Celebrating My Chemical Romance's "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge" and the pop punk music that shaped us
My Chemical Romance’s beloved album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge turned 15 years old on June 8th, 2019.
The year after my father died, my mother and I spent Christmas in New York. I remember spontaneously getting my makeup done at one of those iconic Manhattan department stores on the first day of our vacation and finding a cosmetic I’d been coveting for months. It was eyeshadow the color of pomegranate skin, and I wanted it so I could copy a boy in a rock band. My Chemical Romance, a five-piece from New Jersey, had arrived on the alternative music scene worldwide back in 2004 with the release of their sophomore album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge—a record that alarmingly turned 15 in June.
MCR’s sound veered more towards pop punk, but their aesthetic was deeply theatrical and gothic. I was smitten, and I swept that unflattering red against my eyelids like a lipstick mark on a love letter.
There is an unavoidable type of self obsession that develops during one’s teenage years—every feeling is visceral and every moment is considered a life or death situation until, one day, for me, it actually was. The devastating loss of my father to lung cancer when I was 17 coincided with a period of personal transition, a longing to shed my childish skin and carve out a more sophisticated and authentic identity for myself. During this time, tangible things like clothing and makeup were used as modes of self-expression; friendship groups noticeably began to align with the genre of music you favored. The parameters of all this could often feel restrictive—whichever band was designated cool (typically by more confident alt boys) was ephemeral but non-negotiable.
The summer after Dad died, My Chemical Romance started appearing regularly on the music channels in England. They came in a haze of black hair dye, armed with an accessible album full of songs about love, loneliness, and death. I was all in, regardless of what others thought about them. They were outlandish enough to extinguish my suburban apathy, but musically dynamic enough to appeal to my inner rock and roll snob. Three Cheers was a semi-concept album, the liner notes describing it as “The Story of a Man, A Woman and the Corpses of a Thousand Evil Men”—delightful goth camp! MCR’s confidence, and the positive reaction I had to it, transcended my need for approval. As it turned out, I wasn’t alone in my devotion. The album went platinum a year post-release, selling over three million copies worldwide. In May 2019, it re-entered the top 200 of the Billboard charts.
To get an idea of the longevity of their impact, Joe Jonas (who else?!) bizarrely fueled MCR reunion rumors recently, gossiping that the band (who split in 2013) was spotted rehearsing in an adjacent studio in New York. The long-dormant fanbase went into a social media frenzy.
An album’s ability to transport you back to a particular moment in time is nearly mythical.
We can all think of the music that does this for us, and reflecting on what Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge meant to me at age 15 is very gratifying. Revisiting the epic ballad “The Ghost of You,” I’m reminded of how soothing it was to share the same melancholy that Gerard and co. were singing about. As a young woman whose life had been uprooted by bereavement, harnessing that pain through music was a blessing. “Thank You for the Venom” is timeless and rollicking, filled with memories of my best friend and me screaming lyrics at each other, dressed in cardigans with skulls embroidered at the chest. I was no longer just the girl with the dead father—I was part of something bigger: fandom that I could use as armor around my pain. Misfit anthem “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”—remember when emo song titles had passive aggressive asides in brackets?—is as charming and catchy as ever. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the reason behind My Chemical Romance’s rapid ascent following this breakout single.
I caught a particularly dated episode of Gilmore Girls recently in which Rory quips, “It’s Avril Lavigne’s world; we’re just living in it,” and I cringed. I remembered how, in the early aughts, the majority of us eviscerated pop punkstress Avril for being “too mainstream,” but we worshipped bands compiled predominantly of slender white men in their twenties: Think Sum 41 with their Day-Glo sweatbands and skate-bro personas, or Good Charlotte with their earnest lyrics and famous girlfriends. However, when I think about MCR, I think about what they represented to me (separate from the fact that some of them were partly responsible for our sexual awakenings; see: the one in the aforementioned red eyeshadow). More than anything, it was about what they represented and how I adopted it for my own empowerment, sense of self-worth, and mental wellbeing.
Considering this, I reached out to a handful of women of a similar age to discuss their memories of My Chemical Romance mania.
We got into the minutiae of early 2000s rock sub-genres and why that music was the ideal soundtrack to our teenage years.
My adolescent soulmate Helen, 31, immediately noted the importance of distinguishing yourself from your peers at that age, why My Chemical Romance was the perfect vessel to do so. “I remember thinking that none of my friends were talking about MCR and that I could call them mine (possessive much!),” she says. “I wanted a band whose lyrics and music made me feel something without the worry of people thinking I was copying them.”
For Sophie, 32, the alternative music scene in her hometown growing up was very impactful. “[The scene was] a mass of school bands, cool boys and rundown church halls, and house parties putting on gigs; these were the places to be. This feeling of real music following all of the manufactured pop of the ’90s,” she says. It was the soundtrack to everything, from learning to drive to speaking to someone I had a thing for on MSN Messenger (the UK equivalent of AIM).”
Kate, 32, says, “Being different appealed to me! As a fat kid who was bullied frequently, I loved sticking my headphones in and getting lost in the music.” Cheri, 33, echoes this and reflected on her own struggles while growing up. “My childhood was a bit fragmented…but music remained a constant for me and my best friends. It was our solace when we were sad, our motivation to get out of the small town syndrome. It propelled us, eventually, to pick up our own musical instruments.”
After speaking with these wonderful ladies (insightful conversations that could have continued for hours), I realized that the escapism of this music was universal. Verona, 33, says, “For me, it was an escape from what most people around me would listen to.”
Becoming conscious of your body and image begins at an early age for the majority of young women, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the sense of style we adopted from MCR was as significant as the music itself. “The aesthetic was a way to show my individuality,” Verona continues. Kate agrees, “The clothes gave you freedom without the pressure of…being slim and ‘pretty.’”
The inclusivity we felt in this fandom, the self-esteem we gained as teenage girls in this scene, and the opportunity to express ourselves through this music can’t be overestimated.
“Listening to [pop punk]…was a reminder to be yourself and that it’s okay, in fact, it’s beautiful, which, at that age, was key,” Sophie says.
We are living in a time when the pop culture we adored in the past might have a chance at resurrection. Our preoccupation with nostalgia extends not just to television and film, but to music, too. The Jonas-fueled My Chemical Romance reunion rumors could mark the beginning of a new era for the band. Especially if pop punk gatekeeper Mark Hoppus has anything to do with it. Gen Z could claim the band as their own and the cycle could start over. It really doesn’t matter to me either way—I was there when it all happened first, and it shaped me and so many unique women.