Colson Baker knows how it feels to be the internet’s punchline. Back in January, a few months before he turned 30, the rapper known as Machine Gun Kelly went to a meeting at his label to make a surprise announcement: he was making a pop-punk record. This was no half-baked daydream. Baker had already recorded the bulk of the new album in private with Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, christening it with the fate-tempting title: ‘Tickets To My Downfall’. Faced with “genuine confusion” from label execs in the room, Baker leaped onto the conference table and jumped around as his music played. Travis proudly posted a four-second video to Twitter, captioning it: “And just like that @Interscope will never be the same”, but it was hard to find anyone else on social media who shared his enthusiasm. The pile-on was quick and merciless. The most popular quote-tweet smirked: “When you’re 10 this is what you imagine being 16 will be like”.
“I watched the entire internet try to make a meme of me,” says Baker, who is soft-spoken in person, and more self-conscious than you might expect of a man who’s 6’4” and looks like he could sharpen knives on his cheekbones. “They were like: ‘Haha! Look at the guy on the table believing in himself!’ I’ve been the guy jumping up and down on the table believing in myself for-fucking-ever. I’m not up there tap dancing for some corporate label, I’m up there spreading my passion and my belief in the music I’m playing.” He takes a beat, then adds a punchline of his own: “Also, fuck you to any of the motherfuckers on the internet who tried to make a joke of what is now the number one fucking album.”
It’s safe to say Baker is having the last laugh. Releasing a pop-punk album in 2020 might have seemed like a gamble to his label, but ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ has spectacularly failed to live down to the promise of its name. It’s been his biggest UK chart hit by some distance, given him his first number one album in the US, and perhaps most significantly it’s so far the only rock album to top the American charts in 2020. Who would have predicted in January that Machine Gun Kelly would be the year’s biggest guitar hero? Maybe nobody, except the guy jumping on the table. “When I saw the reaction to that clip, yeah, that shit hurt my fucking feelings, but in my head I saw this moment already coming,” he says. “It took every muscle and bone in my body to not let my pettiness leap through and repost that video the day the album went number one.”