MGMT Musical Career Exploration – Old Gold & Black

Follow psychedelic pop band MGMT’s journey through the music industry

Most people recognize MGMT from three iconic singles: “Kids”, “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel”. While each of these songs was undoubtedly unique to its time and played a major role in creating the brand of psychedelic indie pop we know so well today, these songs were never what MGMT intended to create. And yet, they still struck gold with the release of the initial album. “Oracular Spectacular” is MGMT’s highest-grossing album of all time, selling 17,000 copies a week at its peak and two million in total. However, it almost represented a gentrification of the individualistic, nonsensical music that brought the band together in the first place.

The story of MGMT is about two students – Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden – both studying at Wesleyan University. They bonded over a mutual love for absurd music and a mutual disdain for what they saw as the machine of the pop industry. Their band’s original name, “The Management”, was a nod to their disdain for the way the pop music industry was run and the people behind the machine. In fact, their first two songs “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” were written as a modern pop satire and performed at college parties around campus as a joke alongside a 45-minute cover of Ghostbusters theme song. However, the popularity of these songs on campus encouraged the duo to release their very first EP, “Time To Pretend”. MGMT was never meant to be a lasting arrangement and certainly wouldn’t have been if its EP hadn’t been picked up by Columbia Records, with whom the boys recorded “Oracular Spectacular.”

The rest was history. “Oracular Spectacular” became a massive hit, with all three singles as its highest-grossing crown jewels. They have been redesigned to contain even more of a pop music feel for the studio debut. For example, the tempo of “Time To Pretend” was upped to match ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” MGMT began to represent the kind of sound that Andrew and Ben had laughed off and lost the feel of the psychedelic music they intended to create. The three singles largely overshadowed the rest of their album, including tracks more representative of their true neo-psychedelic style. The duo are now associated with parodies, and they had almost become the subject of this initial caricature.

Disillusioned with their own image, Andrew and Ben returned to the studio to create a new anthology that would show their true style. They made their second studio album, “Congratulations”, and traveled further in that direction with their third studio album, “MGMT”, released in 2013. Each of them featured a display of the more psychedelic and dark pop style Andrew and then. always wanted to continue. Critics described him as “weird” and “goofy”, and he didn’t approach the success of “Oracular Spectacular”.

Despite the disappointing reception received by these two albums, I personally loved the new direction the duo decided to take. The band combined a number of musical elements that barely work with each other to create a sound that somehow works. However, the lack of success from these albums was disheartening, and MGMT went on hiatus for almost four years after the release.

After their hiatus, they began working on their latest album, “Little Dark Age” (LDA), in the spring of 2016. It was unlike anything they had done before – its creation during 2016 and 2017 was coincided with major political changes, including the election of former President Donald Trump which inspired the album. LDA not only represented MGMT’s attempts to marry their authentic, unconventional sound with the kaleidoscopic pop motif that made them so popular – it also symbolized their return to the center of performance art in their craft. There’s something for everyone, with tracks like “Me and Michael” appealing to audiences expecting an 80s dance-pop vibe, or songs like “Days That Got Away” aimed at audiences with a preference for the absurd.

LDA had a huge success. It peaked at number 35 on the Billboard 200 and surpassed 100 million streams on Spotify. Many critics saw it as a return to the same style as “Oracular Spectacular”, others saw it as radically different from anything MGMT had released before. After passing its fourth birthday, it is still unclear whether LDA was truly the band’s final album. However, as an album, it represents the growth that MGMT experienced as artists and their struggle to find their place in the music industry.