Will Adams: More like “Love the Way You WHY” amirite???
Maxwell Cavaseno: A curious condition of America’s relationship to rap is that they continue to mistake speed as skill. Speed is a death-trap that doesn’t always lead to technical proficiency but can become unemotive excess. Yet for some reason, the non-casual rap listener loves hearing rappers gointobreathlesswonderasifthebrillianceoftheirrhymesmighttakethemunder, even if this means the rapper is doing poorly. After a few years, Machine Gun Kelly has stopped on this crutch that had him unfairly labeled “A Worse Yelawolf” by the blogger consensus (the mistake being unlike Yela, Kelly’s rap idol was not Eminem’s raging hysterics but DMX’s manic schizophrenia). This leaves a bare voice that now has to finally learn the subtleties of emoting through tone, not words delivered in that tensing throat monotone. Hailee Steinfeld’s hook is a motivational IG meme repost, and in a way I can’t shake I still am unnerved how MGK’s new career path appears to be “Family Friendly A-Wax,” but it’s a step in the right direction.
Thomas Inskeep: I feel pretty damn certain that absolutely no one who heard “Bad Things” on top 40 radio thought, “This is good, but I really wish it had more of that Eminem pretender rapping.” And Hailee Steinfeld needs to fire her agent for getting her stuck with crap like this.
Joshua Copperman: This is nearly the same song as “Bad Things,” but even more Alex Da Kid-ish — like, it even brings up scar tissue again. Worse, it doesn’t even have the earworm factor of early 2010s Alex Da Kid productions, or even “Bad Things”! But Hailee isn’t Camila Cabello, and she does sell the chorus, as fundamentally dumb as it is. Neither of them can pull off the “this song is for anybody” section, though, because nobody has ever pulled that off, especially not when it sounds like a self-important artist annotating his own song.
David Sheffieck: Look, this song is dumb and MGK is dumb. And wow, that bridge really is both the most cynical and most sincere thing I’ve heard this year, or maybe just a Rorschach test in which of the two you pick. But I listened to plenty of dumb music when I was in Kelly’s target audience, and most was only a bit subtler than this. Yet it was equally as functional — it did what it said it wanted to, and exactly what I needed it to, which was to make me feel seen and acknowledged and valuable. There’s an age when you might need Sesame Street and an age when you might need MGK, and while I don’t appreciate the execution, I can at least give the goal some credit. Maybe it’s just that Kelly seems like he wouldn’t quite grasp cynicism even if he wanted to.
William John: If hearing this helps depressed teens get out of bed, then power to it, but Machine Gun Kelly’s lackadaisical performance obfuscates any of “At My Best”‘s messages of encouragement. He champions those who “fought their way through” in unconvincing, rhymeless croaks, as though he’d prefer to stop rubbing the sleep from his eyes and roll back over onto his pillow. Hailee Steinfeld’s contribution is disappointingly anonymous, failing to enliven the banality.