Daniel Dorsa/The New York Times

April 25, 2022

‘Mainstream Sellout’ Will Not Be Sold Out

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On March 25, the rapper turned attempted punk rocker, Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker, released his sixth studio album, Mainstream Sellout. The album is meant to serve as a homage to the pop punk scene of the 2000s, as well as being his own personal contribution to the genre some 20 years after its heyday. 

Machine Gun Kelly has been flirting with the pop punk genre as far back as 2017, with his song, “Let Me Go.” This change in the cadence and lyrical content of his music was praised by critics and was something that I personally enjoyed. He capitalized on this new sound with his 2020 album, Tickets to My Downfall, whose cover art features him standing over an empty pool with a pink guitar in hand, both objects being solid references to early 2000s rock artists Avril Lavigne and The All American Rejects. There is no denying that he appreciates this genre and is probably the most prolific current mainstream proponent of it. Although he has made a valiant attempt at bringing attention to the genre, his own attempts at expanding it are not always appreciated.

Machine Gun Kelly has a history of making a name for himself in places where people think he doesn’t belong. For example, some said that he had no business starting beef with Marshall “Eminem” Mathers back in 2018, and he was also in a physical altercation with former two division UFC Champion, Connor McGregor, last September. Moreover, many have claimed that he simply does not belong in the pop punk genre, something that he passionately argues against. As previously mentioned, I enjoyed his first foray into the pop punk scene back in 2020. I thought that it was a perfectly valid attempt at branching out, but his latest one just doesn’t impress me as much. When reviewing albums, I try to single out certain songs that I think of as really exemplary, but I just can’t do that here. Despite his broad range of collaborators, ranging from Gunna and Bring Me the Horizon, every song sounds generic, with a pacing that seems to waste its already brief runtime. Indeed, the songs that feature collaborations with other artists, especially “Maybe,” tend to be more solid than the ones where Kelly is singing by himself. 

Pop punk is known for its fast paced rhythm and aggressive cadence, with artists such as Blink-182 and Green Day averaging around 160 beats per minute in their most popular songs. Most songs in Mainstream Sellout are a little bit slower, typically ranging from 14295 beats per minute. Yet despite the slower pace, these shorter songs, often around two minutes long, seem like they’re wasting the precious time that they have been given. What makes other songs of the genre so impressive is that one can get a true sense for the feelings that the artists are expressing in such a short span of time. This album feels more like the ramblings of someone who isn’t sure what they are trying to convey and are covering up that uncertainty with an overuse of guitar riffs.

The question that remains is a rather simple one, yet it never feels like it gets truly answered: what is Machine Gun Kelly doing here? That question isn’t meant to imply that he doesn’t belong in the genre, far from it. People should feel welcome to create whatever they are able to. However, that doesn’t exempt them from criticism. I certainly could not write a better pop punk album than Machine Gun Kelly, but I can summarize the issues that I have with it. Let us return to the question of “what is Machine Gun Kelly doing here?” Every artist, whether explicitly or implicitly, creates because something has compelled them to. And because of this, there is a message that can be found in the music. But there is no perceivable message here. Even improvisational music has a certain feel to it whereby you can tell if the artist is excited, depressed or something in between. This album simply exists. It exists like a handheld fan on a hot summer day: it might provide some temporary relief, but it will never feel like enough. Eventually it will be put back on the shelf, a forgotten knick-knack of a time filled with much more interesting things than a fan or this particular album.

Tom Sandford is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]