Make You Press Rewind: Commentary in Fall Out Boy’s “Young And Menace”

Let’s talk about this new song and video. And let’s not talk about llama monster muppets. Well, let’s not only talk about them. Because, surprise surprise, it’s a metaphor. Watch the video/listen to the song here:

Official Video. Directors: Scantron & Mel Soria.

First Things First…

Take a step back from the weirdness that’s inherent to Fall Out Boy’s video. Literally all of them. I don’t know that this video or sound are even the strangest thing they’ve ever done. Yes, there are llama people living in the woods. But take a second to think about what that even means. Pete Wentz talks (and politely talks around) it some here.

It happens just about every time Fall Out Boy does anything but the fact that Pete Wentz is mixed race and lives with mental illness gets consistently swept under the rug. It’s something that comes through in his lyrics again and again but it also downplayed. So keep that in mind while we’re taking these lyrics and video here because it’s core to this.

Dissecting The Video

Let’s start with the visuals. We see a dark-skinned girl with a 4C afro on a beach find a magazine with a happy white family and “Family Activities” on the cover. How I didn’t start crying immediately is probably some kind of minor miracle because I have never related to something so much. Immediately, she’s different from this representation of normal. A lot of people have written about how damaging this is in the long run, being non-white but never seeing yourself in media as any kind of norm, and in a few seconds we see it play out in real time.

This girl takes the magazine/ad home with her and we see her family for the first time. And her parents as six-foot-tall llama muppet fur-suits with enormous sad and tired eyes. That… comes a bit out of left field and maybe I don’t totally blame most media outlets for focusing solely on that. The girl shows the magazine to her family. An argument breaks out. To any kid who grew up as the Other, that probably sounds familiar. Whether it was what you ate for lunch or your name or your hair, you probably had something that got you weird looks and laughs behind hands. You just want to fit in with everyone else and your parents fight you tooth and nail on it. They can’t understand, they can’t possibly know what it’s like. (Except, of course, they most likely do and went through something very similar. And assimilation, while it looks good, feels awful.)

The girl runs, doing what some of us probably wish we could have done once or possibly did do, hiding in the trunk of a broken-down car. My first watch through, I wondered very briefly how this driver wasn’t scared shitless by these giant llamas but all in due time. The girl emerges from the trunk to the bright light of day in Santa Monica, somewhere we can relate to as “normal” even if we don’t know the area. She wanders, trying to ask for help from passersby but she, apparently, speaks a whole other language.

Let’s take a closer look at these passersby and their reactions. The first are an older white couple who stare at her like an oddity before the woman tugs the man along. You’ve probably seen the way she does it before as well: the “let’s go in case this person suddenly becomes violent” tug mothers use with their children. Nothing this girl does, save speaking differently and looking different, denotes any danger from her. The second are a group of three younger white people. At least one’s clothes are closer and maybe they’ll try to help. But again, the girl is met with the same result: these three simply turn their backs and walk away. The girl’s frustrations mount, both at no one being willing to listen and her inability to communicate effectively.

For PoC, this same behavior manifests. The feeling of being simultaneously “too X” and “not X enough” are something I hear over and over again. And that’s part of the pain of trying to assimilate into culture, because you’ll always be “too X”.

The next scene takes up to a dark club when Fall Out Boy are playing and yet again, the girl is distinctly out of place. She’s easily the youngest there if nothing else. As the bass drops, the crowd dances along and she’s shoved around the floor while lights strobe. She runs out and onto the Santa Monica Pier, a flood of light and color and noise that could overwhelm anyone. People stare because of course people stare. She’s the outsider visibly unable to handle what they deal with every night in theory.

She wakes up home again in her own bed, creeping downstairs to find her parents arguing. Ostensibly, this is about everything we just saw and she experienced. And her parents are revealed to not be llama muppets but people. If that isn’t a metaphor for something you eventually realize as an adult who grew up in a non-white household, I don’t know what else it could be.

Breaking Down The Lyrics

A music video isn’t just visuals though. So let’s take a deeper look at the lyrics and music that make up this song.

