Radioactive (Imagine Dragons song)

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"Radioactive"
Single by Imagine Dragons
from the album Night Visions
B-side "It's Time" (Bastille Remix)
Released January 29, 2013
Format
Recorded December 2011 – April 2012 at Westlake Recording Studios
(West Hollywood, California)
Genre
Length

3:05

3:09 (Instrumental)
Label
Writer(s)
Producer(s) Alex da Kid
Certification Diamond (RIAA)
Imagine Dragons singles chronology
"It's Time"
(2012)
"Radioactive"
(2012)
"Hear Me"
(2012)

"Radioactive" is a song by American rock band Imagine Dragons for their major-label debut EP Continued Silence and later on their debut studio album, Night Visions (2012), as the opening track. "Radioactive" was first sent to modern rock radio on October 29, 2012,[1] and released to contemporary radio on April 9, 2013. Musically, "Radioactive" is an electronic rock and alternative rock song with elements of dubstep and contains cryptic lyrics about apocalyptic and revolutionist themes; more specifically it's about the world becoming new and breaking free by doing something new.[2]

The song received positive reviews from critics, who praised the production, lyrics, and vocals, calling it a highlight on the album. Due to heavy rotation on various commercials and trailers, the song became a sleeper hit, peaking at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming the band's first top 10 single as well as being the third best selling song in that country.[3] It also broke the record for slowest ascension to the top 5 in chart history[4] and currently holds the record for most weeks spent on the Billboard Hot 100 at 87 weeks.[5] The song has also reached number one in Sweden and in the top 20 in several countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, becoming Imagine Dragons' most successful single to date. It has since been certified ten times platinum in the USA, making it the one of the best selling singles of all time.[6]

"Radioactive" received two Grammy Awards nominations for Record of the Year and Best Rock Performance, winning the latter.[7] This was Imagine Dragons' first time being nominated. During the broadcast, they presented a remix of the song with their Interscope label-mate, rapper Kendrick Lamar. The remix was later released for purchase on iTunes.[8]

Composition[edit]

"Radioactive" was written by Imagine Dragons producer Alex Da Kid and Ben Linke. It is one of the more electronically influenced tracks on Night Visions as well as one of the darkest, similar to fourth track "Demons". The song is an electronic rock and alternative rock song with elements of dubstep.[9][10] The song's lyrics speak of apocalyptic and revolutionist themes: 'I'm waking up to ash and dust' and 'This is it, the apocalypse'. Though the band has publicly maintained its secularity, NPR music critic Ann Powers has opined that the song features strong "religious or spiritual imagery", the likes of which have been common throughout the history of rock music.[11]

Speaking on the song, front man Dan Reynolds said:

Critical reception[edit]

"Radioactive" was released to positive reviews. Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio gave the song a rating of 4.5 out of 5, calling it "hook-y [and] emotional", and stated that the "drama" and "excitement" of the song would allow "Radioactive" to appeal to both alternative pop fans and hard rockers.[13] AbsolutePunk gave a positive review, calling the acoustic section of the song "haunting", and called the chorus "hypnotizing".[14] Dara Hickey of Unreality Shout also reacted positively, calling the song the "darkest moment" on the album, and stated that, like all the other songs on the album, "Radioactive" was successful in creating a sound that "never fails to take off and send fists skyward".[15] IGN lauded the song, calling it "strangely intense and abrasive", and stated that "Radioactive" was "perhaps the greatest calling card of Imagine Dragons".[16]

