Machine Gun Kelly at the 2022 AMAs

MGK Slammed Critics That Don’t Think He Makes Rock Music

He’s not here for this critique.

by Ani Bundel
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

After being nominated and favored to win the award for Best Alternative Rock Artist and Best Rock Album at the 2022 American Music Awards, Machine Gun Kelly came ready to poke a few holes in people’s perceptions. Not with his purple suit covered in spikes, but with his acceptance speech. Machine Gun Kelly’s 2022 AMAs speech slammed those who claim his music isn’t rock and roll.

Machine Gun Kelly has been around in the music industry for 15 years since he first released mixtapes in the mid-aughts, before becoming the first white rapper to take home back-to-back wins at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night. That in and of itself nearly defines the problem he currently faces. The music industry has always loved defining artists by shoving them into neat boxes (“Country,” “R&B”), making it easy to package and market for an increasingly fractured radio landscape.

But that’s never really been a practical way of thinking about music. The Beatles were a boy band until they weren’t; Taylor Swift was a country artist once upon a time. Like many artists, MGK contains multitudes, and his sound has evolved. 2020’s Tickets to My Downfall was a pop-punk album, and his latest, Mainstream Sellout, fits in perfectly in the alternative rock scene. His newest single with Blackbear, “Make Up Sex,” makes sense when seated next to longtime alternative rock legends like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

However, like many artists before him who have crossed lines from one style of music to another, MGK has faced criticism that he’s just dabbling and not serious about being an alternative rock artist. Thus far, the artist mostly politely ignored these barbs, even while snarkily calling his album Mainstream Sellout. But in winning the AMAs award for Favorite Rock Artist, MCK grabbed the opportunity to clap back.

“There have been some people in the rock community that have called me a tourist,” MGK said as he stood spikily on stage. “They’re wrong, I’m a rocket man,” he proclaimed, at once referencing classic rock and pop with the title of Elton John’s famous hit single. “We weren’t born on the moon. But we were curious, so we went there,” he said, using Neil Armstrong’s famous journey as a metaphor for his crossing over genres. “These last two rock albums were me, going to the moon.”

Not that listeners should get complacent. MGK suggested he has more places to go with his music. “I’m not done exploring the universe yet. I am all genres,” he said. Fans can’t wait to see where he goes next.