American Idiot

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This article is about the album by Green Day. For the album's title track, see American Idiot (song). For the stage adaptation, see American Idiot (musical).
For other uses, see American Idiot (disambiguation).
American Idiot
Green Day - American Idiot cover.jpg
Studio album by Green Day
Released September 20, 2004 (2004-09-20)
Recorded April 18, 2003 – March 26, 2004
Studio Studio 880, Oakland and Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood
Length 57:12
Label Reprise
Green Day chronology
American Idiot
Bullet in a Bible
Singles from American Idiot
  1. "American Idiot"
    Released: August 31, 2004 (2004-08-31)
  2. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
    Released: November 29, 2004 (2004-11-29)
  3. "Holiday"
    Released: March 14, 2005 (2005-03-14)
  4. "Wake Me Up When September Ends"
    Released: June 13, 2005 (2005-06-13)
  5. "Jesus of Suburbia"
    Released: October 25, 2005 (2005-10-25)

American Idiot is the seventh studio album by the American punk rock band Green Day. The album was produced by longtime collaborator Rob Cavallo. In mid-2003, the band began recording songs for an album titled Cigarettes and Valentines, but the master tracks were stolen, and the band decided to start recording a new album rather than re-record Cigarettes and Valentines.[4]

Green Day decided to produce a rock opera, inspired by the work of The Who and several musicals. The album follows the life of Jesus of Suburbia, a character with an "antihero" image created by Billie Joe Armstrong. Following early recording at Studio 880 in Oakland, California, the band finished the album at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood.

American Idiot was released by Reprise Records on September 20, 2004, in the United Kingdom and September 21, 2004, in the United States.[5] The album achieved success worldwide, charting in 27 countries and peaking at number one in 19 of them, including the US and the UK. Since its release, American Idiot has sold over 15 million copies worldwide,[6] over 6 million copies of which were in the United States alone,[7] including 267,000 in its opening week[8][9] making it the band's second-best selling album after Dookie. The album spawned five successful singles, including the international hits "American Idiot", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", "Holiday", "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Jesus of Suburbia"; all of which received Platinum certification by the RIAA. American Idiot also won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2005, making it the second of five Grammy Awards to be won by Green Day.

Background and recording[edit]

In 2000, Green Day released the folk-influenced album Warning. While critics gave the record positive reviews,[10] it was considered to be a commercial disappointment, and the band decided to take a break from music after co-headlining the Pop Disaster Tour with Blink-182.[11] Hoping to clear his head and develop new ideas for songs, vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong traveled to New York City alone for a few weeks, renting a small apartment in the East Village of Manhattan.[12] He spent much of this time taking long walks and participating in jam sessions in the basement of Hi-Fi, a bar in Manhattan.[13]

In mid-2003, Green Day convened at Studio 880 in Oakland, California, and recorded about 20 songs for an album titled Cigarettes and Valentines.[14][15] However, the master tracks were stolen.[4] The band consulted producer Rob Cavallo about what to do next. Cavallo told the members to ask themselves if the missing tracks represented the group's best work.[16] Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said that the band members "couldn't honestly look at ourselves and say, 'That was the best thing we've ever done.' So we decided to move on and do something completely new."[17] The band members agreed to spend the next three months writing new material.[18]

One day, bassist Mike Dirnt was in the studio recording a 30-second song by himself. Armstrong decided he wanted to do the same, and drummer Tré Cool followed suit. Armstrong recalled, "It started getting more serious as we tried to outdo one another. We kept connecting these little half-minute bits until we had something." This musical suite became "Homecoming", and the group subsequently wrote another suite, "Jesus of Suburbia". The band followed concept records by The Who, as well as musicals such as West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar.[14] During the group's sessions at Studio 880, the members of Green Day spent their days writing material and would stay up late, drinking and discussing music. The band set up a pirate radio station from which it would broadcast jam sessions, along with occasional prank calls.[17]