Crave Online called the song an "opening throb", saying that the song "sexes up the dub-flirtation with a verse hingeing on the line 'this is it, the apocalypse' and a triumphant chorus, with more than a few shades of Hip-Hop in the production", and that the song was as "radio-ready as they come".[17] Our Vinyl stated that the "power of this song is outstanding with heavy drums and more of an electronic feel than the rest of the album and strong, impressive vocals from front-man Dan Reynolds which are reciprocated throughout the LP."[18] Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone was critical of the song, calling it "a dour moaner that sound[s] like Chris Martin trying to write an Eminem ballad about the end of the world."[19]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Radioactive" debuted at 96 on the Billboard Hot 100 after the release of Night Visions in September 2012 and remained at the lower ends of the chart for some time. In April 2013, the song made its top ten debut at number 7,[20] besting the number 15 position set by previous single "It's Time". In mid June, the song reached number four, breaking the record for the slowest ascension to the top five, besting the previous holder Florida Georgia Line's song "Cruise", which broke the record just three weeks earlier.[21] Two weeks later, the song reached its peak at number three.[22] The song has been certified 10x platinum by the RIAA. The song formerly held the record for the longest reign atop the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart at 23 weeks before being surpassed by Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance".[23] "Radioactive" currently holds the record for the longest reign atop the Billboard Rock Airplay chart, with 24 weeks.[24][25]

The song is also the best-selling rock song in US digital history. It was the No. 2 Song of the Summer according to Billboard and spent 87 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, breaking the all-time chart longevity record, previously held by Jason Mraz's 2008 single "I'm Yours".[26] It has sold more copies in a calendar year than any other song by a rock act in digital history.[27] It was the third best selling song of 2013 with sales of 5,496,000 for the year.[28] The single has sold 7.8 million digital copies in the United States as of July 2015, making it the fifth best-selling download in the history of SoundScan and the best-selling rock song of all time in the United States.[29]

The song has reached number one in Sweden and in the top twenty of several countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand as well as several parts of Europe. In the UK, the song debuted at 35 thanks to strong downloads from the Hear Me EP in November. After the release of Night Visions in April, the song peaked at number 12, becoming their highest charting single there.

Live performances[edit]

Imagine Dragons performing "Radioactive" at The Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri.

The first televised performance of "Radioactive" was executed on the September 4, 2012 airing of ABC late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The song was performed alongside then-current single "It's Time".[30]

In February 2013, the band started the 145-date[31] Night Visions Tour, which saw the band perform across North America and Europe. During the North American leg, the band made their first national television appearance, performing "Radioactive" on the February 22, 2013 airing of CBS late-night talk show Late Show with David Letterman.[32]

In addition to performing the song on the March 28, 2013 airing of NBC late-night talk show The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,[33] the band also performed "Radioactive" on the July 29, 2013 airing of NBC late-night talk show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,[34] following the historic performance of "It's Time" to an empty audience during Hurricane Sandy on the October 29, 2012 airing of Late Night.[35] They performed the song on Saturday Night Live with a guest performance by Kendrick Lamar on February 2, 2014, recreating their teamed performance of the song at the Grammy Awards the previous month.

Typical live performances of the song now have incorporated a drum solo.

Usage in media[edit]

"Radioactive" was used heavily in promotion for the video game Assassin's Creed III[36] and the trailer and end credits of the 2013 film The Host,[37] and is included on the soundtracks for the video games MLB 13: The Show and NBA 2K14.

In addition to being featured in commercials for 2013 premiere shows on the History channel, the song has been used in various promos: Chicago Fire, Run For Your Lives,[38] the European Outdoor Film Tour,[39] Defiance (as well as its tie-in video game), and Graceland. The song was also featured in the commercial for Powerbeats by Dr. Dre and starring LeBron James. In the series Arrow, "Radioactive" was used during episode 22 of season 1 for the love scene between characters Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance.

This song was also used in season 5 episode 14 of The Vampire Diaries, as well as the theme for the arrival of a group exiled from space to a post-apocalyptic Earth in the pilot of the TV series The 100.

It was used as the theme song for the Combat Zone Wrestling event Cage of Death XIV, TNA Wrestling PPV Slammiversary XI and for the 2013 television series Inside Combat Rescue on the National Geographic Channel. The song was also used by Sony for starting their E3 2013 press conference. The song was played during the end credits of the True Blood season 6 finale of the same name, as well as the HBO Go commercial that immediately preceded the episode. The song was used in a hype video for a Korean League of Legends tournament hosted by Ongamenet, to introduce the two final teams for their 2013–2014 winter season.

The song was used as St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday's walk up song during the 2013 season.[40] It is also commonly played during warm ups at New England Revolution games. ESPN used the song to promote the October 14, 2013 Monday Night Football game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers.

