100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #42: “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

The song at #42 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Radioactive” by Las Vegas-based pop-rock band Imagine Dragons. Since the release of their breakout single “It’s Time” in 2012, Imagine Dragons has become one of the biggest and most successful music acts in the world, selling over 35 million singles in the U.S. and 20 million albums worldwide (RIAA). Unfortunately, as it happens with a number of bands who’ve become hugely popular, there’s also been a bit of a backlash, with a sizable number of people hating them as well. I like them a lot, though I’ll admit many of their songs have been overplayed to the point where they got to be annoying.

“Radioactive” was their second single, and was included on their EP Continued Silence and later on their debut album Night Visions. It’s a bombastic alternative electronic rock song with booming dubstep beats, loads of distortion, and dramatic soaring choruses that make for an intense and exciting listen. The dark lyrics reference apocalyptic and revolutionist themes, though band front man Dan Reynolds told Rolling Stone that it’s “basically about my struggle with anxiety and depression. It’s about becoming self-empowered and rising above that. I wanted to write a masculine and primal song about conjuring and rising above human weakness.”

The song has sold over 10 million digital copies, and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Alternative, Hot Rock and Rock Airplay charts.

The official video produced for the song was directed by Syndrome and features actors Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays the ringleader of an underground puppet-fighting ring, and Alexandra Daddario, who plays a mysterious female drifter on a quest to save her friends in Imagine Dragons from Phillips. The video shows a series of fights between puppets, and just seems rather silly and childish to me, taking away from the overall power of the song. But in an interview with MTV, Reynolds explained that they wanted a more lighthearted approach in the video: “We read through a ton of scripts from really talented directors, and we came across one that stood out to us in particular, because it put into visuals the general theme of the song, which is kind of an empowering song about an awakening, but it did it in a way that was very different. A lot of people probably see a post-apocalyptic world when they hear ‘Radioactive’, understandably, but we wanted to deliver something that was maybe a little different from that … a lot different from that.” As I write this, the official video has been viewed more than 1.2 billion times, with 7.6 million likes on YouTube.

Here’s an audio-only video for those who’d just like to hear the song: