Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Machine Gun Kelly is kicking down the doors and making a name for himself as one of the most versatile artists out there. We at THP happen to be on the “love him” side, so we’re totally buzzing about his latest album, the pop-punk mainstream sellout that takes a darker approach to the genre than his previous record, 2020’s Tickets To My Downfall.
When Tickets To My Downfall went to #1 in 2020, we were excited at the prospect that Kells would finally get the recognition and credit he deserves. And while he did get more traction and success, it came with a whirlwind of hurtful words, cruel headlines, and even skepticism from fellow rockers. But in typical MGK fashion, he’s taking it in stride and using it to fuel some of his best art to date.
For an artist who’s been vocal about his mental health struggles from the get-go, it can be disheartening to see how many internet trolls and rude comments reduce him to just a character on the radio or a TV screen. From mentions of his depression and even references to a suicide attempt on 2019’s Hotel Diablo, Kells has never held back when it comes to letting struggling fans know they’re not alone in their experiences. These feelings haven’t subsided just because of his mainstream success, no matter how much people may want to ignore who he really is in favor of a media caricature.
I felt from the beginning, even in my household, like the kid who was just outcasted from birth. I was always too tall for the kids at my school, or I didn’t have enough money to buy the outfits the other kids had — it was just always something. But the world isn’t looking at me like that. They’re like, ‘F–k you, dude, you’re a rich rockstar. How hard could it be?’
Machine Gun Kelly to Billboard
mainstream sellout lets us into the mind of a “rich rockstar” who’s processing his childhood, the loss of his father, and depression in front of the world’s camera. All the while, he’s become more popular than ever and fell in love with a famous actress we all know and adore. More on that later, but for now, let’s dive in and see how Kells explores fame throughout the record!
Before we start discussing the actual songs, let’s talk about the album covers. The physical and deluxe editions have different cover art, and we love the symbolism behind each. The physical edition shows Colson’s signature tattoos covered in silver paint, reflecting how the media and general public often cover up his truth and who he actually is with sensationalized headlines and dismissal of his actual art. Meanwhile, his guitar shows his reflection as a show of how his music is a view into his true self.
The digital edition has Kells rocking out on his new “SELLOUT!” guitar while off-camera critics throw tomatoes at him. It plays on the criticism he’s gotten as his recognition has only grown, and in true unbothered MGK fashion, he turned that into a statement about his resilience. It’s also a pretty cool fashion statement, with the recolored tomatoes matching his pink hair.
His musical commentary on fame and mainstream success starts from the album’s first track, the energetic ‘born with horns.’ In many ways, it feels like the follow-up to Tickets To My Downfall’s opener, ‘title track,’ with a less triumphant feel. Where ‘title track’ reveled in the infamy while “selling tickets to [his] downfall,” ‘born with horns’ acknowledges “there’s no happy endings” and sees Kells taking a more honest, direct approach while describing his qualms about the spotlight.
“I’d rather be a freak than somebody’s puppet
Release your leash, I don’t belong in the circus
They cut each my wings soon as my name was in cursive…”
The second song on the record, ‘god save me,’ describes the ups and downs Colson has experienced throughout his life, touching on his tough childhood and struggles with mental health. Each pre-chorus details how the things he’s going through only become more complicated as he earns the success and acclaim he’s worked so hard for. The intro even touches on how the tragic events that influence someone’s music, and may even lead to their downfalls, result in “more plaques” for top execs while the artist’s life crumbles.
“Now, smile for the camera
Breakdowns are entertaining…”
It’s also worth noting that Kells’ longtime friends and bandmates, Slim and Baze, have production credits alongside Travis Barker on this one. Slim and Baze often produced his songs before he made it into the mainstream sphere, so their inclusion is a sweet testament to their bond and the fact that Colson is keeping his longtime friends close while expanding his musical and social circles. Now we just need a track where Rook and Travis take turns drumming…
While the heavier ‘maybe’ mostly comes off as being about a breakup or unhealthy relationship, Kells seems to touch on the mixed reactions he gets from the media and even some fans who don’t approve of the more rock-influenced sound he’s gone with recently, despite the fact he’s been inspired by rock music throughout his career. MGK’s verse is the first mention of escaping from fame on the record – a theme that later comes up on tracks like ‘sid & nancy’ and ‘twin flame.’
