The Killers have been making music since 2001. Ever since then, they’ve taken the industry by storm, selling more than 28 million records worldwide and becoming the teenaged crushes of millions of fans. While the band continues to make new music into their 20th anniversary, they’re still reaping the benefits of one of their biggest and earliest songs.
Their song “Mr. Brightside” has sold 3.52 million copies since its initial release in 2003 and is streamed 1.2 million times a week. In the U.K. alone, the hit song has become something of an anthem, even to people born way after it was released. “It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?”
How successful was “Mr. Brightside” in 2003?
After failing to get signed in America, The Killers were signed to the U.K. label Lizard King in 2003. “Mr. Brightside” was their debut single, off of their first album, Hot Fuss, but only 500 single copies were released. The song talks about a man who’s obsessed with a woman who’s seeing another man. The lyrics reflect the man’s thoughts as he wonders what they’re doing behind closed doors.
“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,” Brandon Flowers, the band’s lead singer, told Spin in 2015. “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.”
Flowers also said that he based some of his lyrics off of David Bowie’s song “Queen Bitch,” including the line, “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.'”
However, when “Mr. Brightside” dropped, it was not as successful as it is today. It didn’t even make it on the charts. But when it was re-released in 2004, it peaked at No. 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K. After The Killers released “Somebody Told Me,” they signed with American label Island Records while staying with Lizard King in the U.K. At the time, there was no indication that “Mr. Brightside” would become the unofficial anthem of the decade.
“Mr. Brightside” got big in the U.K.
“Mr. Brightside” dropped from the U.K. Top 40 in just three weeks. Yet, the band’s motivation to become like their heroes lasted. “We want to be important and to last,” Flowers told USA Today (per BBC) in 2004. “We look up to John Lennon and U2. To have just one great song like “Where the Streets Have No Name” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would be an accomplishment.”
The first signs that “Mr. Brightside” would be just as famous happened when the band played Glastonbury in 2004. The crowd’s response to the song was incredible. But the “Mr. Brightside” phenomenon really started when Radio One’s Zane Lowe started to play the song in heavy rotation on his DJ sets “just to get that adrenaline rush of watching people sing it back at you.”
“Every time, you could see that it was giving them a moment. And those moments become something that you hold dear to you,” Lowe told the Guardian in 2019. After he pumped up the song, it started to appear on the Top 100. Then, the song would appear on the charts every time The Killers played a festival or toured in the U.K.
Starting in 2005, the song became a staple at weddings and students discos. It appeared on the British reality show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here and in political parties too. When the Official Chart Company counted streams into chart calculations in 2014, “Mr. Brightside”‘s chart rule began.
The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” has remained on the U.K. charts for five years
The Guardian suggests that one of the reasons “Mr. Brightside” got to be so big in the U.K. is because Flowers based it on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis. After seeing fan’s reactions to the song during a concert, Flowers wanted to write a “follow up.” He succeeded. Now British fans shout the lyrics to “Mr. Brightside” just as much as they do to “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”
The Killers played the song at Glastonbury 2019, and you can barely hear him sing over the thousands of fans shouting the lyrics. Even if you aren’t a fan, the moment can give one goosebumps.
It became clear that “Mr. Brightside” was a British anthem when it surpassed 1 million pure sales in 2018. Since then, the song has stayed on the charts, with 281 million plays, “making it the most-streamed song of any track released before 2010,” writes the BBC.
In Apr. 2021, it became the longest-running chart hit with 260 non-consecutive weeks (a full five years) on the national singles chart, the U.K.’s Top 100. In response to the song’s massive success and longevity, Flowers says he never gets sick of singing the song. Which is good because the U.K. will never stop playing it, it seems. Every night out, every time you tune into Radio One or go to an event, “Mr. Brightside” will always play at least once.