Take You To A Midnight Show: A Track By Track Analysis Of Hot Fuss

The 2000s were a defining generation for many genres, but particularly alternative rock. The grunge sound of 90s rock morphed into a more interesting amalgamation of 80s New Wave and 70s post-punk in the 2000s.

The Killers, born out of Nevada, were one of many bands that saw their rise in the era, with music which blended Britpop, New Wave, and kept an indie rock sound. Their first album, Hot Fuss, is widely considered one of the best debut albums of all time.

Aesthetically, The Killers owe a lot to New Order – and that’s just for their name. In the music video for New Order’s song “Crystal” it features a fictitious band called The Killers up against a screen projecting several colours in a faux concert setting.

Brandon Flowers, Mark Stoermer, Dave Keuning, and Robbie Vannucci took the name and ran with it. The music video for their hit Somebody Told Me is more than just a simple homage, it’s a statement of what inspired them.

New Order’s album Get Ready in particular definitely shapes the music of The Killers from Hot Fuss. Tracks like Crystal and 60 Miles An Hour have such a clear influence on the sound of The Killers’ debut album, I’d argue Get Ready is essential listening to truly understand The Killers.

Music video for Crystal, by New Order.

For me, Hot Fuss is my favourite album of all time and has such a sentimental value to me. This was probably one of the first albums I fell in love with – I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t know this album and didn’t love it.

Hot Fuss isn’t just good because it’s filled with great tunes, it carries a great sense of teenage coming-of-age, growing up, relationships, and the experiences of being a teenager and young adult. Plus a bit of murder.

Two songs off Hot Fuss make up part of the “Murder Trilogy”, though there have been many fan theories that suggest there are more than 3 songs that tell the story- however The Killers themselves have confirmed there are only 3 songs in the saga.

But what exactly is the story told by Hot Fuss outside of the “Murder Trilogy”? It’s hard to exactly pinpoint it having one narrative, but instead I see it as a collection of different stories and experiences from different people. Each track has at least one of three themes: relationships, coming-of-age, and search for identity.

Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine

The album begins with a flashforward of our narrator being questioned and interrogated by police over the murder of his girlfriend – Jenny. He attempts to give his alibi in the first verse of the song. The song opens with the sounds of police scanners and helicopters, setting a moody midnight city aesthetic to the song.

We took a walk that night, but it wasn’t the same
We had a fight on the promenade out in the rain
She said she loved me, but she had somewhere to go
She couldn’t scream while I held her close
I swore I’d never let her go

The last two lines is an allude to him suffocating Jenny and murdering her, fairly clearly.

Tell me what you wanna know
Oh, come on, oh, come on, oh, come on
There ain’t no motive for this crime
Jenny was a friend of mine
So come on, oh, come on, oh, come on, oh

His defence is as simple as that: Jenny was a friend of mine, how could I have murdered her? The choice of saying “friend” instead of girlfriend is crucial as it points to our main character realising they were never really dating, it was more him with an unhealthy obsession. The story of this track becomes expanded upon later in Hot Fuss, and with a B-side.

Mr. Brightside

The most well-known song on the album and one of the defining songs of the 2000s – Mr. Brightside is an important part of this story and album. It’s all about paranoia, jealousy, and crushes.

Izabella Miko in the music video for Mr. Brightside.

The narrator “Mr. Brightside” is a very, very relatable person. He’s an average guy in his youth who finds himself falling head over heels in love for someone. Whether or not our main character ever has a “girlfriend” to imagine losing is not really the point – it’s about how you can completely fall in love with someone and become obsessed with them despite there being nothing official. A one-sided crush. Most people have been this sort of person at some point, imagining yourself with that person and speculating endlessly to yourself about what your life could be. Unfortunately, it’s not about healthy speculation really, Mr. Brightside is torturing himself with it.

Coming out of my cage and I’ve been doing just fine
Gotta, gotta be down because I want it all
It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?
It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss
Now I’m falling asleep and she’s calling a cab
While he’s having a smoke and she’s taking a drag
Now they’re going to bed and my stomach is sick
And it’s all in my head, but she’s touching his

Chest now, he takes off her dress now
Let me go
I just can’t look, it’s killing me
And taking control

Mr. Brightside is someone who falls for people easily, gets very attached, over-analyses everything that person does, and leads a self-fulfilling prophecy that always ends in disappointment. Someone who falls in love on a first date.

And when someone like a Mr. Brightside does end up in a relationship, he self-sabotages everything with his paranoia.

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies, choking on your alibis
But it’s just the price I pay, destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes, ’cause I’m Mr. Brightside

To be a Mr. Brightside is to be self-aware enough you have a problem, but completely lost on how to fix it. A fitting song in an album which has a subtext of coming of age and adolescence.

