Why Green Day's American Idiot is still so relevant today

7 January 2024, 12:00

Green Day launch American Idiot in September 2004: Mike Dirnt, Billy Joe Armstrong, and Tre Cool.
Green Day launch American Idiot in September 2004. Picture: Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images

By Jenny Mensah

The US band's politically-charged concept album still packs a punch over a decade later.

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Green Day's American Idiot album will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.

The concept album, which was released on 21st September 2004, follows the story of Jesus of Suburbia - a lower-middle class American antihero.

From it came its title track - a hugely politically charged-single which has firmly embedded itself into every important list of protest songs.

Nearly two decades after its release, American Idiot is still as important as it ever was, even making its way back into the headlines after frontman Billie Joe Armstrong changed out some of its memorable lyrics during their New Year's Eve performance.

It's clear that the single can be applied to more than one situation, but why was the anthem originally written? Find out about the origins of the single here.

READ MORE: Are these the best protest songs?

Green Day - American Idiot [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Green Day's American Idiot was released in August 2004 from the album of the same name, peaking at No.3 on the UK Singles Chart.

One of two explicitly political songs on the record (the other being their 2005 single Holiday) American Idiot deals with themes of fear and xenophobia and accuses the mass media of using propaganda to stir up paranoia and hysteria.

Don't wanna be an American idiot
Don't want a nation under the new media
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mind-f**k America

- Green Day - American Idiot

The track was written under the presidency of George W. Bush, who led America into the Iraq War following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is believed to have found a distaste for cable TV's coverage of the war, and has been quoted as saying: "They had all these Geraldo-like journalists in the tanks with the soldiers, getting the play-by-play."

Despite the song taking place during Bush's reign, Armstrong says it wasn't just about the 43rd President, telling Spin: "I would never think of American Idiot as being about the Bush administration specifically.

"It’s about the confusion of where we’re at right now.”

"The world’s in a confused state,” bassist Mike Dirnt agreed. “I’m pissed off, and I’m angry, and I feel like I’m not fully represented.”

QUIZ: Do you know the lyrics to Green Day's Basketcase?

Green Day's American Idiot single
Green Day's American Idiot single artwork. Picture: Artwork

With the band themselves revealing the song was written out of anger about not being represented by the world's leaders, it's not hard to see why American Idiot has become relevant once again.

In 2016, Billie Joe Armstrong was just as angry about the political situation in his country and was particularly vocal about Donald Trump being elected into the White House.

The trio visited the Radio X studio the day after US Election result, where Armstrong gave his reaction.

Billy Joe Armstrong woke up 'choking' to the news of Donald Trump...

Speaking to Chris Moyles, the Good Riddance singer revealed: "I went to bed and everyone kinda thought the correct side was going to win.

"Then at 6am I wake up choking - like this is kinda gross, like when you inhale spit [...] I'm thinking 'Oh my god why am I coughing?'

"And of course the first thing I do is think 'I'll check and see what happened'. So I go to my phone and I look and I have 50 messages. And I was like 'This is not good'. 'Cause usually I get four every day."

He added: "All my friends and family are freaked out because they just elected a fascist into the White House for the first time in American history."

If you needed any more proof on where Green Day lie on the businessman and celebrity-turned-politician, the band then released the visuals for their Troubled Times video in January 2017, which saw clips of Donald Trump interspersed between images of violence and inequality.

Watch its official video here:

Green Day - Troubled Times (Official Music Video)

While Troubled Times acts as an American Idiot for Gen Z, American Idiot still speaks to audiences of all ages today.

In 2020, Armstrong was still calling upon the famous song to drive his message home. At the start of September, he shared a lengthy post backing Joe Biden for President.

Invoking another American Idiot single Wake Me Up When September Ends and sharing a clip of American Idiot, he wrote: "It’s September 1st 2020 and I am WIDE AWAKE IN AMERICA. This has been the most unprecedented year of our lives.
A pandemic. Racial uprising. As the song goes “wake me up when September ends. I plead to everyone to WAKE UP AND REGISTER TO VOTE."

Billie Joe Armstrong onstage with Green Day in Texas, 21st October 2022
Billie Joe Armstrong onstage with Green Day in Texas, 21st October 2022. Picture: Hoss McBain/ZUMA Press Wire/Alamy

The musician added: "Our democracy is at stake. Our earth is at stake. We need health care for all. We need justice. We need peace. We need police reform.

"This is a call to arms for the soul of America! Our lives depend on this election!! Grab a group of friends and register! Grab a group of friends and vote! Tell EVERYONE!"

The message seemed to work - Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States of America on 3rd November 2020, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As 2021 rolled on, Biden received criticism over US troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan and Green Day embarked on the Hella Mega Tour with Weezer and Fall Out Boy.

Green Day
Green Day. Picture: Press

Fast forward to 2024 and American Idiot is back in news again.

Green Day performed the iconic single at Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve party and their frontman changed the lyrics: "I'm not a part of the redneck agenda," to “I’m not a part of the MAGA agenda” of course referring to Donald Trump's famous Make America Great Again slogan.

Green Day - "American Idiot" + "Holiday" [2024 Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve]

Despite it not being the first time Green Day have slammed Trump during their performances, the televised performance caught a different audience at home and the song went viral all over again, with some social and political commentators slamming the trio.

Green Day fans of course saw the funny side to the criticisms, with many amazed that people were just learning of the band's anti Trump sentiment and political leanings, especially when they've been known to chant: "No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA" at their shows.

The furore even saw celebrities weigh in, with everyone from Elon Musk to Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello breaking their silence.

Musk insulted the band, writing: "Green Day goes from raging against the machine to milquetoastedly raging for it".

Ironically RATM, who were embroiled in a similar controversy of their own in which their fans made fun of those unaware of their political leanings, were also dragged back into the conversation.

Reacting to a pundit's opinion that the band should stay out of politics, he simply wrote: "Is that so?"

The guitarist then drove his own point home by sharing his acceptance speech at Rage Against The Machine's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with the caption: "History, like music, is not something that “happens”. It’s something you MAKE".

If the potency of Green Day's famous track and its ability to spark conversation wasn't evident before, then there's no doubt as to how relevant it is now.

Plus, this wasn't a flash in the pain for Green Day; their dedication to the topic still clearly remains. Last year, they announced their fourteenth studio album Saviors and from it came lead single, The American Dream Is KillIng Me.

Green Day - The American Dream Is Killing Me (Official Music Video)

20 years on and it's clear that the pop punk trio are still content to discuss their dissatisfaction with their country.

As for when American Idiot will rise in public's consciousness again? Time will tell, but if you can't wait that long, there's plenty of other defiant Green Day material to get stuck into...