Machine Gun Kelly: Pop-Punk Reinvented

Image Courtesy of Rock Sound

By Katie Van Lew

Richard Colson Baker, more popularly known as Machine Gun Kelly, achieved a career high upon his release of his fifth studio album, Tickets to My Downfall.  The album, which has debuted at number one on the Billboard charts this week, is evidence that Baker’s rebranding from hip-hop to pop-punk has been an overnight success.

Beginning in childhood, Baker has had an attraction to music. With a turbulent early life, Baker turned to music to cope with the troubles that came with his nomadic lifestyle and a dysfunctional family. 

Finally, the Baker family settled in Cleveland, Ohio where Baker’s career bloomed. Despite the hardships he faced, he was persistent in cultivating a name for himself. With the help of his first manager, a local t-shirt shop owner,  Baker began pushing out mixtapes as rapidly as his lyrical flow. Many coined Baker as having a lyrical flow synonymous with machine gun-like speed, and thus, his stage name Machine Gun Kelly was born. 

After high school, Baker, although successful in the Cleveland community, still struggled to  make ends meet. With fears of eviction and the need to make money to support his daughter, Baker worked at Chipotle, putting his career in rap on the back burner for a brief period of time.

During the 2010s, Baker received more recognition and exposure before finally signing a contract with Sean Combs from Bad Boy Records, and eventually Interscope Records. Since then, Baker has released Lace Up (2012), General Admission (2015), Bloom (2017), Hotel Diablo (2019), and most recently Tickets to My Downfall (2020).   

By 2016, Baker’s popularity increased,  especially since he began collaborating with artists such as Camilla Cabello in their single, “Bad Things.” The single peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped Baker reach more exposure in the music industry. 

Despite his career being prominently rooted in rap, his 2019 collaboration with YUNGBLUD and Travis Barker on his fourth studio album Hotel Diablo features a side of Baker that his fans  had yet to see. On the last track of Hotel Diablo, “I Think I’m OKAY,” Baker deviates from rap and puts on a new persona of a pop-punk artist. The song peaked at number three on Billboard’s US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs for 2019.

Upon hearing Baker in his new forms, many fans speculated that Baker would transition into a new and unheard musical phase. Baker confirmed these early speculations in 2019, noting that his fifth album would introduce a rebranding of Machine Gun Kelly.

On May 1, 2020, Baker released “Bloody Valentine,” his first punk track that enabled him to break through into his new career as a rockstar. His hit single achieved massive success, and was an intriguing first glimpse into what would be his overnight success,  Tickets to My Downfall. 

After the overwhelming success of “Bloody Valentine” Baker continued to release the singles “Concert for Aliens” and  “My Ex’s Best Friend.” These first three singles from his albums  were  Baker’s first singles to consecutively achieve top-40 hits on the Billboard charts.

 On September 25, 2020, Baker finally released his first rock project, Tickets To My Downfall. The album is reminiscent of early 2000s punk, exploring themes of drug abuse and heartbreak with hints of introspection interspersed.  In a matter of weeks, his innovative project climbed to number one on the US Billboard charts. Through years of dedication, hard work, and cultivating his passion, Baker has reached the pinnacle of his career. The sound of the album almost feels as if this is Baker’s final form; who he has always strived to be. 

Aside from his success in rap, this album is Baker in full-bloom;  it is as if every trial and tribulation that Baker has faced, every moment he felt that he could never achieve a success as large as a number one hit on Billboard, has led him to this point in his career. Sometimes artists are rather hesitant to rebrand to something more daring because of their fear of failure; however, his rebrand to punk proves that experimenting with music and following passion over a fear of appeasing fans proves fruitful. 

Tickets To My Downfall is available on all streaming platforms.

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