Shiny Happy People

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"Shiny Happy People"
R.E.M. - Shiny Happy People.jpg
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Out of Time
B-side"Forty Second Song"
ReleasedMay 6, 1991
RecordedSeptember–October 1990
  • 3:45
  • 3:12 (radio edit)
LabelWarner Bros.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Losing My Religion"
"Shiny Happy People"
"Near Wild Heaven"
Music video
"Shiny Happy People" on YouTube

"Shiny Happy People" is a song by the band R.E.M. It appeared on their 1991 album Out of Time, and was released as a single in the same year. The song features guest vocals by Kate Pierson of fellow Athens band the B-52's, who also appears in the music video.

The song was released as a single in May 1991 in the UK, but did not go on sale in the U.S. until four months later. It peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, the fourth and last R.E.M. single to reach the top 10. It also peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart, becoming the first R.E.M. song to reach the top 10 in the UK and the only one to reach the top 10 in both countries. It is R.E.M.'s most successful song in Ireland, where it reached No. 2, and in Germany, where it peaked at No. 10.

R.E.M. performed the song with Pierson on Saturday Night Live on April 13, 1991.[5] It was used as the theme song to the unaired pilot for the sitcom Friends, known at that time as Friends Like Us. It was replaced by The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There for You," but it was later briefly used in the first season's 10th episode, "The One with the Monkey".

R.E.M. was ambivalent about being known for a pop song that lacked gravitas. Singer Michael Stipe said in 2016: "It's a fruity pop song written for children ... If there was one song that was sent into outer space to represent R.E.M. for the rest of time, I would not want it to be 'Shiny Happy People'".[2]

The lyrics for the song were written as a satirical translation of the Chinese government's propaganda used after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Justin Chadwick from Albumism described the song as "buoyant" and R.E.M.'s "most unabashedly pop-fueled composition of their career". He added further, "Regardless of the song's true inspirations or whether you care for the song or not, I suspect most can agree that the soaring backing vocals supplied by Kate Pierson, of R.E.M.'s fellow Athens based comrades The B-52's, are the unequivocal highlight."[7] Larry Flick from Billboard wrote, "Ace guitarist Peter Buck drives alternative band further into the mainstream on this commercially accessible, hook-driven pop tune." He stated that Pierson "contributes splendid vocal harmonies on infectious, sing-along chorus."[8] The Daily Vault's Christopher Thelen said it is the song "that dared to show a new side of R.E.M. - a, well, happy side. Who woulda thunk it? The song is a tad cornball, but is infectiously catchy, nonetheless."[9] Irish newspaper Drogheda Independent declared it as "unbelievably catchy",[10] while Scottish newspaper Dundee Courier described it as "sardonic but delicious disposable pop".[11] A reviewer from Evening Herald deemed it a "gilt-edged" pop hit.[12]

Liverpool Echo commented that the song "comes at you concealed as bubble gum pop in the guise of an opening string arrangement even Kylie Minogue wouldn't thank you for—before it throws off the cloak of conformity and gets down to a more resonant rendition of power pop".[13] Music & Media called it "heaven on earth",[14] adding that Pierson's voice is "as prominent as it was" on Iggy Pop's song, "Candy".[15] Terry Staunton from NME described it as "bubbly", noting that it "opens with a lilting waltz before breaking into a sun-drenched pop anthem, a warm and welcome blood relative to the B-52s' own 'Love Shack'."[16] People Magazine stated that the guest singer "add some spark".[17] Mark Frith from Smash Hits noted that the song is "very summery, optimistic and has some fine vocals" from Pierson. He added, "It's so good that it will make you too want to go around and give the world a great big hug. Summer's here and everything's groovy."[18] Sunday Tribune stated that it "waltzes joyfully with the added vocal attraction" of the B-52's singer.[19] The newspaper also noted the "joyous" and "celebratory" noises of "Shiny Happy People", calling it "one of 1991's pure pop highlights."[20]

Impact and legacy[edit]

In its 2006 "Song of the Summer" countdown, CBC Radio's Freestyle named "Shiny Happy People" 1991's "Song of the Summer".[21][22] By contrast, in 2006, the song received the No. 1 position on AOL Music's list of the "111 Wussiest Songs of All Time".[23] Blender magazine also ranked the song No. 35 on its list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever",[24] and Q magazine included it in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists" in 2005.[25]

When Michael Stipe made an appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1995, after Space Ghost asks him to sing the “Shiny Shiny People” song, he simply states "I hate that song, Space Ghost." Due to the band's dislike of the song, it was one of their few Warner-released singles not included on their 2003 greatest hits album In Time, and they have since refused to play it live throughout their career save for their performance for it on Saturday Night Live in 1991.[1] It was, however, included on their 2011 greatest hits album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe unless otherwise stated.

US/UK 7"/cassette singles

  1. "Shiny Happy People" – 3:45
  2. "Forty Second Song" – 1:20

US Promo CD/12"

  1. "Shiny Happy People" (Music Mix) – 4:45
  2. "Shiny Happy People" (Pop Mix) – 4:04
  3. "Shiny Happy People" (Hip Mix) – 3:33
  4. "Shiny Happy People" (Master Chief Mix) – 3:60

UK CD/12"

  1. "Shiny Happy People" – 3:45
  2. "Forty Second Song" – 1:20
  3. "Losing My Religion" (live acoustic version, recorded on Rockline, April 1, 1991.) – 4:36

UK "Collectors' Edition" CD

  1. "Shiny Happy People" – 3:45
  2. "I Remember California" (live, from Tourfilm) – 5:42
  3. "Get Up" (live, from Tourfilm) – 3:15
  4. "Pop Song '89" (live, from Tourfilm) – 3:30



Additional musicians


Other versions[edit]

Soon after its release, Denis Leary commented: “..And I also don’t go for this other thing now, with MTV being so big where you get a band that gets a hit video, and all of the sudden they think that they’re like icons and they can tell us how to feel about environmental issues and how to vote and stuff. You know what I’m talking about? Like R.E.M. "Shiny Happy People” “Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey! Pull that bus over to the side of the pretentiousness turnpike, alright!? I want everybody off the bus. I want the shiny people over here, and the happy people over here, ok! I represent angry gun-toting meat-eating fucking people, alright!” Sit down and shut the fuck up Michael!"

Despite R.E.M's dislike of the song, they created a parody called "Furry Happy Monsters" in 1999, and performed it on Sesame Street with a Muppet version of Kate Pierson singing backing vocals, voiced by Stephanie D'Abruzzo of Avenue Q. The monsters from the Monsters in Day Care segments (and the Two-Headed Monster) were also featured in this video.

Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded a cover of the song as a playable track for their 2007 video game. The song has also been covered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but without the lyrics.[52]

A cover version of the song is featured on the 2004 video game Donkey Konga 2.

The Fatima Mansions recorded an obscene version of the song, with R.E.M.'s members credited as the authors. It appeared on the EPs Bertie's Brochures and Tima Mansió Dumps the Dead and used only a sample of the main title line, otherwise the music and the verse lyrics were totally changed.

The song appears in the Space Pirates episode "Music To Paint To".

"Shiny Happy People" is one of several anachronistic songs that appear in the 2013 video game BioShock Infinite, which is set in 1912. This version of the song is performed as an Al Jolson-esque big band piece by Tony Babino (vocals), Scott Bradlee (arrangement and piano), Adam Kubota, Allan Mednard, and Tom Abbott.[53][54][55]


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External links[edit]