King Misfit

My Chemical Romance posits outcast status as rock nirvana

Is My Chemical Romance this generation's Nirvana? Don't laugh, but that issue once warranted hot debate on the music-insider message board I Love Music, where one jokester summed up both bands' mottos as "I think, therefore I angst." Now, with MCR's new video, "Teenagers," the band isn't doing much to discourage the comparison. Its killer stomp-the-bleachers anthem — complete with operatic guitars, punk pep-rally chanting, and a whole lotta cowbell — winkingly trots out a familiar image: the high school gym, teeming with alternative cheerleaders and a student council mosh pit. All you need is a janitor to mop up after them, and the opening chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" come roaring back in your head.

And yet, young MCR fans, this isn't your older brother's teenage wasteland. Now that punk cheerleaders — an oxymoron when Nirvana's breakthrough video debuted — regularly pop up at Super Bowl pregame shows and Roller Derby rallies, the popular-kid misfit has become a cliché. Earlier this year, Hot Topic, the '90s alternative mall-rat headquarters, stopped selling goth, grunge, and metal-oriented teen fashion because, their annual report claimed, "the iPod has reduced the number of 'one genre' fans." Outsiders ain't what they used to be. Mass culture's just a culmination of fringe cultures, and for a band that blends '70s glam's flamboyance, goth's zombie-hipster makeup, and grunge's disaffected malaise to chart on Billboard's Hot 100, that might be the key to success.

My Chemical Romance: Lonely emo makes a killing.
My Chemical Romance: Lonely emo makes a killing.

With his ghoulish style and theater-major affectations, MCR singer Gerard Way may be more Frank-N-Furter than Kurt Cobain, but in the "Teenagers" video, he's still what the '90s wrought. "You're never gonna fit in much, kid," Way taunts the crowd, and his sing-song voice suggests the irony's not lost on him. If grunge brought alternative culture mainstream, Way is living the teenage dream. By the end of the video, playfully mobbed by classmates and fans, he's further proof that the high school misfit is now the status quo Voice of a Generation — for goths, meatheads, cheerleaders, stoners, and all.

 
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