The Las Vegas Rock band Imagine Dragons open their debut album, Night Visions
, with this track on the subject of embracing change. Dan Reynolds sings about the realization that the world is becoming different and breaking free by doing something new. The song was released as the band's second single on February 14, 2012, the same day "It's Time
" was released.
Uses of the song in media include it being played in the trailers for the video game Assassin's Creed III and the film The Host. The tune also soundtracked the spot promoting the first season of the NBC drama series Chicago Fire.
Regarding the album title, Dan Reynolds explained to Tenementtv.com
that it was inspired by the twilight hours, the band's favorite time. "When the title came up in conversation, we just knew it was right," he said. "We always write between 3 am and 6 am, that's when we write best. That's the only time we write actually.
Our guitarist is a clinical insomniac; he sends me stuff that he's written after being up for five days straight. A lot of that guitar made its way to the album.
After dark, my lyrics are born. A lot of lyrics I have written have come from dreams and of course nightmares."
The song's Syndrome-directed music video was shot in upstate New York. It revolves around a mysterious female drifter played by Alexandra Daddario (best known for playing Annabeth Chase in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief). Daddario's drifter is on a mission to save her Imagine Dragon friends from a sinister, underground puppet-fighting ring. Lou Diamond Phillips (best known for his starring role in the 1987 movie La Bamba) also features.
"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," Dan Reynolds told MTV News. "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."
Reynolds explained the song's meaning to MTV News: "'Radioactive,' to me, it's very masculine, powerful-sounding song, and the lyrics behind it, there's a lot of personal story behind it, but generally speaking, it's a song about having an awakening; kind of waking up one day and deciding to do something new, and see life in a fresh way," he said. "A lot of people hear it in a dark way, but, I think, without saying the word too many times, it's empowering, and so we wanted to display that in a way that the listener wouldn't see normally."
Reynolds has struggled most of his life with depression and ADD and anxiety issues. He explained to AbsolutePunk that he penned this song "coming out of a pretty serious spell of depression and having a new awakening and a real vigor for life." He added: "That's the general thing where that song came from. There's more specifics to it, but that's the basic, general idea."
"Radioactive" has made the Top-10 in 12 countries and it's no accident: there are several songwriting techniques present that make this a surefire hit. The song is a natural fusion of multiple sub-genres, including Rock, Pop and Dubstep, all of which are prominent in the charts, but "Radioactive" is made particularly memorable by its simple and repetitious melody. The chord sequence rarely changes throughout the song, the verse and pre-chorus melodies are highly similar, and the "whoa-ohs" and chorus sections are virtually identical every time. But the song is kept interesting by the introduction of a new section every 14 seconds. In fact, each section of the song (besides the intro) is 14 seconds long, so we can see that the song is constantly surprising the listener whilst ingraining its melody through memorable repetitions of short phrases.
The chorus is particularly effective, with its surprising octave jump and its division into two hooks. The lyrics are noticeably much simpler, and even progress into sing-a-long "whoa-ohs," a staple of hit singles (see Katy Perry, Owl City, etc.,). This serves as an anthemic counterpoint to the more lyrically ambiguous verses, less typical of hit singles. The memorable chorus takes up nearly half the song, which is the average chorus content for the big hits of 2013.
The song perfectly balances repetition with diversity, and cryptic lyrics with a sing-a-long chorus to create a catchy hit that is also interesting enough to reward multiple listens.
The song climbed into the Hot 100's top five in its 42nd week on the chart, setting a record for the slowest ascent to the region in the chart's history. It eclipsed the 34-week ascent to the top five of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise
" set just three weeks previously.
This was the most-streamed song in the USA during 2013 on Spotify. Night Visions was also the most streamed album during the year in the States on the subscription service.
The song spent 24 weeks at #1 on Billboard's Rock Airplay chart, breaking the record for the longest reign previously held by Foo Fighters' "Rope
This could be heard blasting out of basketball star LeBron James' headphones in a Beats by Dre commercial.
This won for Best Rock Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2014. Imagine Dragons performed the song at the ceremony along with Kendrick Lamar in a mashup with Lamar's "m.A.A.d city
The song had a slow climb on the Hot 100 but stuck around for 87 weeks, overtaking Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours
" longevity record of 76 weeks on the chart. Reynolds told the Associated Press: "With our radio team, we were never like, 'This is the single! Push this to road!' It literally just started off on its own. We never wanted to skip steps. We always wanted to grow slowly and take our time with things."
Dan Reynolds recalled the story of the song to Billboard magazine: "When I wrote Radioactive, we'd been a band for two and a half, maybe three years," he said. "We were at that point so many bands get to - where we're playing small clubs and filling them, but to break out at that level is a difficult thing. I was questioning my own career choice. I really wanted to have a family at some point and be able to support them, and still do what I love. So it was a difficult time. I'm a really up and down person; I've always struggled with depression."
"I was writing in the studio with Alex [da Kid, producer]," Reynolds continued. "We knew we wanted something that was heavy. I've always loved songs that present a beautiful and sensitive subject in a heavy way. So we came up with this heavy beat and instrumental that just felt like an awakening. It expressed a feeling that was happening with me, so I started to write the lyrics and the melody."
"In truth, the song is about becoming self-empowered and saying, 'I'm happy with who I am, happy with the choices I'm making,'" he added. "It's about sweating off all the dust and grime of self-doubt and judgment, and embracing who you are."
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied this song as "Inactive," about the non-adventures of a housebound sloth who wakes up in "Cheeto dust" and has grown attached to the couch.