The title and chorus are based on a Chinese propaganda poster. The slogan "Shiny happy people holding hands" is used ironically - the song was released in 1991, two years after the Tiananmen Square uprising when the Chinese government clamped down on student demonstrators, killing hundreds of them.
Suggestion credit: Ali - Oxford, England
Kate Pierson from the B-52s sang backup. She was in demand for her distinctive vocals after the B-52s achieved mainstream success with "Love Shack" in 1989. R.E.M. and The B-52s are both from Athens, Georgia.
This was the second single from the album. A very light, happy song, it was a stark contrast to the very profound "Losing My Religion," which was released first.
Michael Stipe calls this "A really fruity, kind of bubblegum song." In an interview with The Quietus, he said that he was a bit embarrassed when it became a big hit, but it's an important song because it shows a different side of him. Said Stipe: "Many people's idea of R.E.M, and me in particular, is very serious, with me being a very serious kind of poet. But I'm also actually quite funny - hey, my bandmates think so, my family thinks so, my boyfriend thinks so, so I must be - but that doesn't always come through in the music! People have this idea of who I am probably because when I talk on camera, I'm working so hard to articulate my thoughts that I come across as very intense."
In 1999, R.E.M. performed this on Sesame Street as "Furry Happy Monsters." Kate Pierson's part was performed by a Muppet that looked like her, voiced by Stephanie D'Abruzzo, a Muppeteer who was also a huge fan of the band.
Guitarist Peter Buck has two daughters who were big fans of the show. "You just looked around," he recalled to Mojo in 2016, "going, Man this is a weird way to make a living."
This appears in Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 while archive footage of both George Bushes shaking hands and posing for photographs with Saudi Arabian oilmen plays.
Suggestion credit: Brett - Edmonton, Canada
Midway into this song, it switches to Waltz time - 3/4. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck had the idea to do this. He explained why in a 1991 interview with Guitar School: "The song is so relentlessly upbeat, there was nowhere you could really go with the bridge. We tried it a few ways and then I suggested 3/4. They said, 'That's kind of fruity, Peter.' But I thought it was cool. It makes you think, well, what would we not put here? It gives the song a 'Saturday In The Park' feel."
Drummer Bill Berry notes the song's unique elements in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage and challenges anybody to prove him wrong (unless you're immortal - that wouldn't be fair): "Think what you will about this powerful, God-rock anthem of yore, but at least we managed to conceive a song that starts out as a waltz and closes with the lyric 'dit' more than 140 times in succession. I challenge any mortal to locate another tune that features both of these visionary elements."
The guys can't get away from this one. Peter Buck remembers vacationing in the Amazon years after the song's release and hearing it on the radio. He admits, "It sounded really, really good. If we did one of those per record, I could see how it could get a little embarrassing. But we only did it once."
Katherine Dieckmann, who also did "Stand," directed the video. The backdrops were painted by third graders from a class taught by her friend, April Chapman.
This was featured on Beverly Hills, 90210 in the 1991 episode "Down and Out of District in Beverly Hills" and on Friends in the 1994 episode "The One with the Monkey." It was also used in the 2008 movie Marley & Me, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.
Looking back at this tune in 2016, Stipe told Mojo: "I don't regret that song. We made a lot of money off that song. That's not why we wrote it. We wrote it because we were challenging ourselves. I grew up a child of the '60s listening to The Monkees and the Archies and The Banana Splits. The guys threw me the stupidest song that sounded so buoyant and weird and I was like, OK, I accept the challenge. So it was bubblegum music made for kids. Don't hate it. But I don't want to sing it."
Mj Ward from New OrleansFirst, I Love ALL REM music. Lennon did the same with McCartney over Hello, Goodbye... It too is a great song, a #1 Hit - what’s the issue? It’s not like Shiny, happy people is a cover REM reissued. Own it, love it and just shut up Michael. Otherwise, you just keep looking like the parody of the song Whiny, Sappy People. Lol.
David from Outer MongoliaThis could have been great social commentary if they had used scenes of repression in China and elsewhere in the video.
Denise from Pembroke Pines, FlLike many people have already confessed I too love this song regardless of popular opinion, including the band's. While I admit the irony of the lyrics was lost on me I always felt that it was more than just a happy upbeat song. For me this song evokes feelings of happiness yes, but both the singer's plea of "meet me in the crowd, people, throw your love around" as well as the chords in the verses, have a certain wistful almost plaintive quality. The riff is so '60s (Byrds, Beatles) and the 2 voices, male and female, especially the quality of Kate's clear voice, remind me of folksy 60s bands. Combined with the hippy lyric of love and colors I just can't help but love this song!
Esskayess from Dallas, TxBob Rivers spoofed this song as 'Whiny, Sappy People.' I've always liked the tune, but the words are like honey-soaked marshmallows.
Gregg from East Rockaway, NyKate Pierson did not perform on the Sesame Street video. A great job of performing her role was done by Muppeteer Stephanie D'Abruzzo. You can read her recollections of the recording here - http://www.stephaniedabruzzo.com/stephaniedabruzzo.com/REM.html
Leticia from Los Angeles, Azfans and rem hate this song cause nobody got it. it's not a feel good song, atleast it wasn't meant to be. also it was right b4 everyone felt like they sold out.
