Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Machine Gun Kelly – Bloody Valentine

Next, from Juana, an artist we definitely have loved less…

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The best 2000s-era pop punk album of 2020 was Stand Atlantic’s Pink Elephant. The only 2000s-era pop punk album of 2020 that mattered, however, was Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets to My Downfall. That’s not true, of course, but acts like Knuckle Puck and Neck Deep and Yours Truly don’t inspire nerds to think and talk and write about their music’s mere existence. The thing about “Bloody Valentine” and the rest of the album (save “Forget Me Too“) is that it’s boring as shit. The instrumentation feels caged-in; when you hear the hi-hats and snare, it feels like a parody of Travis Barker hitting one of his cymbals with both sticks: some real grug love noise, grug hit drum music. The guitars, try as they might, are equally undynamic. This would all be fine if MGK were as whiny as the rest of em — be it the emo rappers of today or the theatrical emo crooners of the 2000s — but he aims for a straight-ahead approach that’s less Milo Aukerman than bored, confused teenager. So, yeah, it’s a fun song to think and talk and write about. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Jackie Powell: In the latest iteration of events we didn’t expect to happen in 2020, I listened to Machine Gun Kelly a lot. I won’t get into the data, the Spotify Wrapped specifics of it all, but his pivot to pop-punk brought me back to a time in my life when my Walkman and later my iPod Nano were filled with Blink-182, Simple Plan and Under My Skin-era Avril Lavigne. In my review of Colson Baker’s other single “My Ex’s Best Friend,” I noted the essence of pop-punk: angst, high energy, and exaggerated emotions. There isn’t a place for indifference. And that was why I was initially shocked that Machine Gun Kelly was able to pull this off in the first place. But as Kelly Clarkson identified in an interview with Baker, his lyrics on Tickets to My Downfall and on “Bloody Valentine” in particular are filled with depth, emotion and in some cases poetry. With a lead guitar part that MGK plays himself, Travis Barker’s iconic stylistic choices and drum fills, and transitory keys during the pre-chorus, “Bloody Valentine” tells a story that’s equally relatable and self-aware. As Baker explains the emotional rollercoaster that landed him in a relationship with Megan Fox, he admits exactly what the omniscient audience is thinking with the phrase: “I’m callin’ you ‘girlfriend,’ what the fuck?” But famous and bizarre power couples aside, the bottomless narrative remains in what infatuation does to the brain, putting it sometimes in direct conflict with the heart. Yes, the heart wants what it wants, but the brain synthesizes what it wants as well. If this song came out in 2005, shippers would have edited it to accompany footage of the relationship between Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls. In season two of the show, Echolls explains to Mars how epic their relationship is: one that spans “years and continents,” where lives could be “ruined” and where “bloodshed” is inevitable. So what’s a “Bloody Valentine,” then? I think Baker would agree that it’s one that doesn’t come easy.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: He’s love drunk, he checked yes Juliet, his sugar went down, yada yada yada.

Iain Mew: There’s the unsurprising Blink-182 reference and a couple of very “Mr. Brightside” bits, but mostly this sounds like a far clunkier version of Stereophonics’ “Dakota.” That is, his new wave rock displays less of a careful touch than a group who literally released an album called Keep Calm and Carry On.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I stand by my assertion that MGK isn’t making pop-punk but instead something more like ’80s power pop. He’s not “clever” in the way Blink-182 or Green Day were, but his straight-ahead sad dude come-ons sound like the biggest thing in the world here, like Eddie Van Halen exec produced this instead of Travis Barker. It’s telling that the least effective part is the stripped-down bridge– without the chug of the guitar and the beacon of the synths, MGK’s Lil Peep impression of a croon breaks through, and that’s not quite enough to sustain “Bloody Valentine.”

Vikram Joseph: Oh god, he really can only sing three notes. This is considerably better than “My Ex’s Best Friend”, though, with some genuine propulsion behind it and a rocket-fuel chorus that could conceivably pass for Paramore (albeit fronted by an asthmatic Tom Delonge). It’s let down, in turn, by a guitar solo that just repeats the chorus melody (like Green Album-era Weezer, but without the harmonies or the charm), and a middle eight that badly exposes Kelly’s vocals and, to be honest, his songcraft. Still, this is fizzy enough to be kind of enjoyable.

Nortey Dowuona: A monster of a heavy, slamming drum pattern rides slinky bass and thin, shrink-wrapped guitars as Kelly runs from it, a gleeful grin on his face. A massive drum fill misses him as he keeps running, peeking over his shoulder and even slowing down to a stroll. A tail of guitar solos and the claws of the drum fill miss him again, then loping piano chords lift the monster atop Kelly, the drum fill claws ready to shred him. Then Kelly leaps up, attached to the guitar tail, and lands upon the monster’s back. The monster runs bitterly towards the sun, Kelly triumphant, then bucks him and sends him over the edge of the world.