Smile Like You Mean It

The third track of Hot Fuss, and one of the four singles released off the album, Smile Like You Mean It is a look into nostalgia, growing up, and trying to disassociate from trauma I feel.

The imagery the lyrics invoke in me personally give me strong nostalgia of particularly being a child. The way everything seems so big and grand and wonderful, but as you grow up realise you must abandon that sense of wonder in order to be “grown up”.

I like to view the lyrics being said throughout the song as being different bits of advice given to our main character throughout his teen years.

Save some face, you know you’ve only got one
Change your ways while you’re young
Boy, one day you’ll be a man
Oh, girl, he’ll help you understand

Save some face is a classic idiom meaning to try and regain reputation and standing after an embarrassing moment, which as any teenager can tell you, embarrassment and saving face is half the teenage experience.

“In the house that I grew up in…”

The chorus of “smile like you mean it” is his attempt of dealing with the sensations of growing up, and learning to let go of his past and nostalgia. To live in the moment, and not allow yourself to be caught in that which has already happened.

The most poignant part of the song for me is the bridge, which does a better job detailing the feeling of nostalgia and how it can feel than I ever could:

And someone is calling my name
From the back of the restaurant
And someone is playing a game
In the house that I grew up in
And someone will drive her around
Down the same streets that I did
On the same streets that I did

You rarely ever know when you’ll do something for the last time ever. Like the last time you’ll ever visit a certain store, a friend, a family member, a restaurant, or a lover. Thinking about moments in my own past where I unknowingly said goodbye to something invokes evocative memories in my head, taking back to places and moments I’d long since forgotten.

Somebody Told Me

Another of the singles released from the album, Somebody Told Me is one of the most iconic songs by The Killers.

Somebody Told Me is a classic of the “heterosexual man singing about maybe having gay feelings and being unsure of himself” genre, which previously was heralded by Morrissey and his work with The Smiths. However this only makes up half of the double entendre of the track, the other meaning within it is very different…

It’s about creating things in the first place.

Breaking my back just to know your name
Seventeen tracks and I’ve had it with this game
I’m breaking my back just to know your name
But heaven ain’t close in a place like this
Anything goes but don’t blink, you might miss
‘Cause heaven ain’t close in a place like this
I said, oh, heaven ain’t close in a place like this
Bring it back down, bring it back down tonight (Ooh-ooh)
Never thought I’d let a rumor ruin my moonlight

The relentless burn of attempting to write and create something only to find out you aren’t original enough. As a writer this resonates. The amount of times you feel you’ve caught lightning in a bottle and it hasn’t been, or you see someone get huge amounts of success with something you had tried to do is frustrating.

The “boyfriend” who looks like a “girlfriend” is his idea. He knows he has potential to make it and release a hit, he just hasn’t had one yet. Every creative person I know has this feeling in them – it can takes years to get noticed and even longer to be noticed and successful.

Well, somebody told me you had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year
It’s not confidential, I’ve got potential

The “song-writing” side of the song’s story is definitely only half of it though. The androgynous lover idea and gay subtext in the album stands out here in particular, alongside Andy, You’re A Star.

All These Things That I’ve Done

Screengrab from the music video

Known probably best for its iconic bridge of “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier”, ATTTID is similar in theme to Smile Like You Mean It. The third longest track on the album, it is a song I always have had a strong affinity for.

I wanna stand up, I wanna let go
You know, you know; no, you don’t, you don’t
I wanna shine on in the hearts of man
I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand
Another head aches, another heart breaks
I’m so much older than I can take
And my affection, well, it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no, no, no, no

The lyrics reflect attempts to “grow up” and become an adult. The narrator unsure of himself, who he is, what he wants to do, or why he does the things he does. He’s a lost boy waiting to become a man. He’s incredibly indecisive.

For Flowers, part of his confusion with growing up was because of his background. A member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) he would have grown up under serious scrutiny for a lot of his emotions and desires. The song is like him trying to repent and make up for his failings to properly follow his religious beliefs, and an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh, don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out, yeah

The “you” Flowers refers to in this song is God and religion. He feels like it must surely be able to show him the right way. But for others, I think the “you” will often be ourselves in a rhetorical sense.

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son?
These changes ain’t changing me
The cold-hearted boy I used to be

Part of why I think this song is so powerful is that, as a now adult man, I realise how accurately the themes of this song reflected my own teenage years. You want to be and do everything, but have no idea where to start. Your emotions and desires are all over the place and there isn’t a definitive way through this period of change.

Honestly, the song could be called Puberty Blues. Trying to find your identity can take a long time for people, and getting through your teenage years is a lot harder than people give it credit for.

