Shiny Happy People

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Shiny Happy People"
A wood grain with the artist name and song title carved into it
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Out of Time
B-side"Forty Second Song"
ReleasedMay 6, 1991 (1991-05-06)[1]
RecordedSeptember–October 1990
  • 3:45 (album version)
  • 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 American rock band R.E.M., released as the second single from their seventh studio album, Out of Time (1991). It features guest vocals by Kate Pierson of the B-52's, who also appears in the music video.

"Shiny Happy People" was released as a single in May 1991 in the United Kingdom, and four months later in the United States by Warner Bros. Records. It reached number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, the fourth and last R.E.M. single to reach the top 10. It reached number six 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 number two, and in Germany, where it reached number 10. Its music video, directed by Katherine Dieckmann, was inspired by the 1948 movie Letter From an Unknown Woman.[5]

R.E.M. performed the song with Pierson on Saturday Night Live on April 13, 1991.[6] It was used as the theme song for the unaired pilot of the sitcom Friends, before it was replaced by The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There for You". R.E.M. was ambivalent about being known for a pop song widely perceived as lacking gravitas.


"Shiny Happy People" is described as an accessible and optimistic pop song.[7][8][9] It contains waltz-time strings, "rippling" guitars and "hippy" lyrics,[10] and guest vocals from Kate Pierson.[11] Pierson said she felt the song was a "homage" to her band, the B-52s.[12] R.E.M. had already recorded the song when she arrived, and gave her no direction, telling her "do whatever you want".[12]

R.E.M.'s lead singer, Michael Stipe, described "Shiny Happy People" as a "really fruity, kind of bubblegum song".[13][14] Pierson interpreted the line "throw your love around" to mean "to share your love and grow your love with others. It's not mindless at all. It's a song about spreading love."[15]

According to some reports, the phrase "shiny happy people" was taken from Chinese propaganda posters used after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.[16][12] However, no statements from the band members have been found to support this.[12] Pierson said the song was "supposed to be shiny and happy ... So I can’t imagine that R.E.M. was thinking at the time, 'Oh, we want this song to be about Chinese government propaganda.'"[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Larry Flick of Billboard wrote that "Shiny Happy People" took R.E.M. further into the mainstream. He praised Pierson's "splendid vocal harmonies" on the "infectious, sing-along" chorus.[7] Richard Wagamese of the Calgary Herald felt Stipe "sounds almost ebullient on the bouncy 'Shiny Happy People' and that alone is radical. R.E.M.'s guitar foundation is also replaced by the occasional bass clarinet, cello, and flugelhorn."[17] The Drogheda Independent declared it "unbelievably catchy",[18] while Scottish Dundee Courier described it as "sardonic but delicious disposable pop".[19] A reviewer from Evening Herald called it a "gilt-edged" pop hit.[20] Liverpool Echo felt 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".[21] In Melody Maker, David Fricke wrote that it contained a "bizarre" mix of features that "you can't but help but laugh along with",[10] and Paul Lester wrote that it's "not one of their best".[22]

Music & Media described the song as "heaven on earth",[23] noting that Pierson's voice is "as prominent" as it was on Iggy Pop's song "Candy".[24] Terry Staunton from NME complimented it as "a lilting waltz before breaking into a sun-drenched pop anthem, a warm and welcome blood relative to the B-52s' own 'Love Shack'."[25] People wrote that the guest singer "added some spark".[8] Mark Frith from Smash Hits remarked 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."[9] Celia Farber from Spin found that it "is the most accessible" song of the album, noting the waltz-time break in the middle of the song as one of "the least R.E.M.-like stuff", that works best on the album.[26] The Sunday Tribune felt that it "waltzes joyfully" with the added vocal attraction of Pierson,[27] and noted the "joyous" and "celebratory" noises, calling it "one of 1991's pure pop highlights".[28]

In an 2016 retrospective review, 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 ... are the unequivocal highlight."[14] In 1998, the Daily Vault's Christopher Thelen said it's 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."[29]

Music video[edit]