With demos completed, Green Day relocated to Los Angeles to continue work on the album.[19] The group first recorded at Ocean Way Recording, then moved to Capitol Studios to complete the album.[14] Armstrong said, "As a songwriter, I get so deep into what I'm writing about, it's almost like I have to stir up shit to write about it." The band admitted to partying during the L.A. sessions; Armstrong had to schedule vocal recording sessions around his hangovers. Armstrong described the environment, "For the first time, we separated from our pasts, from how we were supposed to behave as Green Day. For the first time, we fully accepted the fact that we're rock stars."[17]


"American Idiot" is the lead single from the album.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

American Idiot is a concept album that describes the story of a central character named Jesus of Suburbia. Frontman Armstrong said, "As soon as you abandon the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge song structure ... it opens up your mind to this different way of writing, where there really are no rules." He also added that "the band aimed to be ambitious, which he felt many contemporary rock bands were not."[14]

The band used more loud guitar sounds for the record. Armstrong said "we were like, 'Let's just go balls-out on the guitar sound—plug in the Les Pauls and Marshalls and let it rip'". Armstrong added tracks of acoustic guitar-playing throughout the record to augment his electric guitar rhythms and Cool's drumming.[14]


The album follows the life of Jesus of Suburbia, a character with anti-hero image created by Billie Joe Armstrong. Jesus of Suburbia hates his town and those close to him, so he leaves for the city.[20] As the album progresses the characters St. Jimmy and Whatsername are introduced. St. Jimmy is a punk rock freedom fighter. Whatsername, inspired by the Bikini Kill song "Rebel Girl," is a "Mother Revolution" figure that Armstrong described as "kind of St. Jimmy's nemesis in a lot of ways". Both characters illustrate the "rage vs. love" theme of the album, in that "you can go with the blind rebellion of self-destruction, where Saint Jimmy is. But there's a more love-driven side to that, which is following your beliefs and ethics. And that's where Jesus of Suburbia really wants to go", according to Armstrong[citation needed]. Near the end of the story, St. Jimmy commits metaphorical suicide. While the singer did not want to give away the details of the story's resolution, he said the intention is for the listener to ultimately realize that St. Jimmy is really the Jesus of Suburbia, and Jimmy is pretty much an alter ego of the Jesus Of Suburbia.[citation needed] In the song "homecoming, it seemed that Jesus of Suburbia returned home, however it's not certain whether that was in real sense or metaphorical sense. In the album's final song, "Whatsername", Jesus of Suburbia loses his connection with Whatsername as well, even to the point in which he can't even remember her name, hence the title.[14]

Besides the apparent and occasionally chaotic story on the surface, the album has generally expressed the disillusionment and dissent experienced by a generation which came of age during various turmoil including the Iraqi War. Songs including "American Idiot" and "Holiday" clearly expressed disagreement over the deeds carried out by the U.S. government. Later, "Wake Me Up When September Ends" became symbolic during various events such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while its music video was a clear anti-war effort.


After finishing the music for the album, the band decided that the artwork needed to reflect the themes on the record, likening the change of image to a political campaign. Armstrong recalled: "We wanted to be firing on all cylinders. Everything from the aesthetic to the music to the look. Just everything." Green Day drew inspiration from Chinese communist propaganda art the band saw in art galleries on Melrose Avenue, and recruited artist Chris Bilheimer, who had designed the art for the previous records Nimrod and International Superhits! to create the cover. The band aimed for the cover to be "at once uniform and powerful". After listening to the new music on his computer, Bilheimer took note of the lyric "And she's holding on my heart like a hand grenade" from "She's a Rebel". Influenced by artist Saul Bass's poster for the 1955 drama film The Man with the Golden Arm, and EXODUS. Bilheimer created an upstretched arm holding a red heart-shaped grenade. Although he felt that red is the "most overused color in graphic design", he felt that the "immediate" qualities of the color deemed it appropriate for use on the cover, explaining: "I'm sure there's psychological theories of it being the same color of blood and therefore has the powers of life and death...And as a designer I always feel it's kind of a cop-out, so I never used it before. But there was no way you couldn't use it on this cover."[21]

