My Chemical Romance are the most controversial Reading and Leeds’ headliner since some bright so and so decided to book Bonnie Tyler, Meat Loaf and Starship back to back in 1988. That might seem like an exaggeration but it simply isn’t. In recent years we’ve seen some debatable bookings, the unreliable Axl Rose and the undeserving Razorlight immediately spring to mind, but the risk that those booking entailed was well known and the fan response was predictable.
My Chemical Romance are a different kettle of fish altogether. Their announcement was incendiary, sparking a love-hate debate that was readily pushed to the extreme, drowning out moderate voices and leaving the vast majority of fans scratching their heads. While Razorlight’s failure was a forgone conclusion, nothing about MCR’s announcement is definitive, every point no matter how insignificant has become a battleground, and no one knows exactly what will happen when My Chemical Romance take to the stage in August (and even if they do they damn sure won’t agree what about it).
There is next to no point arguing whether My Chemical Romance’s music is good enough to headline, musical quality is subjective and headlining is about satisfying the masses, selling tickets and most of all it’s about providing value for money, finishing a day of music with one final unifying and all encompassing moment.
Yesterday, Tom put forward a compelling argument suggesting that MCR are not big, popular, successful or trustworthy enough (in the live arena) to headline the prestigious Reading and Leeds festivals.
In truth there is no definitive response, the evidence against them headlining is empirical and logical, the argument in favour of them headlining relies on potential and less quantifiable factors. There is no magic bullet out there that can prove the naysayers wrong, nevertheless I will endeavour to present a sturdy argument on My Chemical Romance’s behalf.
Before I argue why My Chemical Romance should headline, I’m going to dismiss two entirely ridiculous arguments currently in circulation that supposedly prove MCR deserve to headline.
The first goes like this: well if The Darkness, The Pixies, Franz Ferdinand and Razorlight can headline then why can’t MCR?
This whole point of view is morose and based on retrospective analysis. The Darkness were the hottest band in the UK in 2004 and drew a mammoth crowd, Franz Ferdinand were at their zenith selling out a UK tour including two dates at Alexandre Palace and were co-headlining with Kasier Chiefs, The Pixies were legends returning after a huge leave of absence for an exclusive performance, and Razorlight were the worst headliner in recent R&L history.
Using the worst headliner Reading and Leeds have ever seen as justification for My Chemical Romance headlining is ridiculous. Festival Republic reached an all time low with that booking, but you don’t use one mistake as a justification for another; using failure as a foundation is farcical.
The second argument that I’m dismissing is the “Well The Strokes and Muse haven’t sold out their day tickets either”. This is a pointless argument that doesn’t justify My Chemical Romance headlining. I will not be using false arguments of this kind, I will not be slagging off other bands as some kind of pseudo justification for My Chemical Romance deserving to headline. Having two bands not selling out is not a reason to have a third.
While it’s important that headliners be in demand the year that they headline, it’s not the be all and end all when it comes to booking. In 2008 My Chemical Romance were one of the biggest bands around, they had a number two album and a number one single exposing their sound to an incredibly broad audience and, despite what tickets sales may suggest, they have retained that appeal subsequently.
“Na Na Na Na”, “Sing” and “Planetary (Go!)” all went straight onto Radio One’s A list (their core rotation), in spite of MCR’s failure to sell out their own tour, according to the Nation’s biggest Radio station and the curator of mainstream taste MCR are as relevant in 2011 as the Foo Fighters, David Guetta and Lady Gaga. Each and every day hundreds of thousands of listeners are singing along to My Chemical Romance.
When it comes to drawing fans, booking festivals, choosing who stars in movies and creating radio playlists there’s something called Q factor (or Q score). Rather than reflecting the gross money drawn by an artist, the Q factor instead talks to their relevance with the general public or the respective audience at large.
This is where My Chemical Romance come in, when it comes to the Q factor they are off the charts. My Chemical Romance provoke violent reactions of love and hate, they are a walking talking point and a media spectacle in the making. Their announcement and their performance creates controversy and gets the Reading and Leeds festival name out across the media without the band or the organizers actually having to do anything dangerous or stupid.