The accompanying music video for "Shiny Happy People" was directed by American film and music video director Katherine Dieckmann.[5] She was asked by the band to direct the video, and drew some inspiration from a scene in the 1948 movie Letter From an Unknown Woman by German director Max Ophuls. In this scene, a couple goes to a carnival with a railroad car attraction. Rotating landscape backdrops roll past their "window", and eventually we learn they're propelled by an old man pedaling a stationary bicycle behind the scenes. Dieckmann wanted to re-create this situation, using a large children's painting for the moving mural. Stipe suggested her to contact a friend that was schoolteacher, having her fifth-grade class create the backdrop.[5]


In its 2006 "Song of the Summer" countdown, CBC Radio's Freestyle named "Shiny Happy People" 1991's "Song of the Summer".[30][31] By contrast, in 2006, the song received the No. 1 position on AOL Music's list of the "111 Wussiest Songs of All Time".[32] Blender magazine also ranked the song No. 35 on its list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever",[33] and Q included it in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists" in 2005.[34]

When Stipe made an appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1995, he said he hated the song. It was one of their few Warner-released singles not included on their 2003 greatest hits album In Time, and R.E.M. have rarely played it.[2] However, over time, Stipe's position on the song has softened. Speaking in 2011, Stipe said he was "always at peace" with it, but that it was "embarrassing" that it had become a hit.[13] He said:

Many people's idea of R.E.M, and me in particular, is very serious, with me being a very serious kind of poet. But I'm also actually quite funny – hey, my bandmates think so, my family thinks so, my boyfriend thinks so, so I must be – but that doesn't always come through in the music.... (But) I'm in 'Shiny Happy People', 'Stand', 'Pop Song 89', 'Get Up', too. Our fruitloop songs![13]

Track listings[edit]

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

  1. "Shiny Happy People" (album version) – 3:44
  2. "Forty Second Song" – 1:20
  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 limited-edition CD single[41]
  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


Personnel are adapted from the Out of Time liner notes.[42]


Additional musicians

  • David Arenz – violin
  • Ellie Arenz – violin
  • Mark Bingham – string arrangements
  • David Braitberg – violin
  • Andrew Cox – cello
  • Reid Harris – viola
  • Peter Holsapple – acoustic guitar
  • Ralph Jones – double bass
  • Dave Kempers – violin
  • Elizabeth Murphy – cello
  • Paul Murphy – lead viola
  • Kate Pierson – vocals
  • Jay Weigel – orchestral liaison