Release and reception[edit]

Commercial performance[edit]

Upon its release in September 2004, American Idiot peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album achieved six times platinum status in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.[22][23][24] Five singles were released from the album, all of which charted on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" topped both the Mainstream and the Modern Rock charts.[25][26]

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[27]
Robert Christgau C+[28]
Entertainment Weekly B+[29]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[30]
NME 8/10[31]
Pitchfork Media 7.2/10[32]
Q 4/5 stars[33]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[34]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[35]
Uncut 3/5 stars[36]

American Idiot received generally positive reviews from music critics. According to review aggregator website Metacritic, the album has an average critic review score of 79/100, based on 26 reviews.[37] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic praised the album as either "a collection of great songs" or as a whole, writing that, "in its musical muscle and sweeping, politically charged narrative, it's something of a masterpiece".[27] Pitchfork Media commended it as "ambitious" and successful in getting across its message, while "keep[ing] its mood and method deliberately, tenaciously, and angrily on point".[32] NME characterized it as "an onslaught of varied and marvellously good tunes presented in an unexpectedly inventive way."[31] Q called the album "A powerful work, noble in both intent and execution."[33] The New York Times commended Green Day for trumping "any pretension with melody and sheer fervor".[38]

Entertainment Weekly said that despite being based on a musical theater concept "that periodically makes no sense", Green Day "makes the journey entertaining enough". It described some of the songs as forgettable, though, arguing the album focuses more on lyrics than music.[29] Rolling Stone said the album could have been, and was, a mess, but that the "individual tunes are tough and punchy enough to work on their own".[34] The Guardian called American Idiot a mess—"but a vivid, splashy, even courageous mess".[30] Slant Magazine described it as a "pompous, overwrought," but nonetheless "glorious concept album".[35] Uncut was more critical and wrote that although the album was heavily politically focused, "slam-dancing is still possible", in a mixed review.[36] In a negative review, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice called the album a "dud" and asserted that Armstrong's lyrics eschew "sociopolitical content" for "the emotional travails of two clueless punks—one passive, one aggressive, both projections of the auteur", adding that "there's no economics, no race, hardly any compassion."[28]


In 2005, American Idiot won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album and was nominated in four other categories including Album of the Year.[39][40] The album helped Green Day win seven of the eight awards it was nominated for at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards; the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" video won six of those awards. A year later, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.[41] In 2009, Kerrang! named American Idiot the best album of the decade,[42] NME ranked it number 60 in a similar list,[43] and Rolling Stone ranked it 22nd.[44] Rolling Stone also listed "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "American Idiot" among the 100 best songs of the 2000s, at number 65 and 47 respectively.[45][46] In 2005, the album was ranked number 420 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time.[47] In 2012, the album was ranked number 225 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[48]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Recipient / Nominated work Award Result
2005 American Idiot Album of the Year Nominated
Best Rock Album Won
"American Idiot" Record of the Year Nominated
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Nominated
Best Rock Song Nominated
Best Music Video Short Form Nominated
2006 "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" Record of the Year Won


Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong performing at the Cardiff International Arena for the Cardiff leg of the UK American Idiot tour, 2005.

In late 2005, Dean Gray released a mash-up version of the album—called American Edit—and became a cause célèbre when the artist was served with a cease and desist order by Green Day's record label. Tracks include "American Edit, "Dr. Who on Holiday", "Novocaine Rhapsody", and "Boulevard of Broken Songs." Billie Joe Armstrong later stated that he heard one of the songs on the radio and "enjoyed it."[60]

The American Idiot stage musical adaptation premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September 2009. It was initially intended to run through October 11, but before the premiere, the theatre announced a three-week extension. The musical is a collaboration between Green Day and director Michael Mayer.[61] Green Day does not appear in the production, but the show features an onstage band.[62] According to Susan Medak, managing director of the Berkeley Repertory, the theater was part of the producing team and had been looking for work that crosses generational lines.

