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From Panorama Music Festival 2018: The Inescapable Draw of “Mr. Brightside”

On my way to Panorama Stage, I ran into a friend from high school. “My friend and I came here with the sole purpose of seeing The Killers,” my former classmate said. I was more skeptical. While The Killers are versatile enough to be labeled as at least five types of rock and pack their choruses with an impressive amount of vitality, I was not sure what had made them so popular that they could close Panorama. I never understood, either, why the 15-year-old “Mr. Brightside” is still a Harvard party fixture and was crowned “Song of the Decade” by radio stations.


What is the inescapable draw of The Killers? This question became especially confounding as the night went on and The Killers seemed more and more determined to keep their performance devoid of meaning.


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The stage setup, for starters, was aggressively generic. Every prop was an empty symbol that conveyed no feeling, place, or time period. I noted a lone water tower labeled “New York” and a couple of neon arrows. A large “male” symbol (the circle and arrow kind) stood by frontman Brandon Flowers' perch, and three “female” ones stood in front of the three backup singers. 


Baffled, I asked my former classmate, "What is up with those signs?" 


"It's pretty clear," her friend said. "It means the male stands here, the females stand here." 


To add a new iteration of meaninglessness, Flowers repurposed a Martin Luther King Jr. nonviolence quote, which he failed to attribute to its author, so he could request a phone-waving light fest: “There is a quote that I love,” Flowers said. “‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.’ If there was ever a song that asked for your lights, this is it.” This quote usage seemed irresponsible when I remembered that 24 hours prior, Janet Jackson had projected over the same stage a warning about domestic terrorism and white supremacy groups. But now, the phones went up in synchrony, blissfully expressing no moral convictions.


It’s not that their music is shallow. Their lyrics cover some truly fascinating topics, like Flowers’ struggles with Mormonism in “All These Things That I’ve Done” and unnamed news scandals in “Run for Cover.” “The Man,” one of my favorites, is a biting satire of Flowers’ former arrogance. 


But somewhere on the path to live performance, they buried their own complexity under bravado and neon. I was disappointed that they included their “Run for Cover” video (which not only takes the words too literally but also rips off Radiohead’s “Karma Police” film) but not their self-deprecating “The Man” film (they replaced it with a neon outline of—guess what?—a man). Though Flowers’ show of egotism during “The Man” was exactly what the sarcastic lyrics and red-hot bass called for, the fact that he exhibited the same demeanor in every other number, complete with dazzling grins, made the irony of that disco jam undetectable.

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