The song is featured in Fantasia: Music Evolved for the Xbox One and Xbox 360.

The song was also featured in Sony's 2013 Press Briefing.[41]

The song featured in one of the top ten most popular Super Bowl XLIX commercials as part of an ad for Hyundai.[42]

The song was also used in the found footage science fiction thriller Project Almanac (2014).

The song was also used in Ghost in the Shell: First Assault - Stand Alone Complex Online game trailer.

The song was also used in the pilot episode of The 100

Music video[edit]

The music video debuted on December 10, 2012.[43] It was directed by Syndrome and features actors Lou Diamond Phillips and Alexandra Daddario and puppeteers by the studio Puppet Heap. The video revolves around a mysterious female drifter (Daddario) who is on a quest to save her friends (Imagine Dragons) from the perils of a sinister, underground puppet-fighting ring. The "Champion" of the fight, a large purple-colored beast, beats and kills innocent stuffed animals and puppets forced to fight. The woman's pink teddy bear puppet enters the ring and fights the "Champion", initially being beaten up. After getting up from the ground, the teddy bear knocks out the champion with a single superpower punch. The owner sends two human body guards to subdue the teddy and both are disintegrated with the teddy's laser vision. The remaining spectators flee, leaving the woman with the owner. She takes a key off the owner's chest and unlocks the band from their dungeon. They walk out leaving the owner in the dungeon. He is then surrounded and attacked by the earlier defeated puppets.

Speaking of the video to MTV, Reynolds said "We read through a ton of scripts from really talented directors, and we came across one that stood out to us in particular, because it put into visuals the general theme of the song, which is kind of an empowering song about an awakening, but it did it in a way that was very different". "A lot of people probably see a post-apocalyptic world when they hear 'Radioactive', understandably, but we wanted to deliver something that was maybe a little different from that ... a lot different from that."

Credits and personnel[edit]

Adapted from Night Visions liner notes.[44]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[101] 5× Platinum 350,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[102] Platinum 30,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[103] 7× Platinum 560,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[104] 4× Platinum 15,000^
Germany (BVMI)[105] Platinum 300,000^
Italy (FIMI)[106] 2× Platinum 100,000double-dagger
Mexico (AMPROFON)[107] Platinum 60,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[108] 5× Platinum 0*
Norway (IFPI Norway)[109] 5× Platinum 50,000*
Sweden (GLF)[110] 6× Platinum 240,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[111] Platinum 30,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[112] Platinum 772,464[113]
United States (RIAA)[114] Diamonddagger 7,800,000[29]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

dagger Since May 2013 RIAA certifications for digital singles include on-demand audio and/or video song streams in addition to downloads.[115]

Accolades[edit]

Year Ceremony Award Result
2013 Capricho Awards Best International Hit Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Best Rock Video Nominated
MuchMusic Video Awards International Video of the Year (Group) Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Rock Song Won
UK Festival Awards Anthem of the Summer Nominated
2014 Billboard Music Awards Top Hot 100 Song Nominated
Top Digital Song Nominated
Top Streaming Song Won
Top Rock Song Nominated
Grammy Awards Record of the Year Nominated
Best Rock Performance Won
iHeartRadio Music Awards Song of the Year Nominated
International Dance Music Awards Best Alternative/Indie Rock Dance Track Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite Song Nominated
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Nielsen SoundScan United States The 15 Most Downloaded Songs in Rock History[116] 2015 1
Pandora Radio Worldwide Most Liked Tracks of All Time (World)[117] 2015 3
Spotify United States Most Streamed Tracks of 2013 (U.S.)[118] 2013 1
Spotify United Kingdom Most Streamed Tracks of 2013 (U.K.)[119] 2013 4
Bing United States Most Searched Tracks of 2013 (U.S.)[120] 2013 4
Bing Canada Most Searched Tracks of 2013 (CAN)[121] 2013 5
Google Worldwide Most Searched Songs of 2013 (World)[122] 2013 10
Rdio Worldwide Top Global Tracks[123] 2013 4
Rdio United States Top U.S. Tracks[123] 2013 2
SoundHound Worldwide Top Songs of 2013[124] 2013 7
105.7 The Point United States Top 105 of 2013[125] 2013 1
106.7 KROQ United States KROQ's Top 50 Songs Of 2013[126] 2013 1

