MGMT consists of Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, two Wesleyan University graduates who met and formed the band their freshman year of college. Goldwasser and VanWyngarden were both music majors, choosing to practice their “selfish ambition” rather than attempt to “save the world,” as VanWyngarden puts it. In telling the story of the band, Goldwasser explains, “We weren't trying to start a band, we were just hanging out and showing each other music that we liked." The organic nature of the band is a reoccurring theme, later depicted in their lack of obligation to fulfill market requests in their second album.
2007's Oracular Spectacular and 2010's Congratulations are two very different records. Oracular Spectacular is primarily known for its three hit singles, “Kids,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Electric Feel.” The record (especially those three songs) feature a consistent dance beat that keeps the energy level high and reflects 1970s British prog, disco, new-wave synth-pop, and early 90s Britpop. The power of youthful innocence seems to be a consistency throughout the record, expressing a fear of adulthood and a longing to maintain the freedom that comes with being young.
The fact that Oracular Spectacular was written 4-5 years previous to its release on Columbia Records is demonstrated through the stylistic variance between MGMT's first two major records. Congratulations was designed to feature no stand-out hits. In fact, the band reported that they would not release singles for Congratulations, looking to make clear that the record is to be considered one whole, not a series of fragmented pieces. The band ultimately failed in their attempt to express their prioritizeation of art over fiscal gain, as the label chose to release a set of singles. Counter to Oracular Spectacular, Congratulations doesn't feature the heavy dance beats, and rather, provides a psychedelic sound reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Congratulations ditches any reprise from their breakthrough hit, Kids, for “far-out psychedelic sojourns.”
The song "Congratulations," off of the album of the same name, seems to share the thoughts of an artist just recently exposed to the music industry. The text expresses an indifference to the life that comes with touring. VanWyngarden seems to half-heartedly embrace the standard expectations that come with being a touring artist. The first chorus shares:
But I've got someone to make reports
That tell me how my money's spent
To book my stays and draw by blinds
So I can't see what's really there
And all I need's a great big congratulations
VanWyngarden sings his acceptance that others hold the responsibility of taking care of his life's details, handling work that he once had to manage. It sounds like he is able to find peace with this idea, as these others are doing their job so that he can write music and in turn sustain their employment.
MGMT expresses an interest in spirituality, acknowledging that art and spirituality have a significant relationship, and that art is not of man alone. VanWyngarden shares, “I've been thinking our songs were transmitted to us by benevolent beings," suggesting a reference to Greek mythology. Goldwasser goes on to explain, "Something's about to go down. Things are going to change in a way nobody will be able to fix." Vanwyngarden then adds, "The apocalypse is in the zeitgeist, but it doesn't have to be about death and destruction; it could be the shattering of a mass hallucination…where the human race realizes its true potential!" This idea of people awakening from a hallucination and realizing their “true potential” is reminiscent of the Christian concept of “the kingdom of God.” This connection is not a coincidence. All humans are said to have a natural longing for Shalom, seek to apply it, and oftentimes fail to reach their goal. This natural search for shalom is a demonstration of God's presence in creation, what fuels man's search for something larger. There is said to be a time when humans will understand the truth of this world, and it will be beautiful. MGMT is expressing this longing through their music, demonstrating the honesty, heart, and emotion behind their art.
- Michael Bass