Jeffrey Brister: “Bloody Valentine” doesn’t reach the melodramatic highs of “forget me too,” but what could, really? There’s something about it, though: the way the song ebbs and flows, how the arrangement charges forward and pulls back at just the right moments, the strategically placed flourishes, all impeccably constructed. MGK’s vocal ability is low even for pop-punk, but he sings with sincerity and auto-tune, so it all evens out. The epitome of “pretty good.”

Oliver Maier: I’m as surprised as anyone at how competent this is, but that’s owed more to sturdy production than MGK’s unconvincing snarl. The problem is less that it’s boardroom-meeting pop-punk (which can be perfectly great) than that his is a test-tube personality, bereft of presence or charisma.

Samson Savill de Jong: The song’s progenitor is the most interesting thing about it, which never bodes particularly well, especially when it implies MGK could be considered interesting. I’ve never been into pop punk, so I’m aware I am not the target demographic. But there’s nothing done in this song that hasn’t been done in 1,000 pop punk songs before. It’s done competently, and maybe that’s enough. MGK as a generic pop punk singer with no new ideas is better than MGK as a generic rapper with no new ideas, because at least he’s giving people something they’ve been starved of. But I don’t see this converting anyone.

Katherine St Asaph: The test of a pop-punk song by bros is how good it would be as a karaoke pick (obligatory: in 100 years, through a bathysphere, much like the one MGK recorded his vocals in). This would only be good because of that guy who’d butt in halfway to air-drum to Travis Barker. Otherwise, it’s only shallow.

Brad Shoup: Everything may be pop-punk, but that doesn’t mean all legs kick with equal force. “The simulation just went bad/But you’re the best I ever had” is one of the best opening couplets in some time, but MGK didn’t see fit to chase it with anything other than rope-a-dope chord changing. The chorus doesn’t drive, it jogs in place. We’re also good on MBV references for at least another 10 to 15.

Aaron Bergstrom: “The simulation just went bad” is the perfect opening line for this little pop-punk miracle that has absolutely no business existing in our reality. The backstory is a half-baked movie pitch no one’s buying: A rapper cast as Tommy Lee in the Netflix adaptation of The Dirt never stops pretending to be a rock star. He teams up with the drummer from Blink-182, who didn’t write any of their best songs, and they proceed to co-write multiple certified gems that sound like they came from a recovered TRL-era time capsule. The resulting album goes straight to the top of the charts. (“You said it’s a pop-punk album? And this is set in 2020? No, sorry, hard pass. Maybe if he joined a K-pop band instead?”) I have so many questions, but the biggest one is: MGK, dude, if you can do this, why the years of terrible rapping?

Thomas Inskeep: Great to learn that, with the help of blink-182’s Travis Barker, a shitty white rapper can become a mediocre pop-punker.

Juana Giaimo: I find it hard to like music if I don’t identify with the artist, and Machine Gun Kelly and I don’t have much in common. He is a rap star full of tattoos whose lyrics deal with substance abuse, empty relationships and an irresponsible lifestyle. I’m just a normal girl with no tattoos who considers myself maybe too responsible in life. But there is one thing that we share: we both fell for pop-punk in 2020. How could I not love it? It’s pop but full of angst! Just pay attention to “Bloody Valentine”‘s composition: a detailed song structure, only to emphasize that our mental state is a complete mess. (And that’s why mainstream emo in the ’00s was mostly pop-punk.) It opens with upbeat drums and a warm, welcoming guitar intro until MGK breaks in with his hoarse voice. The pre-chorus has a nostalgic homage to Tom Delonge when he sings “in my yiieed.” Next comes a dynamic two-part chorus (the best kind of chorus!), the first part featuring a beat-like vocal melody, each line introduced by “I! Know!”, and the second part speeding up the drums and melody (of course Travis Barker is behind this) while MGK stretches out each vowel in the song title. The guitar solo is short, and the quieter bridge works as an emotional interlude. Finally, we have an explosive final post-chorus with those “na! na! na!”s that replicate the guitar solo’s melody. It ends abruptly, with MGK singing that “in my yyiiieeed!” at the top of his lungs. But “Bloody Valentine” is also great because it’s a love song full of vulnerability. He is confused and anxious, he isn’t sure if the other person feels like he does, and he is realizing that all these feelings about love are new to him (see above: empty relationships). The music video adds a whole other layer of meaning, as his love interest shuts him up and takes over the song. She seems to be asking: “am I truly listening to another song about a guy who discovers he has feelings?” And this year I said to myself many times: “Am I really feeling like this again?” every time I was sad, frustrated, hopeful and disappointed. But this year I made peace with that old self and tried to accept that my teenage ups and downs are still in me — and maybe will always be.

