Machine Gun Kelly reaches new depths in 'Tickets to My Downfall'

The artist’s latest venture transcends genre and explores emotional vulnerability.

by Eleanor Schifino | 5/24/21 2:00am

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by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Machine Gun Kelly’s newest album transcends his former rap concentration and launches the artist into his newest exploration: pop-punk. Based heavily on popular music of the early 2000s, “Tickets to My Downfall” marks the genre’s return to popularity with a new edge that makes it stronger than before. With over 66 million streams, Kelly has seen more commercial success from this album than any of his previous work, proving his versatility by successfully making the difficult jump to a new genre.

The triumph of “Tickets to My Downfall” is born from the diversity of the tracks. Ranging from radio-ready hits to emotional ballads, the album — through its skillful combination of meaningful lyrics and engaging sound — creates a listening experience that invokes a personal connection to the artist. Telling his story of new love, painful loss and never-ending struggle, Machine Gun Kelly has created a genuine piece of art.

The pop-punk style of this album stems from a successful 2019 collaboration with artist YUNGBLUD and renowned drummer-producer Travis Barker on the song “I Think I’m OKAY,” in which Machine Gun Kelly proved himself to be more than just a rap artist. Capitalizing on the song’s success, Kelly continued his partnership with Travis Barker by enlisting his help in the production of a pop-punk album.

The lead single “bloody valentine” introduced fans to the new Machine Gun Kelly, a pink-wearing, guitar-playing rock star. The shift in style did not come as a surprise to early fans of Kelly, who has proven his melodic intuition in many previous works. The melodic, rap-less “27,” released in 2017, is a good example of an earlier song that hinted towards his imminent pop-punk shift, replete with intense drums and guitar. “bloody valentine” matched the aggression and intensity demonstrated in his past work, but with a lyrical romanticism that makes it an easy listen and a safe, mainstream release. 

As this song is clearly made for the radio and mass consumption, it lacks the complexity demonstrated by much of the album. However, this first single reassured apprehensive fans that not only could Machine Gun Kelly write in a pop-punk style, but that he could do so with the skill and poise of an artist who has been writing it for their entire career.

The album opens with “title track,” a spirited start that encompasses the punk-essence of the entire album. Writing about suicidal thoughts and the hate he has received, Kelly sings “Take the laser, aim at my head and paint the walls red, I said/I'm crazy, I'm off the meds, I'm better off dead, they said/I use a razor to take off the edge, jump off the ledge.” The hauntingly dark lyrics masked by heavy drums and intense guitar distinguishes “Tickets to My Downfall” from other failed attempts at the punk genre. Kelly maintains this delicate balance between emotional vulnerability and a tough attitude throughout the rest of the album.

The true power of Tickets to My Downfall does not come through in the multitude of upbeat punk anthems, but rather in the moments of raw fragility in which Kelly’s inner demons come out. While in other songs Kelly’s problems are hidden behind catchy melodies, songs like “lonely” and “play this when i’m gone” demonstrate an unfiltered vulnerability, reflecting on regret about the past and fear of the future. In “lonely,” Kelly sings, “Lonely, lonely, even when the room is full/I hate this, I'm jaded, and I'd trade it all for you,” reflecting on the desire for more time with his father, who died last July. Kelly used “lonely” to come to terms with his grief and connect with a man who he felt never understood him. In this fervent ballad of loss, Kelly contemplates his tumultuous relationship with his father, creating a powerful track that leaves listeners emotionally raw.

Confronting the constraints of mortality and fame, “play this when I’m gone” is not a song made for the fans, but is a gift to his daughter in the event of Kelly’s untimely death. Kelly writes that “You’re gonna cry and baby, that's alright, it's alright/I wrote you this song to keep when I'm gone/If you ever feel alone.” Kelly’s lyricism aided his transition to pop-punk, a genre known for its powerful musical renditions of dark thoughts. The purity and genuineness of a father’s unconditional love despite the misery and trauma that plagues Kelly’s life are expressed perfectly in this track, giving “Tickets to My Downfall” an emotional edge that Kelly’s previous albums have lacked. By comparison, his last album, “Hotel Diablo,” which was released in 2019, focused on fame, drugs and Kelly’s public feud with rapper Eminem.

The bulk of “Tickets to My Downfall” celebrates the turbulent nature of life through stories of sex, drugs, a refusal to grow up and all the struggle that comes with it. The gnarled, gritty vocals and angry instrumentals pay homage to pop-punk while evolving into a new genre that modernizes the style and demonstrates the power of angst. While not all tracks are created equal, the album has few skips. Besides the talking interlude that Kelly includes of him speaking with Pete Davidson, “kevin and barracuda,” the track “all I know” featuring Trippie Redd is the only song to skip. Compared to the rest of the album, the repetitive song feels superficial.

Overall, “Tickets to My Downfall” is a listening experience that covers a range of emotions, creating an album that is thoroughly adaptable to different moods and settings.

Kelly aptly named “Tickets to My Downfall,” as the risk of a genre change could have destroyed his well-acclaimed rap career. The strategic single releases of sure to be fan-favorites — such as “bloody valentine,” “concert for aliens” and “my ex’s best friend,” — and tracks that draw from pop punk’s roots and raw fragility — set the album for critical and commercial success. With “Tickets to My Downfall,” Kelly transcends genres of music and creates an emotional, powerful and astounding album that deserves to be revered. 

Rating: ★★★★★

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