Mr Brightside at 20: Inside The Killers' saddest song
29 September 2023, 09:00
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Brandon Flowers and co’s debut single was released twenty years ago this week. But there’s a sad story behind the anthemic tune…
“Coming out of my cage / And I've been doing just fine…”
These lines are the cue to scramble for the dancefloor at an indie club, the moment you turn up your car radio or the signal to go bonkers at a Killers live show.
Now two decades old, Mr Brightside was The Killers' debut single released on 29th September 2003 and the second track on their first album Hot Fuss.
The initial single release did little in the charts, but on its re-release in 2004, it hit the UK top 10 and has been hugely popular ever since. It's spent 380 non-consecutive weeks on the UK charts, which amounts to a full SEVEN YEARS!
The Killers - Mr. Brightside (Official Music Video)
Many commentators - including this very radio station - have named Mr. Brightside the Best Song Of The 2000s. It’s one of the most downloaded tracks in the UK ever.
Frontman Brandon Flowers told Spin magazine in 2015: "At first, all I heard was the riff. The lyrics came later. When I first heard those chords, I wrote the lyrics down and we didn’t waste much time.”
He went on: “That’s also why there’s not a second verse. The second is the same as the first. I just didn’t have any other lines and it ended up sticking.”
The Killers-Mr. Brightside (Demo)
Brandon freely admits that he was inspired by David Bowie’s Queen Bitch in coming up with the vocal line, particular the section that goes: “Now she's leading him on, and she'll lay him right down…”
“I was obsessed with Hunky Dory when I was 19,” Flowers told Rolling Stone. “There’s an urgency to that, and it felt like he meant business, so I was like, ‘All right, I want to do that.'”
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Queen Bitch - David Bowie
But behind the anthemic tune and the stirring choruses, Mr Brightside is actually quite a sad song. The lyric is about a man who is obsessed with a girl that is seeing another man… and the thoughts that go through his head, imagining what they’re doing behind closed doors…
“Now they're going to bed / And my stomach is sick / And it's all in my head…”
Instead of breaking down with jealousy, the protagonist puts on a brave face. He’s Mr. Brightside, after all.
The story was based on Brandon’s own experience when his first serious experience ended when he was just a 19-year-old lad in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was living with his sister at the time and was trying to avoid seeing his ex with another man. “Who would have thought betrayal would sound so good?” he said later.
The Killers - Mr Brightside (Glastonbury 2004)
The Killers first got an idea of the song’s popularity when they performed at the John Peel Tent at Glastonbury in 2004. “It went off,” said Flowers. “It looked like footage of the Sex Pistols!”
For Brandon Flowers, he made something positive out of something negative:
During lockdown in April 2020, the frontman looked back at the video and noted: "It's just a song about betrayal. I was betrayed and I was able to turn it into a masterpiece".