The production transferred to Broadway at the St. James Theatre, began previews on March 24, 2010 and officially opened on April 20, 2010. The show received mixed to positive reviews from critics, but got an all-important rave review from The New York Times.[63] American Idiot won two 2010 Tony Awards: Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Christine Jones, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Kevin Adams. It also received a nomination for Best Musical.[64]

Replacement performers included Van Hughes as Johnny, American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini as Will, David Larsen as Tunny, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong as St Jimmy, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername, Jeanna de Waal as Heather, and Libby Winters as Extraordinary Girl.[65] The show features all of the songs from the album American Idiot, including b-sides, and songs from Green Day's follow-up album, 21st Century Breakdown.[66]

On September 26, it was announced that Armstrong would be appearing in the Broadway production for a limited time (September 27 – October 3, 2010) as St. Jimmy while Tony Vincent attends to a family matter.[67] Armstrong returned to the production in 2011 for a 50 performance run from January 1 through February 27.[68] In addition, singer Melissa Etheridge assumed the role of St. Jimmy the first week of February 2011.[69] After Etheridge left, the role of St. Jimmy was rotated through several cast members, before Armstrong retook the role on April 5, 2011, for the final weeks of the show. The Broadway production closed on April 24, 2011, after 27 previews and 421 regular performances. The first national tour started in late 2011.[70]

On January 23, 2013, it was announced that a documentary showing Armstrong's journey from punk rock to Broadway was to be released.[71] Calling Broadway Idiot and showing a lot of behind-the-scenes of the American Idiot musical production, the movie will be directed by Doug Hamilton, veteran television journalist for CBS News 60 Minutes and PBS documentaries like Nova, Frontline and American Masters. A trailer was released on January 30, 2013.[72] The documentary will be premiered on South by Southwest Film Festival in March 15, 2013.[73]


Shortly after the album was released, there was speculation that American Idiot might be made into a film. VH1 quoted Armstrong as saying "We've definitely been talking about someone writing a script for it, and there's been a few different names that have been thrown at us. It sounds really exciting, but for right now it's just talk."[74] Armstrong later stated that filming would begin for American Idiot: The Motion Picture in 2006, stressing, "We want to see how it turns out first so that it doesn't suck."[75] On June 1, 2006, Armstrong announced in an interview with that "it's definitely unfolding" and that "every single week there's more ideas about doing a film for American Idiot, and it's definitely going to happen",[76] but the band later said, "It is gonna take a little while." In the summer of 2010, talk about creating a film adaption was brought up again, after actor Tom Hanks was interested in producing it. In an interview with Virgin Radio, when asked if the film was "true, a lie, or a mystery?" Tré Cool responded by saying that it was "a true mystery".[77] In the Simpsons movie the band is fictionally killed after falling into lake Springfield. The after is the bands Funeral in which we hear American idiot's main Guitar riff being played on the church's Organ were see sheet music titled "American Idiot- Funeral version."

On April 13, 2011, the film American Idiot was confirmed.[78] Michael Mayer, director of the Broadway musical, will be the director of the film. The film will be written by Dustin Lance Black and produced by Green Day, Pat Magnarella (Green Day's manager and producer of Bullet in a Bible and Awesome as Fuck), Playtone (Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman) and Tom Hulce.

In July 2013 at a screening of Broadway Idiot, Mayer confirmed the film was still happening, but when production would start is unknown due to "Hollywood bullshit".[79]

In March 2014, playwright Rolin Jones announced that he was currently finishing up the script for the film and was planning to hand it into the studio by the end of the month.[80]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Billie Joe Armstrong except where noted, all music composed by Green Day.