I mean hey, you’ve got soul… but you’re no soldier… yet.

Andy, You’re A Star

There’s a lot of discussion and disagreement in Killers fan circles over what Andy, You’re A Star is about. Some claim it’s there to mock a high school bully of Flowers called Andy who made his school life miserable; others say it’s about a young man realising he might be gay with his idolisation of the school’s star athlete. Personally I think there’s truth in both.

On the field I remember you were incredible
Hey, shut up, hey, shut up, yeah
On the field I remember you were incredible
Hey, shut up, hey, shut up, yeah
On the match with the boys, you think you’re alone
With the pain that you drain from love
In a car with a girl, promise me she’s not your world
‘Cause Andy, you’re a star
Get down, hey

I see it as Flowers being cynical about his high school bully and him having some weird idolisation of Andy’s skill and fame which crossed into adoration. Everyone had some sort of idol or person in their high school they at some level envied and wanted to be, and I think Andy is who a young Flowers wanted to be. Popular, athletically talented, well-respected.

Leave your number on the locker and I’ll give you a call
Hey, shut up, hey, shut up, yeah
Leave your legacy in gold on the plaques that line the hall
Hey, shut up, hey, shut up, yeah
On the streets, such a sweet face jumping in town
In the staffroom, the verdict is in
In a car with a girl, promise me she’s not your world

Looking into professional sports circles, a lot of young men end up crossing from having just a sports idol to someone who is more than that, a figure of immense adoration that might go further. As a football fan, I think it happens a lot. All you need to do is look at “Football Twitter” where people rarely use photos of themselves, instead choosing to “represent” their favourite player.

‘Cause Andy, you’re a star
In nobody’s eyes but mine
Andy, you’re a star
In nobody’s eyes but mine
Andy, you’re a star
In nobody’s eyes
In nobody’s eyes but mine

The refrain here with “in nobody’s eyes but mine” reads to me as Flowers recognising how everyone felt the same way towards Andy, yet for all that they didn’t really know why. Flowers definitely wrote the song in the form of a love letter to Andy, and with some other gay subtext in Hot Fuss as an album, I don’t think it’d be surprising if Flowers had a crush on Andy.

Allegedly, the “real life” Andy is now working at the same high school they both attended and is a gym teacher. This is probably one of the most cynical songs Flowers has ever written, it seems to be a real “up yours” type of song. A more petty form of revenge, really.

On Top

Much more of a dance song than any other track on the album, On Top is inspired heavily by Ibiza nightclubs and hearkens back to the influence of New Order on The Killers.

In the back, ah-ho, I can’t crack
We’re on top
It’s just a shimmy and a shake, ah-ho
I can’t fake, we’re on top, we’re on top

On Top is filled with sexual innuendo and is pretty universally accepted to be about a one night stand. I see it as a continuation of the gay subtext throughout the album, and about a first ever one night stand with a man for the narrator. It’s a very straightforward song, and the innuendos don’t take much to decipher or notice.

The day is breaking, we’re still here
Your body’s shaking and it’s clear
You really need it, so let go
And let me feed it, but you know
That I’ve been down across a road or two
But now I’ve found the velvet sun
That shines on me and you

It isn’t until the bridge (which is repeated twice) however, that the song gets more of a narrative. The narrator is brutally describing why he goes for hook-ups, the appeal of them to him, and with “because I’m fine now” accepting the hook-up.

And we don’t mean to satisfy tonight
So get your eyes off of my pride tonight
‘Cause I don’t need to satisfy tonight
It’s like a cigarette in the mouth
Or a handshake in the doorway
I look at you and smile because I’m fine


Change Your Mind

Probably the only real “love song” on this album, Change Your Mind has such a shy energy to it. I think it’d be fair to pair this song with Mr. Brightside as being part of the same particular narrative.

It has a daydream feel about it as well, as a lot of the lyrics reflect how Mr. Brightside thinks. Our narrator is a mess. Burnt out but still in love with the idea of someone. He’s back on his self-fulfilling prophecy.

Racey days help me through the hopeless haze
But my, oh, my
Tragic eyes, I can’t even recognise myself

Everytime he reaches this self-fulfilling prophecy, he always has just one question:

So if the answer is no
Can I change your mind?

The difference is that this time, he might have met someone who he thinks has the same issues as him – another dreamer. Another cursed with elaborate fantasies… maybe.

Out again, a siren screams at half-past ten
And you won’t let go
While I ignore, that we’ve both felt like this before
It starts to show

The siren in my view signifies the start of his new obsession with someone, and for once it seems like it might go somewhere.

