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Machine Gun Kelly on Pop Punk Success: “I Earned That Shit”

"I know it kills certain bands in that community that I got the success that I got. But I earned that shit."

machine gun kelly pop punk earned that shit interview festivals
Machine Gun Kelly, photo by Amy Harris
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    In a first for his career, Machine Gun Kelly is right on time. His breakthrough song “Wild Boy” was late to trap in hip-hop, and his 2019 curveball Hotel Diablo came years after artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Peep had brought about the emo rap revolution. Despite picking up a sizable audience, critics never warmed up, pegging him as another white carpetbagger capitalizing on Black excellence. But he saw the pop punk wave coming, and in 2020 Tickets to My Downfall surfed that towering trend to win its place as the No. 1 album in the country — MGK’s first such achievement. Now, he’s not only headlining marquee festivals, he’s dunking on first-wave pop punk acts bitching from the smaller font, telling Billboard,“I earned that shit.”

    “I know it kills certain bands in that community that I got the success that I got,” he said. “But I earned that shit. Dude, I was fucking loading up the van with our drums and amps in 2010, driving to Indiana and Chicago, playing Warped Tour. I can tell you the fucking Wi-Fi codes to venues in Blackfoot, Idaho. Can you say that shit as a band?”

    He also reflected on his own arc as an artist, which included becoming proficient at guitar. “The 2010s was great for singers and rappers, and I was part of that,” he recalled. “But I think we needed something else: We needed an instrument. Kids come up to me like, ‘Dude, the first time I ever saw someone play guitar in concert was at your concert — and now I take guitar lessons.’”

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    He added, “Never once was I like, ‘I need to be touted as the greatest guitar player,’ but you know what, though? I’m playing my fucking guitar.” He also mocked award show performers who sing with the backing of a prerecorded track. “Fuck that! At least mine sounds like how I was feeling that day, and maybe I was feeling angry, or I was drunk and I didn’t give a fuck. But if I have to be a scapegoat for people’s own insecurities, whatever. I’m more punk rock than you are because at least I’m willing to put my ass on the line — like, hear me as I am, today.”

    The artist born Colson Baker also paid tribute to his hero, Lil Wayne, whose 2010 rock record Rebirth foreshadowed many trends to come. “That motherfucker is everything I loved about the rock stars from back then, he said. “Someone where you’re like, ‘I don’t have the screw loose enough to pierce my face a million times or go out like “Fuck you!” to the world — but I need a vessel to live through.’”

    Finally, he mused about his upcoming album mainstream sellout, and the surreality of writing tortured songs from an increasingly comfortable position. “The torture is real,” he said. “However, do I invite the torture or create it for myself? Probably. Do I fear a stable life? Do I fear that it’s going to stop my writing? For sure. Sometimes I wake up, and it’s like, ‘It’s sunny today. I live in this house today. What am I? I am a mainstream sellout, dude.’”

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    mainstream sellout drops March 25th. It used to be called born with horns, but Machine Gun Kelly gave it a new name, which wouldn’t have been so unfortunate if he and his producer Travis Barker hadn’t gotten the old name tattooed on their arms.

    The “Mainstream Sellout Tour” with Avril Lavigne kicks off in June, and tickets are available here.

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