This is about fitting in, and how you don't have to be the same as other people to be popular. In an interview with NME, Jim Adkins remembered reading an email from a young fan who wrote that she didn't fit in with the punk crowd at school because she "wasn't punk enough for them." He explained: "The tenet of the punk ideal - or, you know, the alternative, outside-the-mainstream, kind of ideal - is that you think yourself being more accepting ... I guess that tune was kind of a reaction to that, like you don't want to be friends with them anyway."
This was the breakout hit for Jimmy Eat World, who released their first album in 1994. The song climbed to #1 on the Modern Rock chart in 2001 and made #5 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 2002.
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The song's music video was a three-minute coming-of-age flick directed by Paul Fedor. It features a fresh-faced, fully clothed teenage boy played by Josh Keleher, who attends a cool house party at which Jimmy Eat World are playing. The shindig is "clothing optional" and everyone, except the band, are in their underwear.
The clip received plenty of play on MTV, especially on Total Request Live. Frontman Jim Adkins recalled to Billboard magazine in 2013 that the clip's concept was pretty much Fedor's. "It was a leap of trust to work with him," he added, "because it could've ended up... He tastefully told the story a little bit on the edge. But it could've gone really bad. We just had to trust him and it worked out."
For a long time, frontman Jim Adkins thought this song was too simple to take seriously. He told NME: "There's definitely a stigma, I think, when you're working that if something is too easy, it's not earned, you know... you develop your idea quickly, it's not earned. So I thought 'Middle' was kind of not as good as some of the other songs because I hadn't like sweat over it so much. But I mean you gotta - sometimes you gotta let that go and be cool with it."
Everyone had a good time making this song, including one guy who was enjoying himself a little too much. Adkins laughed: "He was having a hard time in the heat hanging out with a bunch of scantily clad ladies."
Drummer Zach Lind credits the album's producer, Mark Trombino, for honoring the simplicity of the song while finding ways to make it interesting. He told NME: "He was really great at like finding these cool, little sort of sonic textures to put in different places. It might not have the same kind of movement from one part to the next if you don't have those subtle things in there."
This was one of Taylor Swift's favorite songs when she was growing up. "I felt comforted by it, because I never felt like I really fit perfectly into any clique at school," she told Rolling Stone
Swift finally got a chance to rock out the tune for a 2016 "Every Song for Every Moment" Apple Music commercial
promoting their playlists feature. Using a lip gloss brush as her mic, the songstress brings out her inner rock star.
In a 2017 Songfacts interview
, Jim Adkins said that he still heard from people who connect with this song. "I think the number one compliment for a musician is when anybody bothers to take the time to sit with your work and really make the emotional investment to make it theirs," he said. "And the fact that a song like 'The Middle,' something that's over 15 years old now, is still connecting with people and still finding an audience, it's a mind-blowing compliment."