"American Idiot" is a song by the American punk rock band Green Day. It is the title track from the album American Idiot (2004) and released as the first single from it. The song received positive reviews by critics and was nominated for four 2005 Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Rock Song, and Best Music Video. It is considered as one of the band's signature songs.
One of the two explicitly political songs on the album (the other being fellow single "Holiday"), "American Idiot" contends that mass media has orchestrated paranoia and idiocy among the public. Citing cable news coverage of the Iraq War, Billie Joe Armstrong recalled, “They had all these Geraldo-like journalists in the tanks with the soldiers, getting the play-by-play." He felt with that, American news crossed the line from journalism to reality television, showcasing violent footage intercut with advertisements. Armstrong went on to write the song after hearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "That's How I Like It" on his car radio. "It was like, 'I'm proud to be a redneck' and I was like, 'oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that?' This is exactly what I'm against." Mike Dirnt felt many people would be insulted by the track until they realized that, rather than it being a finger-pointing song of anger, it could be viewed as a "call for individuality." The song emphasizes strong language, juxtaposing the words "faggot" and "America", to create what he imagined would be a voice for the disenfranchised.
In a 2004 interview with Q Magazine, the three members of Green Day discussed the idea of flag desecration in relation to their song, with Armstrong and Dirnt being the most supportive: "It means nothing to me. Let's burn the fucking thing."
"American Idiot" was written in the key of A flat and recorded in standard tuning. The song is composed of four chords, the I-IV-V-VII progression, while the chorus and solo share the IV-I-V-I progression. The song is classified as a punk rock and pop punk song. Armstrong plays a 1956 Les Paul Junior on the song, switching to a reissued 1959 flame-top Les Paul for the double-tracked guitar solo. Armstrong was initially reluctant to pursue recording a solo, fearing it to be corny. He eventually decided against this, as he hoped for the album to be "about being 15 and rocking out in front of a mirror." The song's format and cadence was influenced by the Midnight Oil song "US Forces", which Armstrong was introduced by through his wife.
Released in 2004, the single peaked at number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Green Day's first Billboard Hot 100 chart entry. All of Green Day's other hits had only managed to chart on the Hot 100 Airplay chart or the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. However, the appearance of "American Idiot" on the US singles charts occurred just prior to Billboard's inclusion of Internet download purchases into their Billboard Hot 100 chart data, which would have made a significant difference in the song's peak had it benefited from the new chart tabulation system. "American Idiot" became Green Day's first Top 5 single in the United Kingdom, peaking at number 3 and at number 7 in Australia. It debuted at number 1 in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, holding onto the zenith position for five weeks and staying at the top in South Africa and New Zealand for 7 and 10 weeks respectively. In Australia, the song was ranked number 22 on Triple J's Hottest 100 of 2004. Green Day performed the song at the 2005 Grammy Awards. "American Idiot" has sold 1,371,000 copies as of July 2010.
Ian Winwood of Kerrang! said that "Green Day did for their generation, and their country, what the Sex Pistols did for the United Kingdom in 1977, for a nation sick with love for a parasitical royal family."
The music video for "American Idiot" features the band playing in a warehouse against a green American flag (a reference to the name of the band). In the middle of the video, the band is seen playing at different speeds (fast or slow-motion). During the bridge, the stripes of the flag melt onto the floor. The band is then sprayed by a green liquid from amplifiers next to the flag. At the end, the band drops their instruments and leaves. The song's video was directed by Samuel Bayer.
The song was featured in the trailer for the 2005 film Wedding Crashers.
An edited version is featured on the soundtrack to the video games Madden NFL 2005, Green Day Rock Band and the song will also appear in Guitar Hero Live.
It was featured as the closing theme song for the first season of The Andy Milonakis Show.
A version of the song is played on an organ in The Simpsons Movie due to the band's fictional death when they fall into Lake Springfield, after playing a gig on a barge. The camera zooms into the sheet music where it says "American Idiot: Funeral Version".
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied the song on his album Straight Outta Lynwood as "Canadian Idiot".
Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine covered this song into a lounge style on their 2005 album Aperitif for Destruction. A live rendition of the song recorded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on the 21st Century Breakdown World Tour featuring an extended guitar solo was featured on the CD portion of the band's 2011 live album Awesome as Fuck.
The song was performed by Metallica during the 2012 Voodoo Experience when they filled in for Green Day who cancelled the show due to Armstrong's time in rehab.
Avril Lavigne and All Time Low have covered the song live as well.
Australian pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer covered this song for Kerrang Magazine's tribute to American Idiot album and later put it on their "Amnesia" EP.
"American Idiot" was ranked the number 13 Single of the Decade by Rolling Stone magazine in 2009. VH1 also placed the song at number 13 on its Top 100 Songs of the 2000s in 2011. Rolling Stone ranked it number 432 of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2010, the only Green Day song on the list. The song is certified Gold in the United Kingdom for sales of 400,000.
All lyrics written by Billie Joe Armstrong, except where noted; all music composed by Green Day.
7" picture discBillie Joe Armstrong – lead vocals, guitar
Mike Dirnt – bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Governator"
Tré Cool – drums, backing vocals
ProductionRob Cavallo – producer
Green Day – producer
Chris Dugan – engineer
Doug McKean – engineer
Brian "Dr. Vibb" Vibberts – assistant engineer
Greg "Stimie" Burns – assistant engineer
Jimmy Hoyson; Joe Brown – assistant engineer
Dmitar "Dim-e" Krnjaic – assistant engineer
Reto Peter – assistant engineer
Chris Lord-Alge – mixing
Ted Jensen – mastering
Chris Bilheimer – cover art