Fall Out Boy — ‘MANIA’ & Celebrity Culture

Fall Out Boy are the undisputed poster boys of the 2000s emo movement. The black mascara and side fringes have come and gone, but the four-piece has maintained a consistent presence by pushing their sound into surprising places without alienating their diehard fanbase. A large part of that comes down to their lyrics. Penned mainly by bassist Pete Wentz, they tell raw but entertaining narratives. In the case of their seventh studio album M A N I A, their most pop-oriented effort yet, Fall Out Boy reflect on and celebrate their road to fame and fortune, 15 years after they first broke out of the Chicago post-hardcore punk scene.

Lead single “Young and Menace” is an explosive dubstep track. Lyrically, it’s a reminder to stay true to their roots. They may have begun as outsiders, but now they are stadium conquerors — the tension between getting too comfortable at the top and wanting to shake up the scene is all too real.

Wentz still wants to maintain that spirit he had as a teenager. As he commented in his Genius Verified video:

To me, the idea was like, you don’t fit in anywhere, and then I found the punk rock and the hardcore scene…[However] You can age out of being a threat. You become a part of the institution. And there’s sending the message to yourself like, ‘Don’t forget how you felt about this and don’t forget where you come from. And that you still should be thinking that.’ And I think that’s what the whole song is. It’s pretty chaotic.

As FOB’s career progressed, Wentz became familiar with the public eye and becoming part of the “in crowd.” His private life was the subject of paparazzi scrutiny and the pressures of fame and fortune are a common theme in FOB lyrics, ever since their breakout mainstream album Infinity On High in 2007. Those pressures showed up on tracks like ”The Take Over, the Breaks Over,” “I Don’t Care,” and “America’s Suitehearts.” But even after all these years, the band reiterates similar sentiments on “Young and Menace”:

Oops I, did it again, I forgot what I was losing my mind about
Oh, I only wrote this down to make you press rewind
And send a message: I was young and a menace

The Britney Spears reference is a key example of Wentz exploring celebrity culture and the madness (or mania) it generates. That continues with a reference to US ice skating champion and controversial figure Tonya Harding in the cryptically titled “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea.” Harding was a notorious figure in her time, as explained in an annotation from Genius contributor yourghost:

As FOB reflect on their position as kings of the scene, they acknowledge that they are proud to be champions for the underdog; typically the kind of fans who feel they have no champions or role models to look up to (their 2007 track “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” became a call to arms for the emo scene). Accordingly, “Champion” is an expression of gratitude to their fans. In the opening verse, frontman Patrick Stump asserts:

And I’m back with a madness
I’m a champion of the people who don’t believe in champions
I got nothing but dreams inside, I got nothing but dreams

Despite this outsider sentiment, they’ve also embraced the excesses of the ‘rock n roll lifestyle.“ With every member well into their thirties, it makes sense for them to pause and take stock of all they have achieved. The song also references Mötley Crüe co-founder, bassist, and primary songwriter Nikki Sixx, a prominent symbol of everything rock n roll (Nikki Sixx and Mötley Crüe have something of a history in FOB music).

We’ve gone way too fast for way too long
And we were never supposed to make it half this far
And I lived so much life, lived so much life
I think that God is gonna have to kill me twice
Kill me twice like my name was Nikki Sixx

For all the glitz and glamour and pop and electronic experimentation, there’s still an authenticity to their lyrics. That genuine sentiment shows up in love songs like the religiously-themed “Church,” “Heaven’s Gate,” and “The Last Of The Real Ones.” Melodrama and “wearing your heart on your sleeve” are classic emo themes, which helps explain why FOB has managed to endure as long as they have.

“Wilson (Expensive Mistake)” also contains a great lyrical throwback, which fans were quick to dub as their most emo lyric ever (despite it technically being a Wednesday Addams reference). It’s a line that both harkens back to their days playing power chords in skinny jeans, while ironically poking fun at their status as champions of that very scene.

I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color

The video is also filled with easter eggs referencing their past.

The imagery and tongue-in-cheek lyricism is hallmark Fall Out Boy, reminding fans that despite the new production, purple album cover (rather than blue or red), and old age, they’re just as spirited as ever. They are “the little punk band that could,” and have been taking risks with every new album. It’s all paid off, even if they aren’t quite the underdogs they used to be.

This article originally appeared in Genius on Feb 2, 2018.

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