Why My Chemical Romance’s Legacy Is Cemented In Rock History

This news is not okay (I promise).

After 12 years, four albums and a score of highly popular and visible songs, My Chemical Romance called it quits Friday (March 22), according to a post on the band’s website.

“Being in this band for the past 12 years has been a true blessing,” read the post. “We’ve gotten to go places we never knew we would. We’ve been able to see and experience things we never imagined possible. We’ve shared the stage with people we admire, people we look up to, and best of all, our friends. And now, like all great things, it has come time for it to end. Thanks for all of your support, and for being part of the adventure. – My Chemical Romance”

The news comes as a heavy hit for legions of fans — known collectively as the MCRmy — who have since started a petition imploring the band to do one last world tour before hanging it up for good.

MCR’s breakup won’t be devastating news for many casual rock fans, some of whom will admit to forgetting the band was even still around. True, the five-piece’s popularity on a grander scale waned in recent years. Final record Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, while well-received by many mainstream critics, reached only No. 8 on the Billboard 200 album chart and didn’t produce the same inescapable batch of alt-rock radio singles as its predecessors. “Sing” was a triumph, getting some Top 40 play and covered on Glee, but only “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” managed a top 10 appearance on a rock chart, slotting in at No. 10 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.

Though the band might have been perceived by some as having less relevancy in later years, My Chemical Romance will have staying power. In 10 years’ time, MCR will still be remembered whereas some of its faceless rivals on the alt and rock charts (bands like The Dirty Heads and My Darkest Days, for instance) would be lucky to be answers to the rock music portion of trivia night.

My Chemical Romance roared into the American mainstream in late 2004 with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” the first single off sophomore album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Buoyed by an intensely catchy chorus and a memorable music video played with reckless abandon on MTV2 and Fuse, the song shot up the alternative charts and established the band as potential hitmakers.

But MCR carried with it a certain mark, something that became a hotly-debated topic for years and a sort-of stigma in itself: emo culture.

Describing a band as “emo” first stemmed from bands in the mid-’80s hardcore punk genre that blended melody and emotional, expressive lyrics. The term later morphed to include ’90s pop-punk and indie rock acts such as Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate.

By the time it reached early- to mid-2000s acts, emo was beginning to be applied to alt-rock acts that had any brand of introspective, heart-on-one’s-sleeve lyrics and, basically, a lot of guyliner. MCR and bands like Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, Story of the Year and many, many more were corralled into being kin often based on look, not on musical composition.

Many My Chemical Romance fans were considered (and considered themselves) emo, but the band didn’t feel the same way about itself, with frontman Gerard Way calling BS and decrying that the band was lumped in with these descriptions.

Such a culture surrounding such a band can make for a rabid, highly involved fan base, but it also left many onlookers with negative opinions, inciting harsh words and even violence against Hot Topic kids wearing an array of black- and bright-colored clothing, tight-fitting jeans and against-the-norm hairstyles.

Whether My Chemical Romance wanted to be at the forefront of this culture, the band kind of unwillingly ended up being one of the torch carriers. Though the culture found its first mainstream success musically with Jimmy Eat World’s platinum-selling Bleed American, the success of MCR and Fall Out Boy on a national stage allowed acts like Paramore, Panic! At the Disco and more “emo” bands to have a lane in the mainstream, helped along by radio play, the rising popularity of the Warped Tour and support from music TV programming (MTV and MTV2, but also, early Fuse championed the Fueled By Ramen set in a real and palpable way). Even a band like 30 Seconds to Mars, today one of commercial rock’s biggest, owes some to My Chemical Romance; the look MCR helped popularize was exceedingly evident on Jared Leto and co.’s A Beautiful Lie.

The success only continued with 2006’s The Black Parade, a well-received concept album that produced one of the band’s biggest hits, “Welcome to the Black Parade,” which still gets radio play on a number of rock and alternative stations. When some wrote off MCR as a shot in the pan, the five-piece went grandiose, displaying its love and respect for acts like Queen. In fact, Way was like a bizarro Freddie Mercury in some ways. Though the album was a character-driven story, one believed the lead single’s lyric of “will you be the savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned?” as though Way himself was relaying the very words to his own followers, willing to become a chest-beating figure in the ongoing battle against one’s detractors and personal life problems.

As I’ve navigated music’s corner of the Internet over the years, I’ve seen this again and again with the MCRmy: Stories of people who felt they had little to live for, or who needed a sort-of messiah figure to help lead them past struggles, be it temporarily tough times at school and home or even the longer-form bouts of depression. The band gave many a way out, or at least a place into which to channel anger, pain and frustration. In doing so, it bore the brunt of criticism from detractors decrying the Hot Topic mall culture that arose in the early- to mid-2000s.

But the band was really, really good at fist-pumping anthems, and sometimes we all need one of those, no matter our walk of life. “Welcome to the Black Parade” was the first to really showcase this, but Danger Days‘ “Sing” hit the mark as well, eventually getting a placement on Glee.

 

Because MCR helped pave the way for many bands and meant as much as they did to a fanbase that even had its own weekly Twitter chats and popular discussion boards that saw more activity than those of hyper mainstream artists, the band’s placement in rock history is at least assured. My Chemical Romance may never reach the acclaim of Rock Hall-inducted acts, but it won’t be a mere afterthought and byproduct of the mid-2000s alt-rock glory days, either.

Some might call the band spectacular, even. Its leader does, in post-mortem on MCR’s breakup.

According to Way, the beginning of the end occurred at a May 19, 2012, show in Asbury Park, N.J. Way professed to “acting” up on the stage, rather than being truly into the performance. What followed was a period “full of suffering” before the band apparently decided that enough was enough before things worsened. An admirable end, rather than moving forward, desensitized to the words and music one would create.

There are rumors already that the band may not be done, at least in terms of its makeup. It could be the end of My Chemical Romance, but the band members could unite in a different setting. Perhaps a tweet from Kill Hannah’s Mat Devine is to be taken that new things are already on the way. The band was already at work on its fifth studio album; what will come of those sessions?

Regardless of what comes next, the legacy created by Gerard Way and his bandmates will continue years down the road, perhaps in a more positive light than it might have been years ago — whether it’s via a string of commercially successful and critically-lauded albums or, quite honestly, one of the best music videos of the 2000s.

And as the band once sang, “we’ll carry on.”

– Kevin Rutherford, Radio.com

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