It makes sense that the pioneer of the new wave of pop punk would be Machine Gun Kelly. A controversy from the start, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, straight-out-of-Cleveland white kid turned heads with whatever he did. With his rapid rap flow that doesn’t at all match his look, a lockbox filled with family trauma, and a beef with Eminem that literally came out of nowhere, the rapper has made a career purely out of pushing the boundaries. So, of course he’d make a pop punk album; and of course he’d be good at it.
Tickets to My Downfall is the official foray to MGK becoming a rock star. With a jagged edge that cuts through both his sound and his aesthetic and a friend-for-life in pop punk legend Travis Barker (who helped to produce the album), the rapper has arguably found what suits him best. Hanging up his raps for the time being, MGK debuts a raw and raspy voice that sounds pretty damn good against rugged guitar slams and rock percussion and a new sense of emotional honesty that makes pop punk so loveable.
Starting off with the aptly named ‘title track,’ a headbanger that sounds like it came off a Blink 182 B-side, MGK gets right to the point. “I sold some tickets to come see my downfall,” he sings, “they sold out in minutes. I saw friends in the front row, they’ll leave when I’m finished.” And it’s there, within the first minute, that we understand the entirety of the album. This is an MGK we’ve never seen before; not only due to the new musical territory, but his identity. Against heavy rock beats and the typical pop punk song structure, a rapper is at his most true self.
Then we’re into the party hits; the ones that take us back to school discos where we’d dye our fringe pink and wear all black. Except now we’re older, and not only are we allowed to do that whenever we want, we have a modernised pop punk leader to encourage it. The catchy ‘kiss kiss’ makes an earworm chorus out of kissing “the bottle all night” and the adolescent anthem ‘drunk face’ sees MGK promising he’ll “grow up next summer.” Award-winning single ‘bloody valentine’ fits in nicely here, its chant-worthy chorus making for a nice inclusion to the party’s playlist.
On the Paramore-esque ‘forget me too’, Halsey makes an appearance and again lends her hand to the art of modern pop punk. It’s a collab we’ve been dying to see since Halsey’s 2019 smash-hit with YUNGBLUD and her dip into the genre on latest album Manic, and it’s well worth the wait. The two sound perfect together, redefining the genre to represent the new generation while still keeping some nostalgic elements. And on ‘all I know’, Trippie Redd helps to make an emo-trap tune that somehow manages to sound like Juice WRLD and Weezer all at once.
But the album’s best moments come when the party’s over. The lonely, vulnerable parts of the evening where it’s just MGK alone with his thoughts. On ‘lonely,’ the star opens up about the recent passing of his father and even shares a heartbreaking recording at the end that sees his father explaining MGK’s tricky birth and a heart scare that assumed the star wouldn’t survive. On the interlude ‘banyan tree’, he shares an intimate conversation between him and current girlfriend Megan Fox and on the final track ‘play this when I’m gone’, he writes an emotional goodbye to his 11-year-old daughter Casie. In all its scribbled and emotional mess, a rock star is processing the only way he knows how. Turn it all into art and just try and feel it.
Singles ‘concert for aliens’ and ‘my ex’s best friend ft. blackbear’ are snuggled nicely in between the moments of raw fragility, and so too are the barely-2-minute bangers ‘WWIII’ and ‘jawbreaker’; the first of which literally couldn’t sound more pop punk if it tried. Ex-collaborator iann dior joins MGK again for the plunging ‘nothing inside’ and one half of everyone’s favourite BFF duo Pete Davidson joins his mate to laugh about doing shrooms and each other’s alien names on the interlude ‘kevin and barracuda.’
It feels as though this was who Machine Gun Kelly was supposed to be all along. With an attitude bigger than rap and enough pain and misery to fuel several people, pop punk seems a fitting place to reside. And while it’s unclear whether the star will stay on this path, travel back to hip hop, or simply try something else, we can confidently mark Tickets to My Downfall as a startling debut for essentially a brand-new star. Downfall or not, this album’s one hell of a show.