Illustration by Elizabeth Wong, University of Rhode Island

The Return of My Chemical Romance: Why We Can’t Get Enough of Them

We're clearly not okay (in a good way).

My finger hovers over the key as Kimmy asks where we should go for breakfast. I’m wrapped in white bedsheets, listening to the echoes of my breathing and faint music. I’m afraid to move a muscle as I wait to purchase our concert tickets. My eyes focus on the blue light of my screen. I have Ticketmaster open in two tabs if something should happen, and my phone is playing “Welcome to the Black Parade.” I am so overcome with joy that I almost click on front row seats before my brain returns to reality, and I am once again a broke college student. But that doesn’t matter. I’m going to see My Chemical Romance in concert.

My Chemical Romance (MCR) split up seven years ago, and it was a sad day in the music world. But 2020 is a different time for music. We click on songs and new artists pop up every week. So why are people still obsessed with My Chemical Romance, and what caused this obsession in the first place?

I discovered My Chemical Romance in my teens. I had lost many of my friends after switching schools, and the last-minute addition of an awkward 13-year-old was not welcome by everyone in my eighth-grade class. I took pride in the bags under my eyes and I thought dark humor was the height of comedy, but mostly, I was just sad.

Every TV show I’d seen implied that high school would be the best years of my life, but even as a freshman I was sad and scared. The only thing that scared me more than high school was the thought of graduating high school, of living my life. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, but I knew a group who did.

My Chemical Romance did not back down from controversial subjects I was too ashamed to mention. In a time where depression and anxiety weren’t represented in media, they started discussions about mental health. There were no shows discussing adults and teens having anxiety in the 2000s, and Disney certainly did not talk about depression. Movies and TV shows of the 2000s, especially children’s TV, called the mentally ill “crazy.” I felt alone in a society that mocked therapy and refused to acknowledge the importance of mental health.

Those who did listen to punk rock were written off as narcissistic attention seekers. Nothing more than wannabes going through a weird phase. This was one of many examples of the dismissal of struggling in young people, especially girls. Everyone else seemed to be perfect, so clearly these kids were in the wrong. This harmful lie did not get rid of depression as people had hoped; it just made teenagers feel more alone. If teenagers on TV were happy, and everyone around me was supposedly happy, what was wrong with me? But I wasn’t alone. I just didn’t know how to talk to other teenagers about my anxiety and depression.

More importantly, we needed someone to unite us. We needed someone to believe us. But no one was brave enough to stand with us, and so we fell apart on our own.

The incorporation of punk rock in the 2000s emphasized eyeliner, rebellion and taking kids’ emotions seriously. Punk rock forced the media and adults to discuss mental health. Because under their shouting and black makeup was a heartfelt desire to be seen, for the outcasts to be acknowledged. For a long time, they were ignored and even condemned by mainstream music. No one was writing songs named after suicide hotline numbers in the early 2000s. Artists only sang about sadness if someone had died or they had suffered heartbreak. This set a harmful standard for listeners that anxiety and depression weren’t important subjects to discuss.

But bands like Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182 and My Chemical Romance weren’t using their fame to sing about sex. They sang about heavy subjects like divorce, self-imagery, parents leaving, depression, bullying and suicide. Songs like “SING” encouraged fans to oppose discrimination and dismissal.

“For every time, that they want to count you out. Use your voice every single time you open up your mouth.” Punk rock gave a voice to young people that pop music rejected. “We don’t need to talk about mental health,” it seemed to say. “We’re okay.”

My Chemical Romance screamed in protest. Their hit song “I’m Not Okay” refused to take the route of the “easy” songs and instead chose to discuss the loneliness of depression and the importance of seeking help. “What will it take to show you that it’s not the life it seems? I’m not okay,” Gerard Way sings. “I told you time and time again you sing the words but don’t know what it means.” This acceptance of talking about mental illness was unheard of, but it was only the beginning of My Chemical Romance.

The band used their rise in popularity to guide young people through emotional turmoil and identity issues. “The difference we wanna make is, number one, to let these kids know that they’re not alone,” Gerward Way said. “That they’re actually not that messed up and that they can do whatever they want.”

This focus on young people and changing their self-perceptions was welcomed by fans. My Chemical Romance also inspired fans to seek help and stay true to themselves. “I don’t want people to be afraid of living, which I think is everybody’s biggest fear,” Way said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I want people to express themselves how they want.”

Insecurity can eat away at a person’s resolve, and those who suffered were often afraid to admit it for fear of rejection. My Chemical Romance’s personification of mental illnesses changed the narrative of mental health. Instead of blaming themselves for having depression or anxiety, the band gave it a name and refused to let it define them. “Famous Last Words” is a perfect example of the band empowering the mentally ill. “I am not afraid to keep on living I am not afraid to walk this world alone. Honey if you stay, you’ll be forgiven. Nothing you can say can stop me going home.”

The reason I love My Chemical Romance is because they inspired me to stay true to myself despite bullying or rejection. They told me depression was not my entire being. The voice in my head was a small part of who I was, and I didn’t have to listen to it. However, I do plan on listening to My Chemical Romance at their reunion tour, and I plan to thank them for everything.

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