No. Title Length
1. "American Idiot"   2:54
2. "Jesus of Suburbia"
  • I. "Jesus of Suburbia"
  • II. "City of the Damned"
  • III. "I Don't Care"
  • IV. "Dearly Beloved"
  • V. "Tales of Another Broken Home""  
  • 1:51
  • 1:51
  • 1:43
  • 1:05
  • 2:38
3. "Holiday"   3:52
4. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"   4:20
5. "Are We the Waiting"   2:42
6. "St. Jimmy"   2:56
7. "Give Me Novacaine"   3:25
8. "She's a Rebel"   2:00
9. "Extraordinary Girl"   3:33
10. "Letterbomb"   4:05
11. "Wake Me Up When September Ends"   4:45
12. "Homecoming"
  • I. "The Death of St. Jimmy"
  • II. "East 12th St."
  • III. "Nobody Likes You" (Mike Dirnt)
  • IV. "Rock and Roll Girlfriend" (Tré Cool)
  • V. "We're Coming Home Again""  
  • 2:24
  • 1:38
  • 1:21
  • 0:44
  • 3:11
13. "Whatsername"   4:14
Total length:


Green Day
Additional musicians

Chart positions[edit]

Decade-end charts[edit]

Chart (2000s) Position
Australia Albums Chart[136] 22
Austria Albums Chart[137] 3
US Billboard 200[138] 30

Heart Like a Hand Grenade[edit]

Heart Like a Hand Grenade
Directed by John Roecker
Produced by Nazeli Kodjoian
Starring Green Day
Music by Green Day
Edited by Dean Gonzalez
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
March 25, 2009
Running time
120 minutes
Language English

Heart Like a Hand Grenade is a 2008 film featuring Green Day during the recording of its seventh studio album, American Idiot. It was directed by John Roecker and filmed over the process of 15 months between 2003 and 2004.[139]

Release history[edit]

The film had a limited, one night release in Hollywood at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on March 25, 2009 to a crowd of more than 400 people.[140]

On July 15, 2014, director John Roecker announced on his Facebook page that the film would be released to the public. On May 18, 2015, Roecker mentioned on his personal Facebook page that the sound mix was done and that the movie was in Warner Bros' hands : "I am happy to announce that Heart Like A Hand Grenade: The Making of American Idiot is finished. Sound mix done and now off to Warner Brothers. I want to thank Scott Gawlik and Dylan Melody for their amazing talent and making this film incredible. Also thank you Chris Dugan for creating an American Idiot overture the one I wanted 11 years ago!" [141]

On June 12, 2015, director John Roecker confirmed on his Facebook page that Warner Brothers had a release date/period for the film. "Deal with Warners is Done! Praise Satan! See you in September. Heart Like A Hand Grenade: The Making of American Idiot teaser coming soon. I want to thank my brothers Dylan Melody, Dean Gonzalez , Scott Gawlik for making my film how I envisioned it. Eleven years but it has been worth will not be disappointed this film is the shit.".[142] According to this Facebook post, the movie is due on September 2015.


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  • Spitz, Marc. Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times, and Music of Green Day. New York: Hyperion, 2006. ISBN 1-4013-0274-2

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Suit by Nelly
Encore by Eminem
Billboard 200 number-one album
October 3, 2004 – October 9, 2004
January 16, 2005 – January 29, 2005
Succeeded by
Feels Like Today by Rascal Flatts
The Documentary by The Game
Preceded by
Out of Nothing by Embrace
Greatest Hits by Robbie Williams
UK number one album
October 2, 2004 – October 8, 2004
January 9, 2005 – January 15, 2005
Succeeded by
Mind, Body & Soul by Joss Stone
Scissor Sisters by Scissor Sisters
Preceded by
The Sound of White by Missy Higgins
Australian ARIA Albums Chart number-one album
September 27, 2004 – October 10, 2004
Succeeded by
The Chronicles of Life and Death by Good Charlotte