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[70] Gold 35,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[71] Gold 400,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "New Releases: Singles". Music Week. May 4, 1991. p. 31.
  2. ^ a b O'Neal, Sean (January 29, 2015). ""Shiny Happy People" and a young man's blossoming into cynicism". Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  3. ^ Andrew Marr (November 20, 2016). REM Talk Donald Trump on Andrew Marr show, Michael Stipe Mike Mills. YouTube. The Andrew Marr Show. BBC. Archived from the original on November 21, 2016. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  4. ^ "In Defense of… R.E.M.'s 'Shiny Happy People'". November 10, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Katherine, Dieckmann (August 23, 1991). "On the set of "Shiny Happy People"". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  6. ^ Saturday Night Live - Season 16, Episode 17: Catherine O'Hara/R.E.M. -
  7. ^ a b Flick, Larry (July 27, 1991). "Single Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. p. 67. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Picks and Pans Review: Out of Time". People Magazine. May 6, 1991. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Frith, Mark (May 15, 1991). "Review: Singles". Smash Hits. p. 44. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Fricke, David (March 9, 1991). "Albums". Melody Maker. p. 31. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  11. ^ Chadwick, Justin (March 10, 2016). "R.E.M.'s 'Out of Time' Turns 25: Anniversary Retrospective". Albumism. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e Ivie, Devon (March 11, 2021). "Kate Pierson Likes to Think 'Shiny Happy People' Was an 'Homage to the B-52's'". Vulture. Retrieved August 17, 2023. It's long been purported by fans that "Shiny Happy People" was written about the propagandistic aftermath of China's Tiananmen Square massacre. However, there's not a verified quote from Stipe or any other R.E.M. member that supports this theory.
  13. ^ a b c Rogers, Jude (November 12, 2011). "Michael Stipe's last stand — an R.E.M. exit interview". The Quietus. Retrieved July 30, 2022.
  14. ^ a b Chadwick, Justin (March 10, 2016). "R.E.M.'s 'Out of Time' Turns 25: Anniversary Retrospective". Albumism. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  15. ^ Chadwick, Justin (March 10, 2016). "R.E.M.'s 'Out of Time' Turns 25: Anniversary Retrospective". Albumism. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  16. ^ "The story behind R.E.M. hit song 'Shiny Happy People'". Far Out Magazine. September 17, 2020. Retrieved July 30, 2022.
  17. ^ Wagamese, Richard (March 17, 1991). "Recent Releases". Calgary Herald.
  18. ^ Drogheda Independent. July 16, 1999. p.19.
  19. ^ "Out Of Time". Dundee Courier. March 28, 1991. p. 18.
  20. ^ "R.E.M. rocking with Monsters". Evening Herald. September 23, 1994. p.16.
  21. ^ "Near miss". Liverpool Echo. April 15, 1991. p. 30.
  22. ^ Lester, Paul (May 11, 1991). "Singles". Melody Maker. p. 34. Retrieved April 29, 2023.
  23. ^ "New Releases: Albums" (PDF). Music & Media. March 30, 1991. p. 12. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  24. ^ "New Releases: Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. June 8, 1991. p. 12. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  25. ^ Staunton, Terry (March 16, 1991). "Long Play". NME. p. 30. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  26. ^ Farber, Celia (March 1991). "Spins". Spin. p. 73. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  27. ^ "Zombies and Elvis Presley Wine". Sunday Tribune. March 10, 1991. p.26.
  28. ^ "Top Ten Dubun Movies". Sunday Tribune. October 11, 1992. p.28.
  29. ^ Thelen, Christopher (July 5, 1998). "Out Of Time – R.E.M." The Daily Vault. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  30. ^ "Pursuit Of Happiness - Love & Happiness Tips". Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  31. ^ "How To Reach The Happiness".
  32. ^ "The 111 Wussiest Songs of All Time (No. 1)". AOL Music. Archived from the original on August 26, 2006. Retrieved August 20, 2006.
  33. ^ Run for Your Life! It's the 50 Worst Songs Ever! from Retrieved on May 3, 2008. Archived April 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Kirby, Terry (December 11, 2006). "If you're happy and you know it, listen to Lily. If not, it's the Verve". The Independent.
  35. ^ Shiny Happy People (US 7-inch single vinyl disc). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. 7-19242.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  36. ^ Shiny Happy People (US cassette single cassette notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. 4-19242.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  37. ^ Shiny Happy People (UK 7-inch single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. W0027, 5439-19307-7.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  38. ^ Shiny Happy People (UK cassette single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. W0027C, 5439 19307-4.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  39. ^ Shiny Happy People (UK 12-inch single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. W0027T, 9362-40078-0.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  40. ^ Shiny Happy People (UK CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. W0027CD, 9362 40078-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  41. ^ Shiny Happy People (UK limited CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. W0027CDX, 9362 40079-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  42. ^ Out of Time (US CD album liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1991. 9 26496-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  43. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  44. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  45. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  46. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 1648." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  47. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 8, no. 26. June 29, 1991. p. 25. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  48. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-31-2503-3.
  49. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  50. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  51. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Shiny Happy People". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  52. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 27, 1991" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  53. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  54. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  55. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People". VG-lista. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  56. ^ "R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People". Singles Top 100. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  57. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  58. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2014). Cash Box Pop Hits 1952-1996. Sheridan Books, Inc. ISBN 978-0-89820-209-0.
  59. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  60. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  61. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  62. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  63. ^ "Jaaroverzichten 1991" (in Dutch). Ultratop. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  64. ^ "RPM 100 Hit Tracks of 1991". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  65. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 1991" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 8, no. 51–52. December 21, 1991. p. 21. Retrieved January 17, 2020 – via World Radio History.
  66. ^ "EHR Year-End Top 100" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 8, no. 51–52. December 21, 1991. p. 20. Retrieved February 22, 2024.
  67. ^ "Top 100 Singles–Jahrescharts 1991" (in German). GfK Entertainment. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  68. ^ "1991 Top 100 Singles". Music Week. January 11, 1992. p. 20.
  69. ^ "Billboard Top 100 – 1991". Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  70. ^ "Italian single certifications – R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved August 30, 2021. Select "2021" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Shiny Happy People" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
  71. ^ "British single certifications – REM – Shiny Happy People". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved April 19, 2022.