Insane Clown Posse are having an existential crisis

There comes a point in the career of every countercultural artist when a break into mainstream visibility can tear at the seams of the underground fanbase that got their career started. Sometimes it’s a fairly smooth transition: Alien gross-out rockers GWAR have regularly appeared on Fox News and also attracted national attention in a petition to play the halftime show at the Super Bowl without alienating their loyal core fans. But after 20 years Insane Clown Posse seem to be hitting some turbulence.

A New York Times profile on Insane Clown Posse this weekend portrayed Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope in full-blown existential crisis. On the one hand they’ve never been more visible in the mainstream—they’ve got a new show on Fuse TV in which they offer commentary on “controversial” music videos and their annual Gathering of the Juggalos was covered everywhere from HuffPo to BuzzFeed this year. But there’s a challenge to maintaining your edge when you’re sharing a web page with articles about “10 OMG Cute Puppies” and “making goofy comments about Britney Spears videos,” as Nathan Rabin, who wrote a book about Juggalo culture, told the Times.

On the other hand, you’ve got the ICP filing a lawsuit against the FBI for labeling Juggalos as a gang outfit. While tangoing with the FBI would seem to reinforce the group’s hardcore bona fides vis a vis sticking it to the man, the gang implication hasn’t seemed to attract the right kind of attention to bolster the group’s loyal listener base. The Times points out their last record “The Mighty Death Pop!” sold just 94,000 copies.

The ICP image, while never more pervasive, seems to be misfiring at both the mainstream and underground levels, with one misfire reinforcing the other.

The pressure of threading the needle—of growing their careers while maintaining their credibility—all compounds with incredible pressure for the Insane Clown Posse members. Violent J has been seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication to handle the stress:

“I want to come home, be with my kids, just kick back and watch TV,” he said. “And I can’t do it unless I take some sort of sedative to slow me down.”

“If you’re not banging the drums, making noise in this industry, nobody’s looking at you,” he added. “Nobody’s listening.”

The turning point came perhaps with SNL’s parody of their 2009 song “Miracles” and its lyrics like “Fucking magnets—how do they work?” It was both a high water mark in terms of mainstream acknowledgement and simultaneously set off a wave of speculation about the band’s “secret” belief in god—the implication being that they were getting soft and singing about spirituality in their old age.

Violent J. tweeted at the time “I’m proud that we believe in God but I haven’t been to church since I was like 10″ by way of defense, but it’s hard to maintain your cool when people think you’re a good church-boy.

With 2014 the band looks to throw themselves into work, expanding their touring schedules after recovering from various surgeries, and making the Gathering of the Juggalos, recently announced in a new location, its biggest year ever.

But perhaps after 20 years, this is one party that must simply start ending. Like the Grateful Dead, all counterculture movements like this must eventually evaporate when their founding members get too old and tired to keep up the act. Now 41 and 39, ICP are entering early midlife—perfect time for an existential crisis. But like all midlife crisis there’s always at least a bit of life on the other side.