Mr. Brightside And Me – What Makes The Killers’ Anthem Shine?

By L. A. Rowland

the killers

We turn to music when words are not enough, and I would wager that my play count for Mr. Brightside over the last three years is in quadruple figures

My ironic love affair with the song about love affairs began in 2012, when I was lucky enough to see The Killers headline at the V Festival. In many years of listening to and playing music, I have never been so impressed by a band. They held the audience effortlessly. Following in Mark Stoermer’s footsteps, everyone around me was miraculously an expert at air guitar; great music breathes the best into people. The subsequent years have been spent waiting to see them again; I am infinitely jealous of past-me.

But Mr. Brightside changed everything. As soon as the first notes sounded, it was like the audience had been given an electric shock. They knew every word, every riff, and every drumbeat. And there they were, thousands of people, physically and metaphorically standing on common ground. ‘Everybody Hurts’, wrote REM, and it seems that The Killers understood this better than anyone.

Mr. Brightside was the highlight of the night, and has debatably been the highlight of The Killers’ career so far. But among vast numbers of songs about infidelity, why has this one captured and consoled so many (broken) hearts?

An old friend of mine once said that below the dictionary definition of “I’m fine”, there should be a tiny drawing of the nuclear apocalypse. Mr. Brightside looks like this for me. The words are a simple and understated – ‘I just can’t look, it’s killing me, and taking control’ – and yet when put to music, they weigh heavier than any manner of romantic poetry. The song captures the consuming nature of jealousy; the abduction of the mind to something alien that dwells, invisible, beyond our control (‘Spaceman’, anyone?). We have all been there, real or imagined.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that Brandon Flowers sings the words ‘it was only a kiss, it was only a kiss’ as if he is trying to convince himself of them. The autobiographical nature of Mr. Brightside, written about an ex-girlfriend who Flowers caught cheating, brings those perfect melodies all too close to home. ‘I was asleep and I knew something was wrong. I have these instincts,’ he told Q magazine in 2009; ‘I went to the Crown and Anchor and my girlfriend was there with another guy.’ When asked about the song by NME in 2012, he replied: ‘I think that’s the reason it’s persisted – because it’s real’. It follows him from the moments he believed he was doing ‘just fine’ (empty words), into torrents of ‘sick lullabies’ (nuclear apocalypse). If Flowers himself is Mr. Brightside, then who better tell his story?

But everyone has their share of dark days. During my own, a wonderful friend shows up with speakers. We turn them up as loud as they’ll go, and, as ever, the music drowns out the rest. But it is always the same song. Work issues? Mr. Brightside. Relationship problems? Mr. Brightside. Existential crisis? Mr. Brightside. It has become an anthem, and it never fails.

So, for me Mr. Brightside is just that: an anthem, not only for the broken-hearted, but for those who feel broken in general. It is a call to arms, a command to take back control. It is a song for everyone who has ever loved. And above all, despite its subject matter, the memories it conjures and the moments I would rather forget, Mr. Brightside has not yet failed to reveal the bright side.

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