Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #50. “Trust Me…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 26, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

It’s tough to imagine that any band will be able to use the music video to propel themselves to mainstream success quite as effectively as My Chemical Romance did in the mid-00s. Oh, sure, there’ll be the YouTube phenoms–vids riding a cute gimmick or two that can become briefly fad-worthy–but it’s doubtful that they’ll be enough to launch an entire career out of. MCR used the video medium in the old school, Duran Duran sort of way to not just show the world what they looked like, but to craft an identity for the band through the video medium. Like LeBon and company, they just looked to be having so much fun making these videos–playing dress-up, inviting their friends, crafting elaborate storylines and choreographing big dance numbers. Director and regular collaborator Marc Webb did for MCR what Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris did for the Smashing Pumpkins a decade earlier–take an essentially weird band with an occasionally uncommercial sound and make them accessible and lovable to the masses, to the very brink of superstardom.

Not that the songs weren’t great too, natuarlly. I just wanted to lead with the music video stuff here instead of just burying at the end of the article like I normally do because it was the videos that really first got me to take notice of My Chemical Romance–the World War II melodrama of “The Ghost of You,” the showstopping ballet of “Helena,” and of course, the epic teen cinema of “I’m Not Okay (I Promise).” With lesser clips to go with one or any of these, I might have made the mistake of mentally associating MCR with Coheed and Cambria and their often despicable prog-goth peers–after all, lead singer Gerard Way was intensely pale and occasionally caterwauled to the point of near-unlistenability. But with the videos, it was clear that MCR had a bigger gameplan in mind, and that they were bound to end up as one of the biggest bands of the decade–and perhaps the only one that could level-peg with progenitors Green Day when it came to sheer musical and visual ambition.

I don’t much want to give any of the three singles off crossover album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge the short shrift here, since the funereal downpour of “Helena” and the poignant (and highly-underrated) devestation of “The Ghost of You” are both exquisite in their own right. But “I’m Not Okay” came first, and you really couldn’t ask for a better first hit. Unlike later singles, which had a nagging tendency to be just the slightest bit overstuffed, “I’m Not Okay” was lean and mean, hitting with the energy and simple chord progression of a thousand breakout pop-punk hits (tellingly, despite all the goings-on in the video, MCR are still performing the song from one of the member’s garages–still a band of the people). The lyrics are probably about a shitty relationship but arguably moreso just about shitty teenage life in general–a song about basic unwellness that the band’s eventual innumerous young denizens could no doubt relate to. All the song really needed was a couple catchy, clever phrases (“You said you read me like a book / But the pages are all torn and frayed,” “You sing the lines but don’t know what it means / To be a joke and look / Another line without a hook”), and Way’s charisma and, uh, enthusiastic delivery can easily sell the rest.

Despite the song’s relative simplicity (the chorus is basically just Way repeatedly yelling “I’m Not Okay,” with different places of emphasis), there was still enough happening in the song to make it feel distinctly fresh and different.  Mostly, there was the song’s breakdown section, a Queen-aping bridge that saw guitarist Ray Toro kick out his best double-tracked Brian May soloing for a couple bars, before the song kicked back in…then dropped out with Way hushing to a whisper…then came back in martial rhythm…then kicked back in entirely. It’s a little mini-suite within the song that foreshadowed the more arena-sized anthems the band would later be attempting, and it did a fine job of putting the band’s unique stamp on the song. Perhaps the most notable part of this section was to show that Way could really scream–one of the first of the emo bands to break into the mainstream with ties, however tenuous, to the genuine hardcore stuff, which helped the later success of screamo-ier bands like Hawthorne Heights and The Used.

All that said, the song’s legacy is forever tied to it’s 100% classic music video. Framed as a preview for a teen movie named after (and either featuring or directly about) the band, the clip splits the difference between Rushmore and Varsity Blues. It falls a little short of crafting a genuinely cogent storyline, but it never looks less than sincerely cinematic, and certainly does a much better job of eschewing the conventions and cliches of turn-of-the-millennium teen film than Not Another Teen Movie did. In fact, speaking of the Smashing Pumpkins and their Dayton/Faris vids, the clip reminds of nothing so much as the Pumpkins’ very own “1979,” the greatest music video ever made about teenagers (and possibly just the greatest music video in general). It packs nearly as many of those unforgettbale split-second visuals (kids waltzing in the library, urinating in football helmets, sharing homoerotic locker-room glances, beating up team mascots, etc.) with the same kind of hyperkinetic style of editing, giving you about a year’s worth of high school memories in three and a half minutes. It falls a little short of the sighing nostalgia of “1979,” but hey–there’s no shame in getting beaten by the best.

The My Chemical Romance Three Cheers video trilogy–“Okay,” “Helena” and “Ghost”–should have been precedent-setting, inspiring legions of emo and pop-punk bands in their wake to step up their game a little. Unfortunately, the band that followed their lead the most took all the wrong lessons to heart. Panic! At the Disco’s VMA-winning and airwave-conquering video for crossover megahit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was very clearly influenced by the success of the My Chemical Romance clips, but all they seemed to gleam from their studying was to 1) Wear makeup and 2) Prance around like idiots. All the cleverness, all the attention to detail, all the legitimate ambition seemed to fall by the wayside–as did the not-to-be-ignored lesson of having an actually listenable song to play underneath the video, as “Tragedies” was easily one of the worst singles of the entire Naughty Oughties. It wasn’t all bad, though–at the very least, Marc Webb was confirmed as the defacto director for  emo bands’ bids for crossover video success, helming fine clips for bands like AFI, The All-American Rejects and Jimmy Eat World for the rest of the decade.

MCR got bigger in every respect for follow-up album The Black Parade, and while their increasingly grandiose anthems weren’t quite doing it for me in the same way, I certainly appreciated the effort, and was glad to see them grow even more popular as a result. I just hope they haven’t reached that crippling stage of going so big that they have no idea how to top it, and in turn just don’t release anything for half a decade. Getting up there with Green Day is hard enough, but avoiding a lukewarm follow-up like 21st Century Breakdown would be a hell of a start in ensuring them not ending up a 00s relic, seen only in episodes of Video Yearbook on FUSE.

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #50. “Trust Me…””

  1. Garret said

    I believe The Used found success a year or two before MCR blew up.

    Unless they had a more well known hit than “The Taste of Ink” or whatever that song was.

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