Scott Mildenhall: “Bloody Valentine” seems more chaotic when its lyrics are read alone. Flitting around in confusion and self-doubt, their lack of clarity gives an overall effect that the song does not live up to. Machine Gun Kelly’s delivery isn’t unaccomplished, but it is extraordinarily monotonous, and that does nothing to counter the lack of dynamism elsewhere. There’s little progression and little friction; when the synths show up, it’s as if someone forgot to put them in the rest of the song. Get someone who knows about those to remix it, and you’re in business.

Alfred Soto: The caffeinated beats and intrusive synth certainly make a bigger impression than the OK vocal. The title alludes to their lonely betters, standing bemused on the sidelines.

Edward Okulicz: A disaster in theory, “Bloody Valentine” rides its authentic power punk pop rhythm into a rapturous state while simultaneously sounding so bored as to be about to collapse. Machine Gun Kelly snarls with the most power a man could if he were suffering from a head cold while trying to invent a completely new and unplaceable accent. A handful of good lines and catchy bits, and that’s enough to really remind me of that depressed-in-the-moshpit feeling I spent a large part of the late ’90s experiencing.

Hannah Jocelyn: Early in 2020, dancehall star Vybz Kartel released “Not OK,” where he mumbles over what sounds like a demo of “Bloody Valentine.” It sounds like what teenagers do when they mentally rewrite a song to be about themselves. That it came out months before “Valentine” feels especially surreal when Machine Gun Kelly’s seemingly appeared out of nowhere. It’s the work of professionals (Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Fall Out Boy craftsman Neal Avron), but it still feels like a miracle, a frustratingly flawless ode to limerence. The tropes are there — the cheap heat of “the simulation just went bad,” the flangered drum fill at 2:28, every cry of “in my yead” — but the ones they quietly subvert elevate the song. Machine Gun Kelly turns pop-punk’s storied misogyny on its yead, falling hopelessly for this girl but denying his actual feelings. But he seems to recognize “I’m a notch in your bedpost but you’re just a line in a song” is not actually a flex (ty Punch Up The Jam for that insight). There are no real stakes, just yearning, and that’s why “Bloody Valentine” is so devastating to hear: the awareness of knowing how ridiculous something is, then the inability to pull away. In real life, MGK’s limerent object felt just as intensely about him as he did about her, but regardless of that subtext, MGK knows how unlikely it is that something so intense so quickly can (or should) last. These things are usually better off in our yeads. Fortunately, “Bloody Valentine” didn’t stay that way. When teenagers write any songs, they think they’re writing this.

Reader average: [8.5] (2 votes)

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7 Responses to “Machine Gun Kelly – Bloody Valentine”

  1. this was a fun read! i like this song and also the rest of the mgk album but i didn’t blurb because it’s basically like “hm this is fine pop punk” [5] or [6]. however, agreed with jmk, “forget me too” is a crazy standout for me – would have been a [8] lol

  2. Yes! More love for “forget me too”! If we all try hard enough, we can will a Halsey pop-punk album into existence!

  3. It was hard picking between this and “forget me too”, but 2020 is the year I started appreciating when artists release a lead single with no featurings. (Also, “forget me too” was released on October 22nd, so maybe we can cover it in January? I know many writers would like that!)

    I truly enjoyed reading all the blurbs and I’m glad this had as much controversy as I expected!

  4. This is the #4 controversy track so far, behind Brad Paisley, Jacob Collier, and Bob Dylan.

    This year is obviously an outlier for….every reason, but it was a particularly low controversy year even given the reduced song schedule, meaning there was a high number of low controversy songs (under 1 on the Controversy Index). I think I’ll go back and revive my Consensish list, where I rank the *least* controversial tracks we generally liked (under 1 controversy, 6+ overall score). The only other time I did it was 2016.

    Here’s the spreadsheet for those interested:

  5. for me i think it’s less make halsey into a pop-punk star and more make halsey into an artist who exclusively does duets with others lol

  6. I revisited so much 2000s pop punk because of this album and it made me realize how great the vocalizing all was back then. Just so much more effective than MGK’s uncharismatic babbling. But… I think that’s part of why “Forget Me Too” work so well, he really has his role in that song (which needs Halsey to balance out).

  7. spoilers: it won’t be the #4 controversy track for long

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