10 Moments That Made My Chemical Romance Superstars
My Chemical Romance were undoubtedly the rock superstars of the 21st century. And, to be honest, they still are. No other band has had such a musical or cultural impact over recent years. In the 12 years they were initially active they went from tearing up bars to packing out arenas, but even as they crossed into the mainstream they still somehow retained the feel of a cult band. One that belonged to their fans as much as their fans belonged to them.
Here are 10 key moments in the story that saw My Chemical Romance become true superstars…
Creating Something Beautiful In Response To Tragic Circumstances
It’s an irony that a band that has brought such joy to so many was born out of tragedy. Gerard Way started My Chemical Romance as a direct response to witnessing the September 11 attacks in New York. “That felt like the end of the world. It felt like the apocalypse,” he told Newsweek, “I was surrounded by hundreds of people on a dock on the Hudson River, and we watched the buildings go down, and there was this wave of human anguish that I’ve never felt before.” My Chemical Romance was duly born with the song Skylines And Turnstiles being Gerard’s attempt to process the experience.
Making A Second Video For I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love was a superbly spiky debut, but it was on follow-up Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge that the band really started to explode. I’m Not Okay (I Promise) was the lead single and the iconic video helped introduce them to a wider audience. The original video was actually a simple concert montage with pics of Gerard and Mikey Way as kids thrown in, but the successor had everything: comedy, drama, angst and body-checks. “I don’t wanna make it,” claims Gerard at the start, but from this point superstardom was pretty much inevitable.
Reclaiming And Reinventing The Concept Album
The Black Parade was when the band fully realised their vision for the first time, but every album they made was a concept album of sorts. The first two might not have been of the fully-fledged rock opera variety, yet featured the Bonnie and Clyde-esque Demolition Lovers who are gunned down and separated. The Black Parade and Danger Days… were more overt, but the band always had a flair for an overarching concept that made everything grander and more epic.
Embracing The Freedom Of Alter-Egos
Tied in with those epic concepts was the way the band played with their own identity, first ‘becoming’ their alter-egos The Black Parade and later The Fabulous Killjoys. Speaking on the Carrying The Fire podcast, Gerard said that the whole concept was heavily influenced by David Bowie and his own use of alter-egos – particularly Ziggy Stardust. “Early Black Parade stuff was basically: ‘What if death had a rock band?’ and it obviously changed from that and we all became death in a way, the whole band,” he said, adding that he saw the characters that he played “as some aspect of myself turned up to 12”.
Writing A 21st Century Bohemian Rhapsody
The Black Parade was a magnificent, towering piece of work, cram-packed with amazing songs. There’s the haunting simplicity of Cancer, and the deranged carnival drive of Mama, but the centrepiece is undoubtedly the hugely ambitious Welcome To The Black Parade. It was actually years in the making, with elements appearing on an earlier song called The Five Of Us Are Dying before it was fully fleshed out for The Black Parade. It’s epic, multi-faceted and the video wasn’t bad either. That first piano note can still fill a rock club dance-floor on its own and the song itself is the sound of a band, an era and a generation.
Facing Down The Download Haters
There’s no point pretending that everyone in the ’00s loved My Chemical Romance. They had their detractors and frequently occupied the top spots in both the Best and Worst Band categories in the Kerrang! Readers’ polls. Their announcement as 2007 Download Festival headliners proved controversial, and they came on to a hail of bottles and other missiles. This was at the height of their Black Parade pomp, but they played a stripped down, combative set with less theatre and more aggression, especially from the livewire Frank Iero. The result was a grinding win on points, and proof that they could face down a difficult situation.
Ascending To Reading & Leeds Headliner Status
MCR also had a complicated relationship with the Reading & Leeds. In 2005 they played both festivals in the same day so that they could attend the MTV Awards. This meant they opened at Leeds despite being rising stars at the time. In 2006 they’d faced another hostile reaction at Reading. “The aggression started from a small group in the crowd, then, unfortunately, I told people to throw stuff at us,” Gerard recalled. “That was a very large mistake. My worst moment was when, at the end of one song, I crawled back across the stage to the microphone. As I got there, I slipped on a peach and broke my ass.” They would go on to triumphantly headline the fests in 2011, the Reading leg of which included a guest appearance from Queen legend Brian May for a cover of We Will Rock You followed by Welcome To The Black Parade.
Taking On The Tabloid Press And Winning
‘Why no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo’ trumpeted The Daily Mail in 2008. The story was centred on the very real and tragic death of teenager Hannah Bond, but many fans (and commentators) considered the headlines and coverage to be dangerously misleading and exploitative. The band responded with a measured statement, pointing out that they had always been “vocally anti-violence and anti-suicide” with lyrics “about finding the strength to keep living through pain and hard times”. Onstage they were more forthright. “We’re gonna tell the Daily Mail that we are not a fucking cult, we are an army, and that nothing is worth hurting yourself over,” Gerard said at one show. “Nothing is worth taking your life over. Do you understand? I wanna hear you say, ‘Fuck the Daily Mail!’”
Appearing On Yo Gabba Gabba
Okay, strictly speaking this might not have been a vital step to superstardom, but we’re sticking it in here because it’s both bonkers and brilliant and sometimes overlooked. MCR made a very special guest appearance on the anarchic kids’ show, performing the aptly-titled Every Snowflake Is Different. ‘Green fur, blue skin and the very silly way you grin / Big fangs, small chin, there’s so many special things about you,’ sang Gerard, as the band cavorted in brightly coloured parkas and ski masks. They don’t make TV like that anymore.
Continuing To Flex Those Creative Muscles
Even if the various members had done nothing but retired and played bingo after the band split up, their places in musical history would still be assured. The fact that they continued to create some amazing music and art helped keep the idea of MCR in the public consciousness. Musically we’ll highlight Frank Iero, because whatever iteration it is (the cellabration? The Patience? Death Spells? The Future Violents?) the man is frickin’ awesome. There have been other choice cuts from elsewhere, though, and Gerard’s comic-turned TV series The Umbrella Academy has a certain MCR-ness about it. It’s unclear for now whether the band’s reunion will eventually lead to new music, but the collective creativity that still oozes from this group of people bodes well if it does…
Read this next:
Gerard Way discusses coping in the pandemic, switching off from social media and more during Unwound & Unplugged, a mental health benefit concert and panel.
Lamb Of God and FEVER 333’s Jason Aalon Butler have teamed up for a live quarantine cover of Bad Brains’ I Against I.