Joel from Newcastle, United KingdomThis song was over played on the radio. It even turned up in a commerical for Apple computers.
Hugh from Cambridge, United KingdomFor some odd reason this song really pissed me off whenever it was played on the radio. Now I just find it mildly annoying. I'm not knocking the band by the way. Cheers to all.
Matt from Houston, Txwhoever wrote this song was trippin' on something. I believe it's what you call getting high on life
Brad from Lexington, KyDefinitely not my favorite. I like their other "pop songs", "Stand" and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" better, and I don't really even like those very much.
Biff from Boston, Mai think of ecstacy when i hear a. it was very popular in 91 b. it makes you shiny c. it makes you happy .d you enjoy holding hands with people not to mention lyrics like meet me in the crowd...love me...etc.
Kizer from Holly Springs, MsIs there not a verse about sad people crying? Then it picks up again with laughing and being happy. Was that just a special version for the Muppets?
Casey from Tamarac, FlI was thinking of the this song walking around Disney.
Kelly from Sumrall, MsI have been an REM fan for over 20 years, I like it, I "GET" it it still makes me feel good but its not my favorite. I did use it as the music in my daughters first grade slide show!
Sam from Lincoln, NeI'm not surprised to hear that this song is not one of R.E.M.'s favorites. Just look at the video sometime and check out Peter Buck's facial expression. He looks like he's pissed off to be in it. I'd be too if I had to listen to Kate Pierson's irritating backing vocal.
Enmanuel from Santiago, Dominican RepublicThis song cheers me up everytime I listen to it.
George from Blackwood, NjI have seen this video many times. Is the guy that is wearing tan pants and red striped shirt in the back a very young Nate Berkus? Looks like him....
Ben from Gosford, AustraliaI always thought this song was about growing pot and getting stoned on it. I like the guitar in this song and the way it goes on and on- even when it fades out it has that never-ending feel to it. For some bizarre reason when I hear this song I get a mental image of Derek Warwick crashing at the start of the 1990 Italian Grand Prix. Type the words 'Derek Warwick 1990' into youtube and see for yourself. Weird!
Addison from Alberta, CanadaI like singing "SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE HOLDING HANDS" over and over again. It's funny. :)
Ed from York, Pawhat was Buck playing? it sounded like a banjo
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaWil is right, and there still are hippies, Mjn Seifer.
Camille from Oz, WaThis is a good song. Kate's voice is amazing and it wouldn't have been as good if anyone else sang the back up part for this song.
Mjn Seifer from Not Listed For Personal Reason, EnglandI think this should be put on the "More songs that are commonly misinterpeted" page. So many people (Me included) believe this to be a geniune "Feel good" song, not a spoof of that type of music!
Vickie from Sydney, AustraliaI love the "Sesame Street" version with all those Muppet monsters crying and then laughing and just grooving around.They should play it on MTV or Rage sometimes.
Mjn Seifer from Not Listed For Personal Reason, EnglandThis would make a good hippie song! (Even though it was made over 30 years after hippies were around)
Dave from Cardiff, WalesNot keen on this one, much preferred predecessor 'Losing My Religion'.
Ratboy from Ratville, NjI like the song, and screw REM if they don't. And if this is meant to be "ironic" it failed miserably.
Wil from Kc, KsPeople often misunderstand the point of this song. This song is a poke in the eye to the "shinny happy people". It was a song making fun of the overly upbeat and ignorant. Of course it is lost on a lot of people.
Richard from Newport, Isle Of Wight, EnglandApparently they band hate this song so much that they left it off their greatest hits album (the UK version at least) and they certainly didn't play it when I saw them play in my village last month at the Isle of Wight festival. Mind you, they didn't play End of the World either.
Peter from Fort Worth, Txi love the video with stipe in his bright yellow suit dancing with everyone, i first saw the video on beavis and butthead and when the video is over they talk about how the video made them feel really happy all of the sudden.
Josh from Austin, TxYeah, in fact the song was almost used for the actual intro to the show. It also intentionally did join the 18 songs on their recent 'best of' album last year, mostly because it has never been a popular with the band.
Rhett from Melbourne, Australiai understand that both rem and their fans dont rate this very highly, but i luv, especially the back up girls voice.
Michael from Kearny, NjI thought "Stand" was condidered the most annoying REM song. On SHP, Peter Buck came up with the guitar riff and Michael Stipe found it so upbeat, that he intentionally created the over-the-top, corny lyrics and the song progressed from there. The joke backfired when the song became the obvious choice for a follow-up single and became somewhat successful.
Steph from Ottawa, CanadaI know that most REM fans view this as their worst song, or most annoying, but I love it. It's so upbeat and happy - I want to play it at my funeral one day. You know, to lighten the mood and all.
Dude from Urbana, IlThis song was used in Fahrenhiet 9/11 for when there are pictures of the Bushes and the Saudies.
Colin from Mt Gilead, OhThe television show "Friends" often played REM songs including this one during the early seasons.