrics translate struggle and depression. This duality is evidence of the album’s central theme: the ambivalence of everyday life. Everyone deals with a constant internal conversation between drives and values –– subliminal and primal thought versus rational and conscious processing. This constant push and pull defines our mercurial nature. Kelly’s whole life has been permeated by this struggle and he makes it known on Tickets to My Downfall. His scratchy and rangy voice makes evident this struggle as he clearly seems pained and conflicted. This album is about the cognitive dissonance we all deal with but Kelly can’t quite tame. 

Everyone goes through pain and exuberance, but for Machine Gun Kelly, the two are tethered. Midway through the album on the song “All I Know”, Kelly laments, “My label hates that I’m like this , I gotta go through shit to keep writin’.” After making a career off expressing his pain, Kelly feels his success and artistry is tied to it. 

This album that brought him fame and fortune is also the soundtrack of his demise. The fast paced, bombastic ensemble of sounds represents Kelly’s natural desires and impulses. The lyrics, on the other hand, are his conscious thoughts, quite antithetical to the music and its portrayal. This clear disparity between the production and lyrics on the album represents the paradox Kelly finds himself in. 

The nature of Kelly’s music on Tickets to my Downfall perfectly encapsulates the enigmas we all face, but can’t quite solve. Who could blame Kelly for his struggle, when he cannot separate his success and failure. To avoid this paradox, we have to circumvent it all together. Kelly has reached his apex. He is living out everything he has ever dreamed of. And that is the problem, in and of itself. The only way to lose hope –– the driver that keeps all of us going –– is to fulfill your dreams. 

Life is an asymptotic endeavor. Achievement doesn’t get you past the Y or X axis.  There is always more to know and more to achieve. Kelly’s precipitous downfall, as illustrated by Tickets to My Downfall, should be about our exponential climb. Learning and achievement unlock new levels of understanding and opportunity, but don’t shield us from the vagaries of life. There is no untouchable position at the top. We are all subject to the fast paced currents of the environments around us. 

We too are inseparable from the angsty lyrics Kelly relays. This is all part of life. There is a budding concept in positive psychology called emodiversity that stipulates that we should all experience the full gamut of emotions on a regular basis. Being happy isn’t about the absence of sadness and being successful doesn’t imply the absence of failure along the way. Success  is, however, about the everlasting process of moving forward. 

In hindsight, Tickets to My Downfall is about reclamation. Kelly taps into the hopeful spirit of his youth (rock n’ roll), in an attempt to escape the paradox he finds himself crooning about. At the inflection point of life that is college, we should heed the message Mr. Machine Gun Kelly conveys: Conflicting emotions are a part of life. Do not fall into the endless cycle of opting for short term gain and then using more short term gain to numb the dire long term consequences. 

Sadness, failure and all other negative emotions are all part of the lifelong process of development. They will more often than not find their way into your life. What matters is how you deal with their presence, not their absence. Machine Gun Kelly learned the hard way.  There is no oasis in life, but that is, decisively, a good thing.  

Max Roitman is a sophomore in the school of Human Ecology majoring in Human Development. He recommends music as a medium to relate to and learn from. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.