Reading and Leeds prides itself on being now, it shuns multiple repeat headliners no matter how big those bands may be. Most importantly as a festival it takes risks. My Chemical Romance are a huge risk, but they also represent exactly what makes Reading special as a festival. Reading And Leeds is where up and coming rock bands are given a chance to make it or break it on the biggest stage. This festival creates events and moments. Reading and Leeds are as renowned for triumphant and disastrous spectacles as they are for great music.
My Chemical Romance are this year’s event, they are the talking point: will they pull it off? Will they be bottled? Will it be a disaster or triumphant success?
My Chemical Romance are the latest in a long tradition of risky bookings (just like Guns And Roses in 2010), in any other year they’d be surrounded by Rage Against The Machine and Metallica, or Arcade Fire and Blink-182, or Foo Fighters and Iron Maiden but this year their back up isn’t so strong, and as a result a typical Reading risk looks more damaging than it should.
Furthermore while My Chemical Romance have struggled to sell out their own tour (this is impossible to deny) let’s not pretend that the demand for this band has just dried up. Danger Days’… chart performance was embarrassing but “Na Na Na Na…”, “Sing” and most recently “Planetary (Go!)” have been sitting pretty in both MTVRocks and Kerrang’s request charts for weeks now.
Which leads me on to my next point: My Chemical Romance’s cross over appeal is stronger than many realize. They are popular among indie kids, the band were named the Best International Band in both 2011 and 2007 at the bastion of all things indie and scene the NME awards. Similarly the band have won four Kerrang awards and will undoubtedly pick up a whole host more at this year’s ceremony.
Ticket sales may have failed to materialize but My Chemical Romance are, by all accounts, as relevant and popular among music fans as any band in the world right now.
Finally, we have to take into consideration that no headliner exists in isolation, My Chemical Romance are topping of a day of music on the main stage dominated by post-hardcore and mainstream punk/pop bands. They won’t be playing to Pearl Jam, Maiden or Slayer fans, they’ll be headlining a custom fitted day of music that builds naturally to a My Chemical Romance performance.
Remember the question is should My Chemical Romance headline not are there bigger or better headliners than My Chemical Romance. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate band stylistically to go on after Jared Leto’s Thirty Seconds To Mars than Gerard Way’s My Chemical Romance. They may be going through a commercial wobble right now, but so are Arctic Monkeys (check out Humbug’s sales figures if you don’t believe me) and they are still headlining shows.
Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge went platinum in the UK, The Black Parade went double platinum in the UK, Danger Days… despite all the controversy still went Gold, My Chemical Romance have had six top 20 singles; they are a huge band and one of the few rock acts actually embedded in mainstream popular culture right now.
In many ways it feels as though they headlined the wrong festival in 2007 and waited too long to return. Things could be very different but as things stand in 2011 My Chemical Romance are a dubious headliner, who are probably more suited to a sub headline slot. However, when we consider the place they hold in the music industry, they are capable of headlining a festival. If there were two fresher stronger headliners alongside them on a higher profile line up their booking wouldn’t seem to enraging and this debate would not be so fierce.
The funny thing is, most of us know that they’ll draw a very good crowd against weak NME Stage opposition and they’ll most likely satisfy the audience that they draw. In 2011 My Chemical Romance are a band who can headline but probably shouldn’t in this exact circumstance, but that could all have changed come September, once they’ve had the chance to prove their worth.
P.S. Okay a final side note: The Radio One Big Weekend thing really is a stupid point (this isn’t aimed at Tom, but everyone who keeps bringing it up). It’s a free festival, with 40,000 capacity, where the crowd is picked via lottery and every band is paid for by the nation state. Oh and My Chemical Romance are sub headlining to Lady Gaga, you know, the biggest act in the world right now, it’s not like they’re subbing to Mumford & Sons.