Recorded at the Killers' Battle Born Studios in Las Vegas and produced by Wonderful Wonderful producer Jacknife Lee, this standalone single is the band's heartfelt state-of-the-nation address.
The powerful lament was inspired by current events and addresses various issues including gun violence, racial inequality, mass incarceration and President Trump's proposed wall at the Mexican border. Throughout the song, The Killers proclaim what they see as the irony behind America's longtime nickname of "land of the free," when it's such a divided country.
Land of the free, land of the free
In the land of the free (I'm standing crying)
Killers frontman Brandon Flowers said the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut first sparked the idea for the song. "It started, in my mind, around the time Sandy Hook happened, and then it just started stacking up, like Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, things that are happening with [Donald Trump's] wall," he explained to Beats 1's Zane Lowe. "You know, this stuff just didn't seem to be in harmony with the values I believe my country was founded on."
Flowers' grandparents emigrated from Lithuania to America in the 20th century in order to build a better life for their family. The Killers' singer talks in the first verse about America being a nation built on large-scale immigration.
His mother, Adeline's family, came on a ship
Cut coal and planted a seed
Down in them drift mines of Pennsylvania
In the land of the free
Flowers explained on Twitter: "It wasn't that long ago that my grandmother and her family immigrated from Lithuania to escape the USSR's oppression. They chose to leave everything they knew behind to come to America and work grueling jobs in dangerous coal mines, rather than endure tyranny at home."
The Killers are not known for their protest songs, though their 2017 track "Some Kind of Love
," written in the late 2000s, has some political material. However, in the years that followed the Sandy Hook shootings, Flowers felt there was an "onslaught of more mass shooting of innocents and too many examples of racial injustice to ignore."
The song features gospel vocals by vocal co-arranger Lynn Mabry, Killers' touring vocalists Amanda Brown, Danielle René Withers and Erica Canales, plus Dorian Holley, Will Wheaton, Sherree Patrice Brown and Akasha Mabry.
The song's video, directed by filmmaker Spike Lee, features heartbreaking footage of migrants at the Mexico border.
The movie director has shot a number of music visuals by artists such as Public Enemy ("Fight The Power
"), Michael Jackson ("They Don't Care About Us
"), Kelly Rowland ("The Game
") and Eminem ("Headlights
The Killers gave Lee full creative rein; he shot the anti-Trump anthem's clip over a few weeks in late 2018, traveling to the southern US border to capture scenes of migrants families as they made their way towards "the land of the free."
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter
, Spike Lee revealed that Brandon Flowers called him up personally after watching his BlacKkKlansman
The Killers performed the song live for the first time on April 1, 2019 during their appearance at the Zappos Theater in Las Vegas for Jimmy Kimmel's live concert series.
The Killers released a new version
of the song on June 9, 2020 adding updated lyrics that address the killing of George Floyd
. Eight measured minutes and 46 seconds
Another boy in the bag
Another stain on the flag
"It just felt like the right thing to do," Flowers told NME
about the altered lyrics. "Musicians who have been courageous and done things like that in their career have helped me to learn about things. It was a responsibility that I had to do the same thing. It always made sense that music is a place for people to express their feelings. It can just be entertainment and an escape, but I don't think that we should shy away from confrontation all the time."
Speaking to NME
Brandon Flowers recalled waiting for the flood of protest songs to be recorded following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, but when nothing happened, they decided to write their own.
"Kanye West, somebody, write this song! Everyone talked about this artistic revolution that was going to happen when Trump was elected and all the great art that was going to happen, then there was silence. I just don't hear it. I don't hear a lot of reflection on it or an answer to it. I finally just recorded it."