“Gotta get away, I hope you understand
I try to hide my face like a wanted man…”
mainstream sellout continues Kells’ streak of having a Pete Davidson-led interlude on his albums – the first was 2019’s vampire-themed ‘A Message From The Count’ and the second was 2020’s alien-themed ‘kevin and barracuda.’ This time, he also recruits his daughter, Casie, as they visit a “wall of famous people” somewhere in Los Angeles. Pete maybe unintentionally summarizes the feelings MGK expresses throughout the album within two lines, contrasting the desire for recognition with the dismissal of celebrity culture:
“I think the wall’s lame, but I wanna be on it
Does that make sense?”
After Pete and Casie’s comic relief, we kick into the high-octane ‘mainstream sellout,’ and once you hear the lyrics, you’ll understand exactly why MGK made this the album’s title track after changing the title from born with horns. It wraps up the criticism he’s gotten for focusing on pop-punk over the past few years while also proving exactly why he’s found so much success in the genre. It boils down the album’s main themes into a two-minute odyssey mocking gatekeepers over a simply addicting instrumental, with a catchy, floating melody reminding us of everything we love about pop-punk.
“I heard the feedback, I’m a poser with a guitar and a choker
Hidin’ under sunglasses
I made an album, they hate the tracklist
Leave the scene, you’re ruining it…”
Part of ‘mainstream sellout’ even sees Megan Fox hopping in to question, “does he even, like, play guitar?” This line comes off as a sly reference to the viral video of a Guitar Center employee claiming that Kells doesn’t really play his guitar in live performances. Colson laughed it off with a TikTok showing that he can, in fact, play guitar and poked fun at the irony of the employee wearing a cap promoting Liquid Death water, a company Kells is a part owner of.
While the TikTok favorite ‘emo girl’ doesn’t directly reference fame, its success and criticism make a pretty good point about MGK’s position in the spotlight. Some fans and critics have been skeptical of the repetitive chorus, but it was simply meant to be a fun hook for the song, and its viral status proves it was successful in that regard. Most choruses are kept simple to make sure the audience can remember it more easily, so why hate on Colson for doing the same thing? You could even interpret the song as a parody of sorts of the criticism MGK has gotten for moving more towards pop-punk.
“I’m in love with an emo girl
I fell in love with an emo girl
All I want is an emo girl…”
The album’s original lead single, ‘papercuts,’ gets a makeover with new guitars and additional backing vocals, as well as a newly-added rap verse MGK originally performed at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. The song is a celebration of all the hard work he’s put in over the years, though it also touches on the hate he’s gotten in the media. It even calls out people who claim he “switched genres,” insisting that he instead “saw the limit and took it farther” to push himself and his artistry. You tell ‘em, Kells!
“Everybody’s so nice lately (Everybody’s not nice)
Polarized feelings, I don’t wear them on my face lately
Internalized everything the headlines say lately…”
I know it kills certain bands in that community that I got the success that I got. But I earned that s–t. Dude, I was f–king loading up the van with our drums and amps in 2010, driving to Indiana and Chicago, playing Warped Tour. I can tell you the f–king Wi-Fi codes to venues in Blackfoot, Idaho. Can you say that s–t as a band?
Machine Gun Kelly to Billboard
‘WW4’ continues on the angst of 2019’s ‘WWIII’ in a new vein, comparing Kells’ experience dealing with hate and skeptics to an apocalypse. It even calls out artists that bash him for seemingly no reason, and we’re proud of him for standing his ground even while being seen as an underdog in the industry. Even while his peers are contributing to the hate he gets, he’s pushing forward and continuing to defy expectations with every album he puts out.
