21 Guns (song)

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"21 Guns"
Single by Green Day
from the album 21st Century Breakdown
Released May 25, 2009 (digital download)
July 14, 2009 (CD single)
Format Digital download, CD single, vinyl
Recorded 2008
Genre Alternative rock
Length 5:21
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, John Phillips, and Tré Cool
Producer(s) Butch Vig and Green Day
Green Day singles chronology
"Know Your Enemy"
"21 Guns"
"East Jesus Nowhere"
Audio sample
file info · help

"21 Guns" is a song by American punk rock band Green Day. It was released as the second single from their eighth album, 21st Century Breakdown. The single was released through Reprise Records on May 25, 2009 as a digital download and July 14, 2009 as a CD single. The song has been a success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 22, which has become their highest charting single since 2005.

It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo/Group with Vocals and Best Rock Song in 2010.

Background and composition[edit]

"21 Guns" addresses the topic of patriotism. Frontman and chief songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong told Q magazine, in May 2009: "It brings up 21st Century Breakdown in a lot of ways, and the 21-gun salute for someone that's fallen, but done in an arena rock 'n' roll sort of way."[1]

According to Q, the song is "a mammoth power ballad with a chorus like Mott the Hoople's All the Young Dudes."[2] William Goodman from Spin agreed, also comparing the song to All The Young Dudes.[3] Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson described it as a "sensitive arena rock cut that made us think of Toto's 'Africa'. While the chorus sounded more like ELO's 'Telephone Line.'[4] A Rolling Stone article commented that it "has a dash of 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' to it."[5] Spin's Goodman agreed, writing: "This track covers a lot of territory in its five minutes, from a solo acoustic guitar (reminiscent of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams") to Brian May-worthy electric riffage. But the chorus holds the killer hook, as Armstrong hits highs with his voice in a thrilling moment."[3]

Critical reception[edit]

The song has received critical acclaim. Chris Fallon writing for AbsolutePunk commented that "it is arguably the album's highlight, presenting an anti-war ballad that is both monumentally enduring and also sophisticated protest."[6] James Montgomery of MTV News described it as "a cell-phones-in-the-air anthem, starting with more sharply strummed acoustic guitars."[7] Colin Moriarty from IGN wrote that the track is "perhaps the best song on the album as a whole, is a multi-faceted song with a pretty poignant message to boot."[8] Jordan Richardson of Blogcritics commented: "It's the album’s anti-war hymn, reaching heroic heights with a sleek sort of sappiness that fits flawlessly. The range and sentiment may dishearten those looking for a little more Dookie from their Green Day, but I’ve never heard Billie Joe sound so good and so earnest as he pulls his frail voice upwards to knock out some stunning high notes."[9] Mayer Nissim gave the song 3 out of 5 stars, writing: "It combines verses reminiscent of Neil Young's 'Heart of Gold' with big power-pop chord changes and choruses that soar in all the right places. The jerky charm of the band's earlier work may be missing, but there's still lots to enjoy here."[10]

However, Adam Downer from Sputnikmusic gave a negative review, commenting that "it sounds like a terrible rewrite of something John Lennon never released."[11]

Release and media appearance[edit]

"21 Guns" was released to modern punk radio stations on May 25, 2009, although it had already been played on some radio stations, such as KROQ in Los Angeles and 101.9 in New York City.[12] In the radio edit, the song is over forty seconds shorter than the album version due to the bridge being shortened and the intro being taken out. The CD single and clear 7" single were released on July 14, 2009.[13]

The song is featured heavily in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and appears on the soundtrack, which was released on June 12, 2009.[14] It became available for download on the music video game series Rock Band on July 7, 2009, along with the songs "East Jesus Nowhere" and "Know Your Enemy.[15]

The song was featured in episode 6 of The Vampire Diaries.[16] The song is featured in the video game Green Day: Rock Band and is downloadable content for the Rock Band series.[17]

A live version was also released on 21 Guns Live EP in September 2009.[18]

Music video[edit]

A music video was directed by Marc Webb and filmed in Los Angeles on June 6, 2009. It premiered on MySpace on Monday, June 22, 2009 at midnight EDT.[19] A shorter version of the video also exists, which is set to the radio edit of the song.[citation needed]

