Entertainment

How 'Mr. Brightside' Turned The Killers Into Rock Legends

the killers 2004
Brandon Flowers when he was just a baby in 2004. | Tabatha Fireman/Redferns/Getty Images
Brandon Flowers when he was just a baby in 2004. | Tabatha Fireman/Redferns/Getty Images

It's a Friday night and you're at a dive bar, and a gentle, jiving guitar riff starts playing from the speaker. You instantly know the one, and you only have a matter of seconds to find your friends and navigate through a sea of sweaty bodies in order to get to the dance floor because it would be a crime not to yell along to the first verse: "Coming out of my cage and I've been DOING JUST FINE, Gotta gotta be down BECAUSE I WANT IT ALL." And by the line, "It was only a kiss, IT WAS ONLY A KISS," you're swept away by rock ecstasy, compelled to scream along to the rest of the track. Because, how could you not? The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" is not only a perfect guitar anthem, but probably, arguably, The Best Song.

For over 15 years, you've been singing/dancing/playing air guitar to "Mr. Brightside." And there's no reason you should ever stop, because that song and the record it's off of, Hot Fuss -- 15 years old in the US as of June 14 -- stand the test of time. It's what ushered The Killers into the stadium-sized indie rock legacy act that they've become.

When they first formed in 2001, attempting to launch themselves from the Vegas strip into the mainstream music stratosphere, The Killers were just four rock-obsessed nerds from Sam's Town yearning to be half as cool as the Stokes and Interpol and everybody else coming out of the now famous New York scene of the early-to-mid aughts. They were fronted by Brandon Flowers, who then still looked like a teenager who wore eyeliner. Growing up on a diet of Morrissey and The Smiths, he found an obsession in death, murder, and romance, and made the group dress like they were a more accessible Interpol, even if they didn't have the confidence to fit themselves properly. They felt set back, given that energy was bursting from Manhattan's Lower East Side and they were stuck in Las Vegas. But within a few short years after the release of their early singles, that scene was no longer a local institution and had gone international, as if it was waiting for The Killers to arrive all along.

mr. brightside twitter meme

This, of course, is owed to the fact that the album that made them sounded unlike anything that was coming out of NYC. In 2004, Hot Fuss was bent on new wave, based in '80s Vegas excess but sounded cleaner than it was seedy, and their words warped honest morbidity into something witty and anthemic, like they always knew they were stadium-ready. The album's Side A has gone down in history as one of the best ever ("Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me," and "All These Things That I've Done" -- come on!), and while it was long contested whether the record as a whole falls off after that, it's instead a complete work oozing style. It was a career-defining debut. In a few short years, they went from death-obsessed nobodies in the desert to a rock act cracking the Hot 100 and the 2005 Grammys.

Since then, The Killers have released four records (some stronger than others) and are now securely draws for a festival headlining set. They'll probably never cease to exist either, with their amassed fandom made up of long-time devotees and kids who continue discover "indie rock" for themselves and take a deep dive into their discography. But it's also the lasting infamy of that early release and "Mr. Brightside" that refuses to vanquish them from relevance. It's literally never left the UK's Top 100 chart; still, to this day, it remains the longest-running charting single across the pond. Over the years it's weaved in and out of memedom. The only clear explanation: At this point, everybody knows the words to "Mr. Brightside," the song produced so that Flower's voice comes through with crystal clarity, so it will remain a surefire reference point for the foreseeable future. Part of the song's joy is embracing the vaudevillian, the-pain-is-simply-too-unbearable drama of the lyrics, and its equally compelling video that introduced a creepy, sweaty Eric Roberts to a bunch of teens. Somehow, the song and other Hot Fuss tracks have made themselves a home everywhere, from Emo Nite playlists, frat parties, karaoke sets, and just about everything in between. What other song can do that? Basically none. Only the best. 

In the 2017 indie rock oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom, written by Lizzy Goodman, there's a passage in which The Strokes talk about how insanely good "Mr. Brightside" is, and how confounding it was for them not being able to produce a hit that struck the masses the same. They are, obviously, not wrong. And considering the fact that Flowers and his band were basically desperate enough to cut off a limb to be half as cool as The Strokes' Julian Casablancas or Interpol's Paul Banks back in the day, their enduring lovability proves that they were the underdogs who became bona fide mainstays in the long run.

It's been 15 years of that song and that album, so you might as well put it on again and scream, "I NEVERRRRRR" while flailing around alone in your bedroom (or maybe it's "I got soul but I'm not a soldier" or "smile like you mean it" or "it's not CONFIDENTIAL / I've got POTENTIAL" that you want to sing along to). For old time's sake.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment editorial assistant at Thrillist. She has, in fact, cried from seeing The Killers live, and she tweets about music making her emotional at @mssadiebell.