We’ve gone way too fast for way too long
And we were never supposed to make it half this far
And I lived so much life, lived so much life
I think that God is gonna have to kill me twice
Kill me twice like my name was Nikki Sixx
I woke up in my shoes again but somewhere you exist singing
Oops I, did it again, I forgot what I was losing my mind about
I only wrote this down to make you press rewind
And send a message I was young and a menace

The music starts off calm and almost serene, like a reflection on what led to this point. It’s like taking a deep breath and launching into a story that’s near-impossible for you to tell without going through the moment again but you have to for whatever reason. It begins to rapidly build into a massive crescendo of sound. The sound is similar in trajectory to “Jet Pack Blues” from American Beauty/American Psycho but with a wildly different tone and feel. Where Jet Pack Blues feels sun forcing through clouds while it’s still raining, Young And Menace is more like crying and screaming as you throw a wild exhausted haymaker by the time the chorus hits. Once the next verse comes, it’s like pulling yourself away from a particularly intense memory and remembering to breathe.

The lyrics here are a lot about nostalgia, not just for pop culture but for events tied to it by memory. Another note to make here is that this verse is almost entirely in the past tense and distanced. This isn’t about anything that has happened recently. The line “oops, I did it again, I forgot what I was losing my mind about” from the pre-chorus sticks out a lot to me. In working through mental illness, with or without help, sometimes there’s just so much there that you sort of… forget which thing or things are the ones that are supposed to be “wrong” with you. Another line that sticks out is “I only wrote this down to make you press rewind”. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen parents only reflect on the pressure they put on their children once a tragedy has already occurred. This isn’t just limited to parents but anyone in authority who is so set in their ways that no divergence is ever acceptable.

Woke up on the wrong side of reality
And there’s a madness that’s just coursing right through me
And as far as the time, far as the time
Not sure I’m there yet but I’m searching out the ride (…but I’m searching, I’ve arrived?)
Oops I, did it again, I forgot what I was losing my mind about
Oh, I only wrote this down to make you press rewind
And send a message that I was young and a menace

This verse is a little different than the last: less past tense and nostalgia; closer and as if you’re still trying to figure everything from the last verse out. It still hurts and leads back into the repeat of the chorus. The reflection remains however. It’s like you’re talking to a therapist and trying to pull apart your traumas to get to the root and start healing.

And if I am off the deep end
I’m just here to become the best yet
I’m just here for the psych assessment
I’m just here for the, for the, for the…

This verse, with its near-monotone and repetitive kick drum feels like the point where you just get tired. Trying to work through anything dealing with mental illness is hard. Sometimes it gets so rote that you just recite and repeat what gets you what you want. Maybe that’s a prescription or clearance for a job or home as fast as possible or any of a myriad of things. This is also entirely in the present tense. We’ve left the nostalgia and everything being felt here is happening in the now. There’s no distance and the pain here is fresh. There is pain and frustration here despite the monotone. This feels like a relapse into bad habits, a break in forward progress. The music is also some of the most processed, overlapping, and chaotic of the entire song.

We’ve gone way too fast for way too long

The frantic build of music skids to a halt with a crash of cymbals and almost take a breath. The ending here sounds like an apology: to parents, family, and friends; to yourself both younger and present; to the future and kids who feel like you did. It’s an admission of sorts that you were wrong. But it doesn’t mean anyone else was right. There is no right here.

A final interesting note on the music: the only other producer and mixer on the track is Jesse Shatkin, who has also worked on Sia’s “Alive” from last year’s This Is Acting as well as “Chandelier” from 2014’s 1000 Forms Of Fear. Both of these are tracks that feel deeply personal and even build in somewhat similar ways.

A Final Note

Something interesting that was brought up in the interview above is that this era of mix is intensely personal and necessary distance. It’s reflective, looking at life that has led to this point and admitting your own faults. Look at the likes of Adele, Beyoncé, Lorde, Halsey, and more. Being truly and honestly vulnerable is valued and it’s something that can’t be faked. It’s not as if Fall Out Boy are new to that game. More music like this is sure to be in our collective futures. And most likely, M A N I A will be another album to earn that tag of genuine.