Meet Me @ the Altar is a thrilling result of a generation beyond all that: kids who grew up communicating on the internet, with one another and with the world, and who could eventually say, “Let’s start a band,” and do it. The internet may seem to become less innocent with each passing hour, but there is still much to be said for what a young person can find on it. Here is a trio of young people who used the internet to its highest exploratory potential, and found one another — and then flourished, reveling in an unfinished but fluorescent version of themselves.
First they posted covers on YouTube. Then they took to the road on small tours. It helped that they had the support of their parents, with each member coming from a musical family. Campbell’s parents met, she says, when her father, a producer, heard a recording of her mother, a singer, and fell in love. Johnson’s family has roots in gospel singing, and Juarez’s father is a drummer from El Salvador; when she was young and learning to play, he was the one to post videos on YouTube. “He just wanted to send them to my family back home,” she says. “He didn’t realize the rest of the internet could see them.”
The girls began gathering in Florida, playing shows at Soundbar in Orlando, where there was enough of a scene for the group to get its bearings, and begin to create a hum of excitement. That hum became a loud buzz in June 2020, when Dan Campbell of the band the Wonder Years tweeted about the song “Garden,” starting a domino effect. Alex Gaskarth from All Time Low also endorsed the band, as did the singer Halsey. At the time, this version of the band’s lineup had just two self-released EPs to its name. But more and more people were getting a first taste of M.M.A.T.A.’s signature experience — the soaring and infectious chorus — and by the end of the month, labels were sending offers.
There was only one label the group had its eye on: Fueled by Ramen, the home of bands, like Paramore, that M.M.A.T.A. idolized. “That was always the goal, the end goal,” Campbell said. “That is what we would have been working toward, to be on Fueled by Ramen. And everything happened so fast that I feel like we didn’t even truly have time to realize, ‘Damn, we’ve been thinking about this since we were 14 years old, and it’s actually happening right now.’”
When news of the band’s signing hit, in October 2020, there was palpable excitement. But much of the talk was about the band’s racial makeup’s being different from that of almost every other act previously pursued by the label. Pop-punk has an image that doesn’t always align with its fan base: The fans, often enough, are young Black people or people of color, or are not male, and yet the face of the genre remains largely white, largely male. This opens the door to a lot of less-than-desirable outcomes, from small things (exhausting repetition of the same lyrical themes) to large ones (men taking advantage of their influence over young fans). Of the many reasons people were excited about M.M.A.T.A., there was also the idea that they could signal a change, a corrective.
M.M.A.T.A. are a band of young women of color who have their horror stories about the ways they’ve occasionally been treated — by peers, by fans, by men working the door. Now these young women of color were being labeled their genre’s saviors, and the predictability of the American imagination was on full display. There are those who are most at ease, most in awe, when the problems in a subsection of American culture are battled by those already most affected by them. It feeds a mythology that marginalized people are acting out of charity, not necessity. M.M.A.T.A. were suddenly expected to save a scene — as opposed to building a newer, more generous one.
“White guilt is something, isn’t it?” Johnson said, grinning slyly, a crescent of pizza crust clasped by her iridescent nails. “If I’m being completely honest, that’s what it was. People were like, ‘Oh, here are all these bands of color!’ And we got to be at the forefront of that. And then, also being women —” She stopped for a split second, just long enough to snap back to a needed clarity. “And,” she said, “we’re also good.”