“I hear too many interviews from these artists in the news
Speakin’ on my name, so this is what we’re gonna do
I got ten fingers, just two, both hands, f–k you…”
If ‘mainstream sellout’ came out as a classic vinyl single, the emotional ‘die in california’ would definitely be its complementary b-side. It’s a darker look at the song’s theme with assistance from Landon Barker – yes, Travis‘ immensely talented son – and fellow rappers Gunna and Young Thug. It feels like a sequel of sorts to his track ‘Hollywood Whore,’ which touched on his disenchantment with fame through the lens of betrayal. But here, he’s criticizing fame and the entertainment industry as a whole.
“I’m miserable even though I made it
Got a house in the Hills and I f–kin’ hate it
Killed the me I used to be
I might die in California…”
‘die in california’ feels like a combination of songs like 2017’s ‘27,’ 2019’s ‘Hollywood Whore,’ and 2020’s ‘title track’ while still offering something new and fresh. It’s straightforward while also giving unexpected lyrics and callbacks to his past. Meanwhile, the rock sound partnered with trap beats and collaborators from different genres makes it the ultimate marriage of his two sides: rapper and rockstar. Though no matter what the media or general public thinks, those sides have co-existed from day one.
On ‘sid & nancy,’ Kells compares his highly-publicized, passionate relationship with Megan Fox to that of Sid Vicious, the late bassist of Sex Pistols, and Nancy Spungen. Colson explained on an Instagram Live the night of mainstream sellout’s release that he mostly freestyled the track to surprise Megan for her birthday, which we think is such a unique idea! The song touches on their commitment to each other, as well as how she helps him ease his mind from the pressures of the spotlight.
“Now start the car, baby, and take me the f–k out of here…”
The car imagery returns on the album’s final track, the bittersweet ‘twin flame.’ It’s another ode to Megan that takes on a more pessimistic view compared to songs like 2020’s ‘banyan tree.’ Like ‘banyan tree,’ it includes a recording of Kells and Megan talking, offering a sweet glimpse into their connection. And did you catch that the “maybe ask you earlier, ‘be mine’” lyric nods to the “be mine, be mine, baby” from the bridge of 2020’s ‘bloody valentine?’
“MGK: I feel like, um, just leaving here and…
Megan: You feel like what?
MGK: Me and you can just drive somewhere, we can just leave
Megan: Okay, I love you…”
But as much as we’d love to focus on the nicer moments of ‘twin flame,’ it’s equally as important, if not more important, to acknowledge the darker side of the song. Colson paints himself as a monster of sorts, whether that’s from his own fear and worries of hurting Megan or if it’s influenced by how the media and public have reacted to their relationship. It’s not uncommon to see a snarky “get away from her” or rude comment about his appearance under pictures of them together, and we wish people could just let them be happy without trying to taint it.
“I cannot kiss you yet, you’re magic, so I’ll just stare at you instead
I get insecure and panic ’cause I know you’re too pure for this
You’re too good for me, I’m too bad to keep
I’m too sad, lonely, I want you only…”
Full of explosive guitar riffs, heartbreakingly introspective lyrics, and some of the most impressive duality of MGK’s career, mainstream sellout explores the contrast between fame and private life in such a beautiful way. It gives us more of a glimpse into Colson’s mind than ever, and we could only imagine how scary it gets for him to let such a vulnerable piece of himself out into the world when he’s at the top.
But Kells, thank you for constantly shrugging off the doubts and nay-sayers in favor of staying true to yourself and helping listeners who are dealing with similar feelings. While most of us may not be able to relate to the commentary on life in the spotlight, this is the same Machine Gun Kelly that taught us to Lace Up, acknowledge our feelings, and keep moving forward in spite of it. You’ve flipped the term “mainstream sellout” into a whole new meaning and proven that the best is still yet to come.
What did you think of mainstream sellout? Which songs do you hope get music videos? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more MGK content to keep you busy while you’re streaming the album on repeat, click here.