MKTO is one of the latest sensations to emerge from the youth entertainment industry. Members Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller (hence "MKTO") met on a Nickelodeon television series, playing best friends in 2010.
They have explained that their duo's name, in addition to being their own initials, also suggests "Misfit Kids and Total Outcasts – just like the kids we were in high school." Both young men are "accomplished adolescent actors," thanks to additional roles in major Disney and ABC productions for example, so if the they were indeed "outcasts" — ever — they certainly are not now in their early 20s. Malcolm and Tony were rising stars throughout their entire adolescence. But OK, I'll accept their "outcast" message at face value and assume that yes, they do relate to their non-celebrity fans; until some public revelation proves this wrong. Young celebrities are certainly entitled to be real people in spite of an entertainment industry that has time and time again developed and churned these young talents out as product that we then get to pick to pieces when the young entertainers make mistakes. Meanwhile, MKTO's first released single, 'Thank You,' most definitely plays strongly into the notion that these young stars, successful actors since being small children, have keen insight into the trials and tribulations of our nation's youngest millennials.
But what I love about their song, and especially their video, is that it is has actual lyrics and an overall tone that is largely positive toward their own generation, without once mentioning such banal things as swag, whipping one's hair back and forth, or raising one's hands in the air. Their song isn't about hedonism or the notion of some eternal party that only youth will recognize, it's about their generation's intention to persevere and excel in spite of the state of the world being handed to them.
Every generation has their opportunity to rail against the machine in one form or another. In my own generation X, Kurt Cobain died at age 27 and was lauded briefly as "the voice of our generation." Just Google Nirvana lyrics and you'll wonder how my generation ever got off the sofa and out of the heroine den if Cobain was our voice. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed his work. But I also loved other grand and artful addicts like Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Nikki Sixx, and Slash without ever speaking personally with "Mr. Brownstone."
What I love about these millennial performers, even if they are playing into the market as entertainers understandably do, is that they aren't just bitching, they're saying that they intend to turn all negatives into positives, to prove, if nothing else, that they are capable and willing to be happy. They're skipping the whole "woe is me" thing. Ever notice that the acronym FTW has two distinct meanings? One of them is "for the win." The other is "f*ck the world!" I know which team I want my kids on.
Speaking of FTW, I appreciate that the video is full of smiles and spirit, and when a fictional Senator first tells their generation that "they're f*cked," the duo leaps into party mode, rallies their generation and keeps the energy supercharged as they indict the generations that came before them:
We are the ones, the ones you left behind
don't tell us how
tell us how to live our lives
ten million strong, we're breaking all the rules
thank you for nothing, 'cause there's nothing left to lose
And later in the song:
Thank you for the times you said don't make a sound,
thanks for the ropes you used to hold me down
'cause when I break through I'ma use themselves
to reach the clouds —
we ain't comin' down...
Nonetheless, we know from extensive research that young millennials broadly have been anything but held down. In fact, they have been held up to such a great extent in their youth that when they step into independence, contemporary America quickly pulls the rug out from under many of them. But again, we're talking now about the teenage cohort, and let's grant that even privileged teens are entitled to angst and bitterness as a right of passage.
I love that these guys maintain a positive vibe as they lace the song with, essentially, "you older people suck" as, in the video, they smile, hand the older adults black balloons with ironically drawn angry faces, and the black balloons carry "the establishment" into the sky, far, far away.
Does the song express legitimate feelings and personal experiences by the duo? I'll objectively say we don't know, and I'll subjectively say, "Um, yeah right." Malcolm's been in showbiz since age 5; Tony since age 9. Are they entitled to embrace the tone of their generation even it is a reality apart from their own? Absolutely. Sometimes that's art. Or at least pop culture. Or both.
I love that they keep it light, even funny, and look to the future with firm resolve to win. I hate simply that the tides of American history, proving that each generation has done it's best to strive for a better society, won't fit into one song. These youths' parents and grandparents, at large, are working so hard to ensure a better future that it leads to endless knock-down, drag-out political brawls where it becomes hard to agree that hey, we all share the same motive: let's clean up this mess for ourselves and our progeny. But even if all that were to fit neatly into one song, it's likely one that few teenagers could fully appreciate until they too learn what it's really like on the far side of 30.
In the meantime, rock on MKTO, you almost have the right idea. In fact, close enough. My favorite lyric: "Look Ma, I finally made it, this world is too damn jaded."