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label Catalog no.
United States[127][128][129] October 29, 2012 Modern rock radio Interscope none
March 25, 2013 Adult contemporary radio
April 9, 2013 Contemporary hit radio
Italy[130] April 19, 2013 Universal
Germany[131] May 3, 2013 CD
0602537399185
Canada[132] June 4, 2013 Digital download
(Grouplove and Captain Cuts remix)
none
United States[133]

Remix featuring Kendrick Lamar[edit]

"Radioactive"
Single by Imagine Dragons featuring Kendrick Lamar
Released January 27, 2014
Recorded January 2014
Genre
Length 4:43
Label
Producer(s) Alexander Grant
Imagine Dragons singles chronology
"Monster"
(2013)
"Radioactive"
(2014)
"Battle Cry"
(2014)
Kendrick Lamar singles chronology
"Forbidden Fruit"
(2013)
"Radioactive"
(2014)
"Nosetalgia"
(2014)

The Night Visions track was remixed by the band, featuring guest vocals from American hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar. The remix, while retaining most of the original track from Continued Silence, was recorded by the band and Kendrick Lamar for release as a single. The single was released on January 27, 2014.

Live performances[edit]

"Radioactive" was first performed by Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, held at the Staples Center, Los Angeles on January 26, 2014. The song was performed in a mashup with Kendrick Lamar's "M.A.A.D City", a track from his Grammy-nominated album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.[134] It was the second most tweeted music moment of 2014.[135] The song was performed by the duo again on the February 1, 2014 airing of NBC late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live.[136]

Track listing[edit]

Digital download
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Radioactive" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
Grant 4:43

Personnel[edit]

Partly adapted from Night Visions liner notes.[137]

Imagine Dragons
  • Dan Reynolds – vocals
  • Wayne Sermon – guitar
  • Ben McKee – bass
  • Daniel Platzman – drums, viola
Additional personnel
  • Alexander Grant – co-writer, producer
  • Josh Mosser – co-writer
  • Timmy 2Tone – co-writer
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing
  • Joe LaPorta – mastering
Additional musicians

Charts[edit]

Chart (2014) Peak
position
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[72] 32

Accolades[edit]

Year Ceremony Award Result
2014 mtvU Woodie Awards Best Collaboration Woodie Nominated

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
Australia[138] January 27, 2014 Digital download
Canada[139]
Germany[140]
United Kingdom[141]
United States[142]

Other remixes and covers[edit]

"Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody version entitled "Inactive" for his 2014 album Mandatory Fun. "Radioactive" was covered by American violinist Lindsey Stirling with Texan a cappella group Pentatonix and uploaded to Stirling's YouTube channel, becoming immensely successful and as of July 2016 has over 130 million views.[143] The recording subsequently earned a 2013 YouTube Award. Jason Derulo covered the song live on BBC.[144] Daughtry covered the song live on SiriusXM.[145] Lady Antebellum covered the song live backstage on their Take Me Downtown Tour and put the video on their YouTube channel.[146] Jake Bugg covered the song live on BBC Radio 1.[147] Radioactive (The Dirty Tees Remix) Featured on the film The Host's soundtrack.

Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation recorded a version on their cover album The Q-Music Sessions released in April 2013 and released again on their album Hydra. American post-hardcore band Our Last Night covered the song.[148] Masha covered "Radioactive" on her popular YouTube channel on May 25, 2013; the video has received 120,000 views as of July 2016.[149] The Radioactive Chicken Heads recorded a punk rock cover of "Radioactive" and released a music video for their version on YouTube.[150] Ed Kowalczyk (of Live) covered the song for an Australian radio station.[151] Country music artist Dallas Smith covered the song on his Tippin' Point tour.

Independent American singer Madilyn Bailey recorded an acoustic cover that reached number 36 on SNEP, the official French singles chart, in June 2015.[152] Kelly Clarkson covered the song as part of her "Fan Requests" on July 12, 2015, during her Piece by Piece Tour.[153]

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