Many tracks have come and gone over the years as frat house staples — “Mo Bamba” is probably the latest — but few, if any, could ever command the nostalgic value, and staying power of the iconic “Mr. Brightside.”
By far the most popular number ever put out by The Killers, a post-punk foursome from Nevada, “Brightside” is remarkable, not only for its musical excellence.
The incredible thing to me is that the band, the classic “Hot Fuss” album cover, and the entire post-punk revival of the mid-2000s are well-known pretty exclusively because of this single song. The opening guitar riff is unmistakable. It’s played at virtually every party I’ve been to on this campus. In fact, I challenge you to find me one person of the English-speaking world born between 1990 and 2001 who can’t sing along to at least a little bit of it.
It’s been on the Billboard Top 100 for four years consecutively in the UK and has seen more than twice as many Spotify plays as any song put out by Green Day, Panic! at the Disco, or My Chemical Romance. Even the legendary “R U Mine?” — the most-played Arctic Monkeys track on the streaming service — hasn’t met the ears of vaguely intoxicated college students and house-partying white kids quite as much.
So what about the track managed to catapult The Killers from the ranks of countless Kings of Leon, Modest Mice, and Fratellis to stardom almost on the level of Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes?
Is it the lyrics? They’re relatable for some, heavy for others, and just fun for the rest. But I can’t convince myself that they’re exceptionally heart-wrenching compared to the rest of the genre — especially a genre that isn’t typically in the rotation at the events where “Brightside” thrives.
Every other element of the song — the band, the instrumentation, the production, the time of release — is great, but not remarkably so, and it’s not some perfect storm of a bunch of very good qualities that elevates “Brightside” to the fame it enjoys.
“Mr. Brightside” is not only a song but a moment in culture. For some it’s sad, and for others empowering. I know for me it’s taken on many different meanings. For many, the value it holds might be entirely in the hype and having a tune to lose it to with your buddies. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of the song, and who doesn’t go nuts when it’s already a good night out and the entire room starts to sing along as Brandon Flowers declares that he’s coming out of his cage and he’s doing just fine.
Music brings us together. It creates a shared cultural reality, gives us common interests, develops a whole ecosystem of tastes and styles, and works as a binding agent for the human experience. There’s no better way to get an entire room to feel something than by playing a song, and it’s kind of beautiful that “Brightside” has that unifying ability. No matter who we are, no matter what sequence of events in our day and life led to us being in that club or at that party or wherever, there’s a profound not-aloneness to “Mr. Brightside.”
The frat house, packed to the rafters, drops everything and screams it in inebriated unison. The monotony of the road trip shatters as everyone in the car belts those first few lines together. And we sing along. And we smile.
That’s the bright side.