It is the third Green Day video to feature touring guitarist Jason White performing with the band, following "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Working Class Hero". He is also seen briefly in the music videos for "When I Come Around" and "Jesus of Suburbia" but he is not performing with the band.[citation needed]

After spending the previous week at number 3, the video peaked at number one on VH1 Top 20 Countdown on August 22, 2009 and again on September 19, 2009. It also won "Best Rock Video", "Best Direction in a Video" and "Best Cinematography in a Video" for the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.[20]

The video takes place with the band and the album's two protagonists Christian (Josh Boswell) and Gloria (Lisa Stelly) taking refuge in a white room after robbing a bank. The police arrive outside the room and open fire through the window, to the couple's terror.[21] As bullets rain through the room, the band continues playing. Gloria picks up the phone and throws it into a fish tank. As the bullets continue to fly and tear apart the room, Christian and Gloria become calm and walk toward each other, unharmed by the bullets. They embrace and kiss as the room goes dark, recreating the 21st Century Breakdown cover art. As the song ends, the room lights up again, and they are still uninjured. After the room lights up, there are various shots of destruction in the room, including a shot of some of the writing on the walls. The writing that they show is an excerpt of the lyrics of the song "See The Light" which also appears on "21st Century Breakdown". The video may represent the meaning of the song in the 21st Century Breakdown story.

Musical cast version[edit]

"21 Guns"
Green Day and the cast of American Idiot - 21 Guns cover.jpg
Single by Green Day and the cast of American Idiot
from the album American Idiot: The Original Broadway Cast Recording
B-side Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan Cover)
Released December 3, 2009
Format Digital download, CD single
Recorded 2009
Genre Alternative rock
Length 4:41
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Billie Joe Armstrong, David Bowie, Mike Dirnt, John Phillips, and Tré Cool
Producer(s) Green Day
Green Day and the cast of American Idiot singles chronology
"21 Guns (Musical Cast Version)"
"When It's Time"

Green Day has recorded two versions of "21 Guns" with the cast of American Idiot. The recording was produced by Billie Joe Armstrong. The recording with Armstrong singing the male solo parts was released on December 3 to Spinner.com and also released for digital download on December 22.[22] The video was released February 1.[23][24]

The second version of the song with the cast of American Idiot features Stark Sands, John Gallagher Jr., and Michael Esper singing their respective solos instead of Armstrong.

It was performed with Armstrong singing lead male vocals at the 52nd Grammy Awards.

Live EP[edit]

21 Guns Live EP
Green Day - 21 Guns Live EP cover.jpg
EP / Live album by Green Day
Released September 4, 2009
Recorded 2009, Live in New York
Genre Pop punk, punk rock, alternative rock
Length 17:52
Label Reprise
Producer Green Day

Green Day released a live EP for the song including live performances of "Welcome To Paradise", "Brain Stew/Jaded" and "F.O.D." recorded live in New York.

Track listing[edit]

  • Original version:
Digital download/Maxi CD
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" 5:21
2. "Favorite Son" (Green Day's contribution to the Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 compilation) 2:13
3. "21 Guns" (Studio 880 version) 5:17
CD single/7" single
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" 5:21
2. "Favorite Son" (From "Rock Against Bush Vol. 2") 2:13
Promo CD
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" (Radio Edit) 4:37
  • Musical cast version:
Digital download/CD single
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" (Green Day with the cast of American Idiot version) 4:41
21 Guns EP[25]
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" (Green Day with the cast of American Idiot version) 4:41
2. "21 Guns" (Original version) 5:21
3. "21 Guns" (Live in Japan) 5:01
  • Live EP:
21 Guns Live EP
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" (live in New York, 2009) 5:45
2. "Welcome to Paradise" (live in New York, 2009) 3:45
3. "Brain Stew/Jaded" (live in New York, 2009) 5:33
4. "F.O.D." (Fuck Off and Die) (live in New York, 2009) 2:50
  • Other:
21 Guns (Live in Tokyo) Promo CD
No. Title Length
1. "21 Guns" (live in Tokyo) 5:56

Chart positions[edit]

