The career of Colson Baker, more commonly known as Machine Gun Kelly, has a lot of loose ends and question marks. Why did he appear in the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt? Why does his biggest hit interpolate Fastball's hit Out of My Head? Why does his music traffic in trashy, hyperbolic cliches? Why is Travis Barker of Blink-182 collaborating with him? The simple answer comes crashing through with MGK's fifth effort, Tickets to My Downfall: he's always been a rock kid at heart, so he's made a pop-punk album. Here's the twist: the annoying melodrama that made his rap material so exhausting is what gives his new music some real power.
Though his 2019 album Hotel Diablo mostly continued the commercial rap style that made Machine Gun Kelly famous, the record closed with "I Think I'm Okay," a melodic rock song featuring guest appearances from U.K. vocalist YUNGBLUD and blink-182's Travis Barker. The catchy tune injected Machine Gun Kelly's emotionally raw lyricism into a template of spirited guitar-driven pop-punk and it became a huge hit.
With his roguish blue-collar image and Hot Topic wardrobe, Machine Gun Kelly always seemed more lightweight than his self-serious rap music suggested. Over the course of four full-lengths and two EPs on Sean Combs's Bad Boy Records, his audience didn't grow up with him so much as shuffle listlessly alongside him, waiting for something interesting to happen. Despite flirtations with a more pop-driven sound, he always reverted to moody persecution narratives; he seemed neither aware of nor particularly interested in his place as a white rap star, save for the opportunity it afforded him to squabble with Eminem and make eyes at the elder rapper's then-teenaged daughter.