Review of Machine Gun Kelly on Saturday Night Live

by Marissa Rybinski

On January 30, 2021, Saturday Night Live welcomed Machine Gun Kelly as their musical guest, accompanying John Krasinski, who hosted the show. 

Machine Gun Kelly is an American artist who began as a rapper in 2009 with his first single “Homecoming/ I’m a Star.” In 2019, he completely rebranded himself as a pop-punk artist under the same name. He broke onto the scene with the single “I Think I’m OKAY,” a collaboration with UK alternative artist Yungblud and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. 

In 2020, Machine Gun Kelly, also known as “MGK,” released his first full-length pop-punk album, “Tickets to My Downfall.” The music wasn’t the only thing that changed. His fashion sense has shifted to fit the modern-alternative “e-boy” trend, and he has made pink and black his ‘signature’ colors. Many of his fans have taken the phrase “pink is punk” to describe his choice in this color specifically. 

For his SNL sets, MGK performed two songs from his new album, “my ex’s best friend” and “lonely.” Here’s what I thought of his performances. 

 “my ex’s best friend” seemed somewhat lackluster to me. The vocals sounded very soft in comparison to the sonics behind them, which was possibly an issue with live-mixing while the performance was recorded. This made the whole song feel very flat, when we should have felt the full energy of a pop-punk song. At the start, MGK interacted with the audience, but the connection was broken as he continued. This song felt like it was a safe choice for the typical Saturday Night Live audience. The sound is still accessible to all age groups, so it’s possible that many viewers stuck around during this set. The lighting helped to add some edgy to the performance, which ultimately came off more pop-oriented than rock. However, in typical punk fashion, MGK decided to toss his guitar at the close of the song. 

According to a tweet from Machine Gun Kelly, the light board crashed just seconds before he took the stage to play his second song, “lonely.” He stated, “so we just had a spot light and the music, that was the best thing that could’ve happened.”

“lonely” begins as an acoustic, stripped-down ballad detailing a difficult time in MGK’s life. However, as the song progresses, there are punches of louder sound to add a pang of anger to the emotional palette. Again, we encountered the issue of overpowered vocals in the beginning, but it was resolved quickly. Lyrically, this song may have been a heavy choice for SNL, but the sonics seemed to uplift the song to the caliber seen in the past. I think that it contrasted nicely with the whiny, angsty sound of “my ex’s best friend” and showed the audience that MGK has some range in his songwriting. 

Though neither performance was truly thrilling, they weren’t bad either. I think the place where they failed to “wow” me was the feeling of punk. Both performances lacked the energy that is typical at a punk-rock or pop-punk performance. If MGK is attempting to break into the pop-punk community, he’s going to need to add more energy and up the ante. His latest album caters more to fans of pop music than the punk community, which seems to be interested in joining. In order to make another pop-punk album, I think Machine Gun Kelly needs to take more risks, and make them loud. 

For more discussion on current alternative artists, check out Alternage, every Friday 8-10pm on FM89!