The song debuted at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 22 (becoming their highest peaking song since the 2005 hit "Wake Me Up When September Ends"), and No. 81 on the Canadian Hot 100, reaching #15. It reached No. 3 on the Alternative Songs chart and No. 17 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Also, on the Billboard Pop Songs it reached #30. On the Australian ARIA Singles Chart, the song peaked at #14. On the UK Singles Chart, it debuted at No. 100 and rose to #36. In New Zealand, the song debuted at No. 23 and peaked at No. 3 in its seventh week on the chart.[26] In New Zealand, it was certified Gold after 13 weeks on the chart, selling over 7,500 copies.[27] It is Green Day's third single to be certified Platinum by the RIAA. The single was also certified Platinum in Italy.[28]

Chart (2009) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[29] 14
Austrian Singles Chart[30] 10
Belgian Singles Chart (Flanders)[31] 38
Belgian Singles Chart (Wallonia)[32] 19
Brazil (ABPD)[33] 12
Canadian Hot 100[34] 15
Czech Singles Chart 12
Danish Singles Chart[35] 37
Dutch Singles Chart[35] 21
European Hot 100 4
German Singles Chart 13
Irish Singles Chart[36] 21
Israel Singles Chart[37] 3
Italian Singles Chart[38] 15
Japan Hot 100[39] 12
New Zealand Singles Chart[40] 3
Polish Singles Chart[41] 1
Spanish Airplay Chart[42] 17
Swedish Singles Chart 8
Swiss Singles Chart 13
UK Singles Chart 36
US Billboard Hot 100[43] 22
US Billboard Adult Pop Songs 9
US Billboard Alternative Songs[43] 3
US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 17
US Billboard Rock Songs[43] 5
US Billboard Pop Songs[43] 30
Chart (2010) Peak
Austrian Singles Chart[44] 10

Year-end charts[edit]

End of year chart (2009) Position
Australian Singles Chart[45] 72
Italian Singles Chart[46] 75
New Zealand Singles Chart[47] 38
Swiss Singles Chart[48] 60
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[49] 78


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[50] Gold 35,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[51] Gold 7,500*
United Kingdom (BPI)[52] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[53] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone



  1. ^ "Articles > Q > "Viva La Revolution!" - Page 7". Q Magazine. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Articles > Q > "Viva La Revolution! - Page 3". Q Magazine. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Goodman, William (February 13, 2009). "First Listen: Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown"". Spin. Retrieved May 7, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown: We heard (some of) it! | PopWatch Blog". Entertainment Weekly. February 11, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2009. 
  5. ^ "First Listen: Green Day Revive Dramatic Political Punk on "21st Century Breakdown"". Rolling Stone. February 11, 2009. Archived from the original on June 16, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ Fallon, Chris (May 14, 2009). "Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown – Album Review". AbsolutePunk. Archived from the original on May 21, 2009. Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
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  8. ^ Moriarty, Colin (May 18, 2009). "Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown Review". IGN. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  9. ^ Richardson, Jordan (May 10, 2009). "Music Review: Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown - Page 2". Blogcritics. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  10. ^ Nassim, Mayer (July 12, 2009). "Green Day: '21 Guns' - Music Singles Review - Digital Spy". Digital Spy. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  11. ^ Downer, Adam (May 11, 2009). "Green Day 21st Century Breakdown". Sputnikmusic. Archived from the original on May 19, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  12. ^ "FMQB: Radio Industry News...". FMQB. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
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  14. ^ "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Soundtrack". digiRAMA. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  15. ^ "MTV Games, Harmonix & Warner Bros./Reprise Records Partner With Green Day to Bring Their Music Exclusively to Rock Band // News // Rock Band". Rockband.com. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  16. ^ "SkinnyLove21's Journal – The Vampire Diaries Soundtrack, Season 1". last.fm. April 16, 2010. Archived from the original on August 18, 2010. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
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  20. ^ "2009 MTV Video Music Awards | Winners". MTV. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
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  28. ^ "Italian single certifications – Green Day – 21 Guns" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter Green Day in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
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  30. ^ "Austria Singles Top 75". austriancharts.at. 
  31. ^ "GREEN DAY - 21 GUNS". Ultratop. 
  32. ^ "GREEN DAY - 21 GUNS". Ultratop. 
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  35. ^ a b "Top 40 van week 32 – 2009". Micha Jans. Retrieved January 26, 2010. 
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  41. ^ "Green Day — 21 Guns. Polish Singles Chart". 
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External links[edit]