Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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The Return Of MCR

TikTok is the biggest worldwide music discovery platform right now. Content is king. Short form video rules algorithms, and artists are being forced to convince people to listen to them in 280 characters. The very essence of what it means to be a musician has developed to include the cultivation of your online space and persona, and for many, that’s been an incredible tool that’s allowed new layers of creativity: Taylor Swift has dropped hints and Easter eggs about her rereleases through her nail colour in TikToks; Harry Styles’s As It Was became inescapable within seconds of being released. However, as useful and fun as social media can be to elevate an artistic narrative, we may have come too far out the other side. Artists from Florence and the Machine to Halsey have been vocal about the currency of social clout and the distance it’s putting between them and their art. So, what about the people who have refused to convert creativity to content? At the end of My Chemical Romance’s first week back as an active band, they’ve proven that the old way works. But how are they paving the way for other artists, who don’t have the clout they do?

On Halloween 2019, an inactive Instagram account, @MCRofficial, that had never been used while the band was going pre-2013 breakup, started sharing to its story. The emo conspiracy theorists that had been praying and searching for this news for six years were vindicated: MCR were back. And they chose a brand new platform to announce it. Then, as no one could have predicted, COVID hit and their grand plans were scuppered – and they more or less disappeared again. The mystique surrounding their return would have been crushed by a chatty, revealing online presence – but as @MCRofficial ploughed on through lockdown announcing no new music, no new era, just endless reschedules and merch drops, fans became disenchanted. Perhaps the biggest moment of disillusionment was in June 2020, when no message of support was issued following the murder of George Floyd – because My Chemical Romance lacked a social media presence, fans felt not only distant, but disappointed that there was a lack of communication around such an important cause. 

But while MCR were absent online, their fanbase was very much alive – they were just connecting with each other, rather than the band. As long as My Chem has existed, they’ve been famous – and infamous – for the dedication of their fan base. This passion isn’t a fluke, either. Right from their conception as a band, they’ve known how to cultivate their community, by building worlds for us to live in, telling stories, letting us play along, and connecting with or without social media. Each era comes with a universe and a uniform. Whether that’s marching band jackets or desert dystopia getup (or just a vampire doused in fake blood), MCR fans are recognisable, and always have been. They can pick each other out in a crowd and immediately have something – for many, the biggest thing – in their life in common. This hasn’t always been easy – the dark drama of The Black Parade saw a notorious Daily Mail headline label MCR an “emo suicide cult”. But this didn’t quell the love fans had for the band, or knock MCR’s success – it pulled everyone together more in their unified response. This unity is the key – even more recently such as June 2020, where the fanbase united to explain and encourage the band to express their support for BLM, and collectively explained the impact of sometimes speaking out, and the responsibility the band have to their following. 

Since then, My Chemical Romance’s online presence has remained sparse on the official account. But after two years of disingenuous merch drops and characterless show postponement announcements – their art has spoken for itself. This month’s single and their first since 2011, The Foundations Of Decay prove that My Chem’s musical excellence is intact. But beyond that, through their shows so far, they’ve proven what everyone felt they’d lost over the last two years – they know their fans. That connection is stronger than ever. This era’s uniform: a t-shirt designed to look like a pink and turquoise teenage girls mag, with pictures of the band, quizzes, a mysterious skeleton called Nigel”… oh, and we can’t forget the orange-toned portrait of a porn star the internet discovered years ago with a My Chemical Romance tramp stamp, who the band reached out to to collaborate with. MCR’s sense of humour, personality, and playful interaction with their fanbase is brighter than ever – and they didn’t need to express it through social media. We had to trust them, and wait. 

Their setlist has followed suit, packing deep cuts and rare singalongs from across their discography – Headfirst for Halos played for the first time since 2009, This Isn’t A Fashion Statement, It’s A Fucking Deathwish for the first time since 2007, and far more besides. This is a show for the fans to be reminded of the emotional intensity that brought them and My Chem together – in person, in real life. 

These days, MCR’s cult fandom is an aspiration, and we need to look no further than their own support artists to see it. Creeper, a band oft-compared to MCR’s narrative, melodrama, and theatricality actually claimed the label before anyone gave it to them, going by @creepercultuk on socials and dishing out jacket patches for their gang, “The Callous Heart” to wear. When Creeper started, though, they had what MCR didn’t: constant access to their fans on a personal level, via social media. 

Cult fandom in 2022 consistently taps into this ability to connect, to be best friends with your favourite band, to tell them what you’re thinking in a moment – and bands have to use it. Creeper are large enough that they’ve scaled back their online presence now, even as they’ve scaled up their theatrical prowess,  but there’s no doubt it helped them along as they were growing their cult in the beginning, spreading news of secret shows and showcasing the Callous Heart. 

Bands can give everyone the outfits and the drama and the stories, but there’s also a huge pressure to give yourselves as well – a pressure that’s seen Creeper frontman Will Gould take numerous social media breaks. Fellow MCR support act Waterparks’s Awsten Knight has been open about his personal fraught relationship with the constant access Waterparks fans have to his personal life, and the pressure that it causes (one glance at the lyrics of I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Wanna Die will explain it). There’s TikTok alumni on MCR’s support roster too – Gayle and Crawlers both had hits on the platform, and while of course they’re both strong artists, there’s a new pressure to prove themselves as more than just viral stars to MCR’s audience who may not have heard more than a 20 second snippet. Social media is a huge tool, but it’s become one of the biggest challenges artists face. 

You just have to work harder to reach people without social media. But it can be done. MCR haven’t shown people how to do that quite yet – they had tens of thousands waiting for them regardless. But they have proved that above all, knowing your audience is the most important factor. Artists who are earlier in their careers have the opportunity to curate their audiences carefully – PinkPantheress made one of the best albums of last year, to hell with it, actively keeping her personal life separate from her creativity and gathering fans around her who were there for the music. Elsewhere, the persona is making a fierce return: “bimbocore” pioneer and TikTok extraordinaire Scene Queen, aka Hannah Collins, is an exaggerated embodiment of just one corner of Collins’s personality that she says she keeps distinct from her real self to protect herself in the metal scene, which isn’t particularly welcome to women, especially feminine ones. But on TikTok, we only see the bubbly, smiling Scene Queen facade. 

The pressure of social media pushes artists to prioritise personality as their currency. It’s scary for new artists, who have to be more vulnerable than ever; it’s frustrating for established ones who feel they’re spending more time making 7 second videos than making music. But there’s so much room for creativity in where we go from here – whether that’s finding ways to connect outside of social media, or ways to exist online without burning out. My Chemical Romance are going with the former, and in doing so, staying authentic to who they are as a band – but the protégés and acts who grew up inspired by their innovation, and their narrative talent, will no doubt discover ways to use social media to deepen their own artistic stories, and innovate in their own right.

Words by Mason Meyers

Posted On 3 October, 2022