Infinity on High, Track Twelve: “Fame < Infamy”
Now more than ever, Fall Out Boy is inconsequential. The notion they ever could have been infamous is laughable. They were never evildoers. They were never truly hated. People didn’t like them for the same reason they didn’t like Fred Durst and the same reason they don’t currently like Post Malone and the same reason they will one day dislike whatever disagreeably styled pop star of the future, assuming there is a future with pop stars allowed to style disagreeably in it. They were not necessarily disliked for their art, they were more disliked because they represented a trend certain among the populace abhorred. They never actually did anything.
There is an admission here, maybe delivered tongue-in-cheek but let’s take it at face value for the sake of content creation, that Fall Out Boy is aware of their limitations, either as a fad or just as songwriters. They sing “I sign off, ‘I’m alright in bed, but I’m better with a pen’/The kid was alright, but it went to his head.” When you hear your name on the TV, it makes you think you’re special, that your words and actions have an inherent worth because if they didn’t why would you be on TV. “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” was a smash hit single. Therefore, its success must be owed to the brilliance of the songwriting, meaning its creators are artistic geniuses.
It’s not necessarily wrong! But, to quote a contemporary, there’s a million other girls who do it just like you. There’s nothing absolutely unique about Fall Out Boy that made them rock stars, they just happened to catch on with the right people at the right time. Any number of bands could’ve filled that void. Pick up any demo sent to a major recording studio in 2005, and you will hear 50 songs as good as “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.” It’s not that “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” isn’t good, it’s that Fall Out Boy likely owes their success to timing than they do to skillful songwriting.
(A brief aside to celebrate the podcast Punch up the Jam, a never-ending manic nightmare from which I’d rather die than wake, and their breakdown of “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down.”)
“Oh, I’m just a lucky boi” doesn’t really make for a compelling… anything, stage presence, aesthetic, theme, song, lyric, it doesn’t do anyone any good to mutter about how you knew kids in Chicago who coulda blown you away they were so good, if you’re on TV, you must be on TV for a reason, and if you want to keep being on TV, you can’t say you don’t belong on TV. So you have to be confident that your songwriting abilities are somehow set apart from anyone else’s, lest they would be in your position, because obviously America is a meritocracy like let’s be real here can anyone find any evidence it’s not? Didn’t think so! You have to act like the best songwriter in the world, and if anyone disputes your claim, you can point at the Billboard Hot 100 and exclaim, “Scoreboard!”
Fall Out Boy is too aware this is an act, though, and they’re letting you know they know you know they’re liars. This isn’t a vulnerable moment, Fall Out Boy is not presenting their true selves and letting you judge them, but this is as close as they’ll get to saying, “Ha, yeah, we suck, don’t we.” They’re aware they won’t live in infamy because they’re not good enough at what they do to achieve that end, and they’re settling on the idea they’re a more banal evil.
In the first verse, they compare themselves to preachers and salesmen. Those aren’t truly evil people, but preachers will stand before a crowd of 100–150 people and sell them on ideas they might not believe, and salesmen will see 100–150 people and sell them on cars that might not run. If the dude at the Ford dealership sells you a lemon, or the preacher was running a gambling ring on the side, you remember that person as an asshole who negatively impacted your life, but they didn’t ruin your life, they just fucked it up for a second before you found a new car/church. Fall Out Boy won’t live in infamy, but they did make “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” They’re nothing special, they’re just a pop band.