"Freak on a Leash" is a song by the American nu metal band Korn, featured on the group's 1998 studio album, Follow the Leader. After Follow the Leader's release, the song was released as a single on February 25, 1999, and since then, it has been re-released over ten times. The song uses dissonance, distortion, various guitar effects, and a heavy, aggressive style.
Following the release of Follow the Leader, Korn promoted the studio album by headlining the Family Values Tour in 1998. The tour ran from September 22 until October 31. "Freak on a Leash" was the first song played on their first tour date. The original composition had a "noisy guitar break in the middle," but, after the group found out that radio stations are not fond of "noisy guitar breaks," they voted 4–1 to remove the break, with Jonathan Davis being the lone holdout. The band described the break as "the Biohazard part."
"Freak on a Leash" was written in 1997 and recorded in May 1998 at NRG Recording Studios in North Hollywood, California. It was released as their second single, on May 25, 1999, and is considered to be one of their most successful singles. Since its first release in the United Kingdom, it has been released over ten times. It was released in the United Kingdom three times, twice in Mexico and Australia, once in Germany, once in France, once in the United States, and once in Switzerland. Guitarist Brian "Head" Welch said that the song "was about Jonathan Davis being a freak on a leash—sort of a kinky dominatrix thing." Leah Furman said that the song "revolved around the mixed blessings of fame".
"Freak on a Leash" is four minutes and 15 seconds long. The song uses dissonance, distortion, and various effects to bring the song "to life." David Lloyd from the University of Alberta said that the song was an example of a "nonsense-utterance" technique used by lead vocalist Jonathan Davis. Lloyd also noted that the song contained "fragments of English-language words," and said that they "can be perceived in the midst of Davis' gibberish". Lloyd went on to say that "Davis is giving voice to his inner basic feelings which are trying to resist being shaped or conditioned by utterances of others."
Elias Pampalk said that the song was "rather aggressive" and said it was heavy metal/death metal. Pampalk proclaimed that "melodic elements do not play an important role in 'Freak on a Leash' and the specific loudness sensation is a rather complex pattern". There are reoccurring elements throughout "Freak on a Leash". The song contains vocals, guitars, bass and percussion. It expresses moods such as anger, drama, and sarcasm.
A screenshot from the "Freak on a Leash" music video
A music video for "Freak on a Leash" was released on February 5, 1999, and debuted on Total Request Live. It was directed by Todd McFarlane who was assisted by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The music video contains a mixture of animation and live performance footage. Although it was expected to be released in January 1999, it was pushed back to February 1999. The video starts with an animated segment directed by McFarlane, where the children (including a cameo appearance of Korn as some of the children) playing hopscotch on a cliff the artist drew for the Follow the Leader cover are interrupted by a policeman. An accidentally-fired bullet from the policeman's gun breaks out of the animated world into the real world and wreaks much property damage while narrowly avoiding hitting people. The bullet then enters a Korn poster exactly at the break in the middle of the song and flies around the band members before Jonathan Davis shouts “go!”, signaling the end of the break, to send the bullet back the way it came until it returns to the animated world. Once back in the animated world, the girl in red (also from the album cover) catches the bullet and gives it to the policeman. The policeman stares at his hands bewildered as the camera then focuses on the loose "No Trespassing" sign; which then leads up to the follow-up video for "Falling Away from Me" featured on the band's then next album Issues. The directory work was described as combining "special effects and clever camera moves in the live action portion of the video."
David Lloyd said it was Korn's most popular song, and on July 8, 1999, the song was the ninth most-infringed song on the Internet.iTunes said that "Wright and Thompson bring a brighter, sharper sheen to Korn's sound, which helped make huge hits out of 'Freak on a Leash'."
Allmusic editor highlighted the song. David Fricke described: "caged-animal babble (the Busta Rhymes-in-Bellevue outburst in "Freak on a Leash")..." Yahoo Music! concluded that Davis delves into his own personal demons, in this song present.
It was rated the sixth-top single of 1999 by Spin. It reached number six on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and number ten on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and was successful on the Hot 100 charting number 89. It was also immensely popular in Australia where the single was certified Gold for shipments in excess of 35,000 units. The song appeared on VH1's list of the "40 Greatest Metal Songs" at number twenty-three.
The music video debuted at number eight on MTV's Total Request Live on February 9, 1999, and peaking at number 1 on its thirteenth day, February 25. and spent ten non-consecutive days at the top position until its "retirement", on May 11, 1999. It won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video and the 1999 Metal Edge Readers' Choice Award for "Music Video of the Year". It was also nominated for nine 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Direction. It won two, Best Rock Video and Best Editing.
The song made VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the 90s" list at number sixty-nine, and VH1's "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs" at number forty-eight. In 2017, Spin ranked it as number one on their list of the 30 greatest nu metal songs of all time. In 2019, Loudwire ranked the song number one on their list of the 50 greatest Korn songs, and in 2021, Kerrang ranked the song number four on their list of the 20 greatest Korn songs.
Freak on a Leash won five awards and was nominated fifteen times. The song won two MTV Music Awards, one Billboard Music Award, one Grammy Award, and one Metals' Edge Readers Choice Award. The song also debuted in 13 countries worldwide, and topped three Modern Rock Radio Station charts, and one Mainstream Rock Radio Station chart in 1999.