The story behind MGMT
People often associate MGMT with three songs: Kids, Electric Feel, and Time to Pretend. This isn't strictly negative, but it shows a complete disregard for their work and history as innovative artists who haven't shied away from creating groundbreaking material.
With recent releases such as Little Dark Age, which is widely regarded as the finest synth-pop album of the twenty-first century, it is apparent that they are one of the game's most significant musicians. With over 10 million monthly Spotify listeners, many singles with millions of streams, being the most played "new" band in 2008, and winning two Grammys, Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser have accomplished remarkable milestones. But how did they develop their stunning discography?
The two met at Wesleyan University in 2001 and began as friends with similar interests. According to Goldwasser, both had similar musical preferences and were simply "hanging out and showing each other tunes that we enjoyed."
They began experimenting with electronica and noise rock before going on to their characteristic indie pop and psychedelic rock era, inspired by bands like Talking Heads and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They generally made loops and only chose to insert vocals into their tracks after venturing into a pop-oriented realm of production, which they derided as nothing more than a joke.
The Management was created by the two of them, and they released two demos, “We (Don't) Care” and “Climbing to New Low”. They mainly performed at college parties, playing for hours on end to the Ghostbusters theme whilst sipping Champagne. The Management's early days were evident in that they were more concerned with performance art than with their tunes.
They found that their band name had already been taken at this time and shifted to a disemvowelment of the prior tag, MGMT.
After graduating in 2005, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden went on to promote their new EP, Time to Pretend, which had extremely "popified" songs that they composed as a joke.
They decided to discontinue the collaboration and go their ways after touring Time to Pretend as the concert openers for the of Montreal ensemble. Benjamin and Andrew were shocked to get a call from Columbia Records in the fall of 2006, signing a deal, changing their minds, and creating their major-label debut, Oracular Spectacular, in the next year and a half. To say the album was a smash hit is an understatement; it received universal acclaim, was nominated for two Grammys, sold 2 million copies, and was rated Rolling Stone Magazine's 18th best album of the decade.
Many other bands would be happy with the accolades and success that the record was receiving, and they were, to a degree. MGMT didn't want to be renowned for their pop hits; instead, they wanted to develop their sound, even if it meant less commercial success. Congratulations was released in 2010 as a daring move by the pair and Columbia Records, and it was reminiscent of the music that the two bonded over during their college days. It didn't receive as much attention as their last album and didn't have any substantial business hits, but it seemed far more genuine and honest. Fans were perplexed by their new sound, which signalled a significant creative shift.
MGMT wanted to push themselves and didn't need another best-selling record to do it; the duo wished to be recognized for their individual "feel". The record label struggled to push the album or any single song to great success, but it was precisely what the pair wanted: to create an experience for the album as a whole, rather than two or three single singles.
Many fans left, while others preferred Oracular Spectacular to Congratulations. The first is a better-planned album that lacks huge radio singles. It doesn't rely on catchiness or over-used theoric formulations to pique your interest. In any case, the album's reviews were strongly polarised.
Fans showing up to MGMT concerts felt disconnected from the artists, having shown up to listen to their initial hits and not recognizing their recent releases. This proved disheartening for the duo, which caused them to choose between two paths; continuing down the unconventional road of psychedelic pop or compromising their artistic intentions and going back to their late 2000s style.
With the release of their self-titled album in 2013, MGMT proceeded along the same route and became even more experimental. This album was not intended to please the general audience or Columbia Records, and listeners found it difficult to return to such an adventurous record. The pair was losing relevance, and if they continued in this manner, they would be recognized as three-hit wonders with no major impact on the music industry.
The ensemble chose to compose more radio-friendly songs after taking a hiatus and carefully considering their next move, culminating in Little Dark Age(2017), their fourth album. It includes genres like dark synth-pop and electropop which tied their experimental and mainstream side. It's dubbed MGMT's rebirth, and it seems authentic to the duo's sound while still being accessible to the ordinary listener. It was well welcomed by both the public and critics, with over 500 million people streaming it.
MGMT’s story perfectly encapsulates the hardships of choosing between passion and expectations. Their discography is unique, and they have already accomplished their ultimate goal of establishing an enduring legacy on music. Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser released singles in 2021, but their next album has yet to be announced. Meanwhile, their adoring public awaits the release of a new masterpiece with eager anticipation.