Machine Gun Kelly was a star before his 2020 album Tickets To My Downfall, a brash hip-hop artist from Cleveland with some real crossover pop appeal and plenty of film/TV credits to his name. Yet Tickets To My Downfall, a hard pivot toward pop-punk after some previous forays into alternative rock, crystallized MGK’s skill set: hovering above his many talents was a sense of rebelliousness, and when paired with some slick hooks and screeching guitar riffs, that devil-may-care attitude took off from the runway with ease.
Mainstream Sellout both complements and expands upon Tickets To My Downfall by adhering to MGK’s newfound sound, recognizing his past, and almost always keeping the focus on his larger-than-life personality. Travis Barker once again is along for the ride, steadying the arrangements and making sure the percussion blasts out of headphones, and the guest list includes everyone from Willow to Gunna to Bring Me The Horizon. Machine Gun Kelly is an even more commanding presence than he was on Tickets To My Downfall, however, understanding that this is his shot at even greater mainstream stardom, and telling his singular stardom on his terms.
Where to dig in with Mainstream Sellout? While the full album is worth blasting from your biggest speakers, here are our picks for seven essential tracks from Machine Gun Kelly’s latest full-length:
7. “Born With Horns”
Mainstream Sellout was originally titled Born With Horns, and with that mind, the opening track acts as a type of thesis statement for the album, with MGK playing the part of the proud outcast (“I’d rather be a freak than somebody’s puppet!”) and the guitar-drum interplay reminiscent of mid-period Blink-182. “Born With Horns” is curled-lip, catchy-as-hell pop-punk, and the right choice for a lead track.
6. “Make Up Sex” feat. Blackbear
“My Ex’s Best Friend,” the MGK-Blackbear team-up from Tickets To My Downfall, proved to be that album’s biggest crossover hit, and this new collaboration tries to recapture that magic. Sure, “Make Up Sex” plays out exactly as one would imagine over the course of two minutes — spoiler alert, Machine Gun Kelly and Blackbear both enjoy make-up sex — but the details here, like the vocal distortion and “WOOO-oooh!” harmonies added into the mix, make this sequel rollicking enough.
5. “Die In California” feat. Gunna, Young Thug & Landon Barker
Although Mainstream Sellout contains a few nods to Machine Gun Kelly’s past life as a hip-hop artist — both Lil Wayne features, on “Drug Dealer” and “Ay!,” are worth perusing — “Die In California” most effectively combines MGK’s new-school pop-punk instincts with his rap background, with Gunna, Young Thug and Landon Barker (Travis’ son, natch) providing assistance. All four approach the subject of feeling anxious and unhappy in a state of sunshine and opulence with utmost sincerity, and come up with a downbeat, durable jam.
4. “Emo Girl” feat. Willow
A few weeks after it was released as a single from the album, the Willow collaboration “Emo Girl” makes more sense in the context of the full-length, as the track maintains the energy of the LP’s middle third and introduces Willow’s voice as an intriguing new presence. Everything about “Emo Girl” is lovably over-exaggerated, from MGK’s description of the titular queen to Willow’s giddy “La-la-LA-la-la-la” arrival to Megan Fox’s four-word intro, and makes for replay-ready sing-along.
3. “God Save Me”
After “Born With Horns” kicks off the album with a rebel yell, “God Save Me” digs deeper into the motivation behind MGK’s latest project by offering details of his personal struggles — there are references to the death of his father, suicide contemplation, therapy, sobriety, cynicism, the purity of love. Machine Gun Kelly keeps Mainstream Sellout a relatively light affair, but on a track like “God Save Me,” he nails a more serious pose without slowing down the album’s momentum.
2. “Mainstream Sellout”
One listen to “Mainstream Sellout” unlocks why Machine Gun Kelly named his album after it: the track serves as a collection of all the criticism he’s endured as a pop-punk interloping turned poster boy, hoisting up the familiar outcries — “Leave the scene, you’re ruining it!,” “You’re no icon, you’re just a parody” — and then fashioning a killer track around them. “Mainstream Sellout” cleverly deflects the cred debate while simultaneously showcasing MGK’s bonafides, and should, hopefully, convince some of the haters to at least nod along.
1. “Twin Flame”
A Machine Gun Kelly love ballad that will actually choke you up? Believe it: “Twin Flame,” which closes out Mainstream Sellout, is ostensibly an ode to Megan Fox, but also functions as a toast to finding someone who makes you feel seen, even (and especially) considering checkered pasts and personal damage. The way that “Twin Flame” breaks down and revs up into an epic finale will make for a strong set-capper when MGK plays it live, but its gentle contours on record will help the song truly last.