EDITORIAL: Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ Still Changing America 10 Years Later

american idiot

It’s September 2004. According to American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest, the top song in the nation is Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me.” Pitchfork’s favorite record is Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Hellboy is dominating the box office. The Boston Red Sox are gearing up to win its first World Series title in 86 years. President George W. Bush is hot on the campaign trail for what would be his re-election into a second term of Presidency. America is begging for a hard kick in the balls.

American Idiot strapped on its steel-toed boots and gave the U.S of A. a hard one right to the scrotum.

A record spawned out of a potent mixture of spite for the political standing of a traumatized, propagandized post-9/11 nation and need for a musical story telling the triumph of the mundane, middle-class suburban life, Green Day‘s seventh studio record changed the world forever. It’s a record forever engraved in a generation of kids searching for a voice — a reason to stand up and question authority. It was the fuel for the fire that was waiting to be ignited.

american idiot decade

With American Idiot, Green Day did the one thing every other public figure was frightened to do in a time the nation needed it: shout a loud, blatant “fuck you” to the status quo. The band took major label funding and turned it into a giant middle finger toward the administration. A voice for the voiceless.

Unforgettable lines like, “Well maybe I’m the faggot, America. I’m not a part of a redneck agenda. Now everybody do the propaganda. And sing along to the age of paranoia,” are as hate-filled and triumphant and timeless as any lyrics could be — it’s the reason this record is still being talked about 10 years later. Lyrics like, “Don’t want to be an American idiot. One nation controlled by the media. Information age of hysteria. It’s calling out to idiot America,” raised questions amongst those who were taught not to raise questions. It was a well-crafted mass message explosion. It was exactly what we needed.

Political dealing aside — American Idiot is a record musically unlike any other released in the last decade. The 9-minute five-part masterpieces; the storyline of a protagonist trying to hard to break the shackles of normalcy; the queitly seductive numbers like “Homecoming,” and “Whatshername,” that avoided mainstream attention yet hold up as the band’s best-crafted numbers to date. It’s not just the message that has us talking about American Idiot a decade later — it’s a punk rock masterpiece that also influenced a generation musically and lyrically.

So what became of American Idiot? We’ve already established the need for the record in the era at which it premiered, but what happened afterwards? No, America didn’t get turned on its end, nor did President Bush throw up the white flag of defeat in the middle of a Presidential candidacy. But what it did do is open the mind of an entire generation of Liberal Americans who need their minds opened. The same generation that is re-populating urban neighborhoods in metropolitan areas; the same generation that is creating a world full of more digital connectivity than ever before; the same generation not afraid to create, challenge, chase goals, and never settle; and the same generation that has rose to the challenge to fight for causes like gay marriage legalization and election of the first African-American President.

Is an entire generation’s outlook to be put on the back of Green Day and lifted to the forefront? Of course not. But did it help raise the question? Did it help frame the ideas? Did it help developing minds solidify the idea of free-thinking? There is no doubt.

American Idiot is a record that taught a generation to follow dreams and think big. Some may argue that’s not a good thing, and that’s okay. You can’t reverse what’s already done. After millions of records sold, Grammy nominations, and hit singles, this is a record that holds strong like rock against father time’s strongest currents.

It’s been ten years since the last time a band decided to shake America’s political and sociological position — when will the next act step up to shape the generation after ours? I think it’s about time we start questioning things again.

Written by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)

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