In the early 2000s, a young Brandon Flowers living in the lion’s den of Las Vegas had just turned 20. Presumably at some point in this timeline, Flowers was cheated on by a girlfriend – a scenario which would see most of us crying into a tub of ice cream. Flowers, however, channelled this heartbreak in the music studio with bandmate Dave Keuning, and so ‘Mr. Brightside’ – the band’s first ever song – was born.
In a weird way, we owe that ex-girlfriend a debt of gratitude for providing the soundtrack to every single social occasion, whether a night out or a wedding, sports match or festival, for the past twenty years. The Killers have released nearly 150 songs spanning seven studio albums since then, many of them arguably better than that very first song (I maintain that their two most recent albums mark the band’s musical peak). However, nothing has come close to touching the iconic status of ‘Mr. Brightside’.
Initially, it did not seem like this would be the case. Mr. Brightside’s initial release on 29 September 2003 was not greeted with massive fanfare. It only charted following a re-release in April 2004, and reached the top 10 in both the US and the UK – an impressive achievement for a band’s debut release, but nothing to suggest the stratospheric success it has seen since. Yet 20 years later, it has charted for 378 weeks in the UK (that’s over seven years – by far the most of any song in history) and is the most streamed track released before 2010. It was named by Absolute Radio as their Song of the Decade in 2010, and has repeatedly featured on Rolling Stone’s lists of the greatest songs of all time.
20 years later, [Mr. Brightside] has charted for 378 weeks in the UK (that’s over seven years – by far the most of any song in history)
Aided by frontman Flowers’ showman status, The Killers have become one of the most popular live bands of the 21st century, and consequently ‘Mr. Brightside’ is an omnipresence at almost any UK festival, with a storied history beginning in Glastonbury’s John Peel Tent in 2004 and running up to their headline set and Reading & Leeds Festival last month. It has been played nearly 1000 times, and many bands would tire at not being able to shake off their first and biggest hit single, yet in 2019, Flowers insisted that he “never gets bored of singing it”.
The Killers have become one of the most popular live bands of the 21st century, and consequently ‘Mr. Brightside’ is an omnipresence at almost any UK festival
Why has this song – initially with a very limited run of success – become such an icon of 00s music? In particular, why has it remained such an obsession on this side of the pond, with the band still frequently mistaken as British and every single Brit seemingly born with an innate skill at remembering every single lyric of this song?
Musically, the song is not pretentious and doesn’t try to do anything special. Instead, it relays the basic universal heartbreak of being cheated on, particularly when you are young and emotionally vulnerable. Yet it isn’t stylised as a teary ballad, but as an upbeat, dance-y track that you can scream along to in the club. The fact that the second verse is the same as the first makes it even easier to scream. It’s a basic musical formula – and it works.
The fact that the second verse is the same as the first makes it even easier to scream. It’s a basic musical formula – and it works
These are turbulent times for The Killers. The release of new single ‘Your Side of Town’ last month brought optimism of a possible eighth album with influences harking back to Hot Fuss, but soon came the announcement that this plan had been scrapped, although fears of a band break-up appear to be unfounded, and Brandon has promised something special for the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut album next year. The Killers have evolved massively since the Hot Fuss era that brought us ‘Mr. Brightside’, but their most iconic hit will live on for another 20 years and beyond.