The Killers – Mr. Brightside (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)
The name ‘The Killers’ comes synonymous with the band’s biggest hit “Mr. Brightside.” So few songs have come out as a band’s debut release and stayed massive up until the existence of the band and beyond. And you would expect such a song to be of the complications of a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. But, “Mr. Brightside” has a verse, pre-chorus and a chorus only!
“Mr. Brightside” was released as the debut single of the American Rock band The Killers on September 29, 2003. The song appears on their debut studio album ‘Hot Fuss’ released in 2004. The song is the band’s one of the most successful tracks charting at #10 on both the US and UK singles charts. The song has sold over 3.5 million copies by 2013.
“Mr. Brightside” is a cultural phenomenon. The song is still the 15th most downloaded Rock songs ever in the UK. NME music magazine ranked the song at #5 on their ‘150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years’ list, at #83 on their ‘100 Greatest Songs of NME’s Lifetime 1952–2012’ list and at #116 on ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ list. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the hit at #48 on their ‘100 Best Songs of the 2000s’ list. in 2017, British Phonographic Industry (BPI) listed this song at #1 on ‘Most Streamed Songs Released Before 2010’ chart, proving that The Killers have scored an undying hit with this track.
Many reasons could have contributed to this massive success of the song throughout the decades. For one, the lyrics are simple and easy to remember. Another reason would be that any teenager could relate to this song at some point in their lives. Why? Because the song is about the lead singer’s girlfriend who cheated on him! Another reason is that this song is a low-key motivation for moving on from everyday messes like being cheated on! Why? Because there is nothing else to do than put on a smile and be the Mr. Brightside!
What Inspired “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers?
In a 2009 interview with Q Magazine, the lead singer Brandon Flowers explained the gruesome experience that inspired the lyrics to this hit; “I was asleep and I knew something was wrong. I have these instincts. I went to the Crown and Anchor and my girlfriend was there with another guy.” Crown and Anchor is a famous pub in Brandon’s hometown of Las Vegas.
In an interview with NME in 2012, Brandon Flowers again elaborated the person experiences that gave birth to this song; “Lyrically, it’s about an odd girlfriend of mine. All the emotions in the song are real. When I was writing the lyrics, my wounds from it were still fresh. I am Mr. Brightside! But I think that’s the reason the song has persisted – because it’s real. People pick up on those things. And that goes all the way down to the production; we recorded it in a couple of hours, but it just sounds right, you know?”
Composing “Mr. Brightside”
Although the song is about Brandon Flowers’s ex-girlfriend who cheated on him, the lyrics were initially written by Dave Keuning–the guitarist of The Killers. Brandon Flowers joined on the lyrics after hearing Dave’s writing. “I was procrastinating,” says Flowers in his NME interview, “and that’s why the second verse is the same as the first one, but it just stuck.”
Watch “Mr. Brightside” Music Video by The Killers
Download “Mr. Brightside” song on Apple Music and Amazon
Buy ‘The Killers: Direct Hits’ Album on Apple Music and Amazon
As the title suggests, “Mr. Brightside” is a song about putting on a brave face, fake smiling and trying to looking at the crashing world around you positively. Given the context of the song, which is the singer’s girlfriend is cheating on him, it is an ‘end of the road.’ There is no going back to a relationship with the same person. So at least look at the bright side of the situation–he at least did not marry a cheater!
The band talks about “coming out of the cage” in the first verse. This is a reference to the protagonist of the song finally coming out the emotional shackles of the failed romance prior to this relationship. He was ready to move on and he found this girl. He is taking a chance here because he “wants it all,” referring to true love. There are signs that this relationship spun out quite unexpectedly–one moment they were kissing, and the next they were in a relationship and in the next moment, she is cheating on him.
As told by Brandon Flower, he felt his girlfriend cheating on him in his sleep. Hence, the song also plays a lot around the ‘thought’ or ‘suspicion’ that his girlfriend is cheating on him. “Now I’m falling asleep,” could allude to this meaning on one aspect, and on another spectrum, it also means that he is unaware of the cheating that is happening behind his back. The first verse also says that “it’s all in my head” referencing again to his personal experience, and also to the suspicion of his girlfriend cheating on him. Being suspicious is as bad as catching someone red-handed.
The shift from the verse to the pre-chorus is one of the biggest cliffhangers we witness in lyrical history. The verse ends with “but she’s touching his…” The previous line ends with “sick,” and as per the rhyming scheme, the word that should follow is “d*ck.” However, the pre-chorus starts with the word “chest” which completely turns around the tonality of the story. As opposed to a very foul act to be condemned, this girl is actually in love with this other man. It is still cheating, but far less vulgar?
Watch The Killers Perform “Mr. Brightside” Live at Glastonbury 2019
The chorus of “Mr. Brightside” reveals the second main topic in this song; “jealousy.”
“turning saints into the sea” could be a reference to the medieval practice of killing women who were suspected to be witches. They were thrown into the sea, and if they survived they were witches and were killed. Even if the women were innocent, they would still drown and die. Also, this line could reference that ‘jealousy’ could turn a person into madness. In the song, there is an off-chance that the girl has been faithful all along, but for some reason, thoughts of adultery have crept into the boyfriend’s head. This could drive a sane person mad and could be the reason why he is asking her to let go of him and why she is not letting his insecurities and misconceptions win.
When he is in a mindset of suspicion, anything she says would be interpreted in the wrong way. This is possibly why he thinks her stories are “sick lullabies” and nonsensical “alibis.”
“The price” Brandon pays is the weight in his mind over the suspicions of his girlfriend cheating on him. But he is also paying the price of his own actions–suspecting her. His “destiny” is calling him to end this relationship. He probably knew from the start, that this relationship was not meant to last. Maybe he was looking for a reason to end this relationship. And those who ‘seek, you shall find.’
Being in a relationship with no sense of what is happening is torture. The singer feels as if though he is being too optimistic in this relationship. He tells himself “open up my eager eyes” and see the truth. Is the truth that she is actually cheating on him, or is he truly imagining things in his head?
The outro of the song, consisting only of “I never” sung in different tones, is as powerful as rest of the song. With these two words, the singer is able to scream out his disappointment in how this relationship turned out. He is at a loss of words when he is trying to say “I never expected her to cheat” or even “I never would have cheated on her.”
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