Why aren’t you shaking?
Step back in time
Graciously taken
Oh, you’re too kind

We’re all the same and love is blind
The sun is gone before it shines

His dreams and hopes with this person are gone before they had a chance to completely take over his mental state – it’s another rejection.

Believe Me Natalie

Roses by Claude Monet

The ninth track of the album, Believe Me Natalie is another one which has had many different things read into it by fans. A common belief is it’s about a dancer diagnosed with HIV/AIDs who works at the famous Studio 54 nightclub in SoHo, New York City.

The character of Natalie potentially having HIV/AIDs is not particularly vital to the story of the song though. It’s much more about being an optimistic artist struggling for survival. I think the usage of disco and nightclub terminology in the song is metaphorical of the struggle to get your art into the world.

Believe me, Natalie, listen, Natalie
This is your last chance to find a go-go dance to disco now
Please believe me, Natalie, listen Natalie
This is your last chance to find a go-go dance to disco now
Forget what they said in SoHo, leave the “Oh, no”s out
And believe me, Natalie, listen Natalie
This is your last chance

The last chance to make it big. To make something of yourself, to get yourself out into the world.

There is an old cliche under your Monet, baby
Remember the arch of roses right above your couch?
Forget what they said in SoHo, leave the “Oh, no”s out
Yes, there is an old cliche under your Monet, baby

The old cliche under your Monet evokes imagery of artist Claude Monet’s Roses, hung above Natalie’s couch – perhaps her only possession to her name as a struggling artist. I picture her as a girl from a small town, who moved to the big city to try and make it, and lives in cramped conditions waiting ever so patiently to make it.

You left the station now to the floor with speculation
What was it for?
In that old hallway, Mum says, “Why don’t you stay?
You’ve been away for a long time”

Her mum wants her to come home, to give up on her dream, and return to a life without fantasy. An acceptance of defeat, and to her, a loss of identity.

God, help me somehow
There’s no time for survival left
The time is now
‘Cause this might be your last chance to disco, oh-oh, oh-oh

Did Natalie ever make it? It’s hard to imagine so.

Midnight Show

A personal favourite song from The Killers, and a brutal continuation of the “Murder Trilogy”, Midnight Show takes place before the events of Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine.

Set during the murder of Jenny, it’s a fast-paced and sleek song. The details of the relationship between the narrator and Jenny and what lead to this point is detailed in Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf, which is too important in analysis of Midnight Show to ignore…

Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf

Originally recorded in 2002, and rerecorded in 2006 for the B-sides and rarities compilation album Sawdust, Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf acts as the chronological beginning to the Murder Trilogy.

It’s very different in sound to JWAFOM and Midnight Show, more closely resembling Smile Like You Mean It or Believe Me Natalie. A garage rock song, it’s also reminiscent of stuff by the Dandy Warhols to me – very conversational in tone and lyrics.

Shaking like the Devil when she lets me go
Got a new place, and how it’s so much better
Falling over myself, the television’s on
I turn it off and smile
“Oh Jennifer, you know I always tried”
Before you say goodbye

Leave the bourbon on the shelf

Our narrator is in a terrible state. We find out later on in the song he believes Jenny has been cheating on him with another man, which causes him to breakdown and fall into a drunken stupor.

Darling don’t you see I’m not satisfied
Until I hold you tight
Give me one more chance tonight
And I swear I’ll make it right

The continued use of “held tight” is continued on in JWAFOM and Midnight Show – it’s how he ends up killing her – strangulation. Has Jenny actually cheated on him though, or is it, Mr. Brightside style, all in his head?

Jennifer, tell me where I stand
And who’s that boy holding your hand?
Oh, Jennifer, you know I always tried
Before you say goodbye

He knows the relationship is doomed, but he can’t help but still feel an attraction to her and a fondness. His feelings of love and jealousy mix dangerously, and he decides if he can’t have her, nobody can.

Leave the bourbon on the shelf
And I’ll drink it by myself
And I never liked your hair
Or those people that you lie with
But I’m not satisfied until I hold you tight

He won’t be satisfied truly, until she’s dead, hoping it stops her from haunting his memories. Back to Midnight Show, however.

Midnight Show is immediately different in tone to Bourbon as it starts, with some synthesizers and fast beat. It’s as ruthlessly an efficient a song as our narrator is with his plans to murder Jenny. He knows what he’s come to do.

I know what you want
I’m gonna take you a midnight show tonight
If you can keep a secret
I got a blanket in the back seat on my mind

And a little place that sits beneath the sky
She turned her face to speak but no-one heard her cry

What Jenny thinks is just a parked car scenario for sex is really all part of the narrators plan. To lure her into a false sense of security and make her scream – not out of pleasure however.

Make it go away without a word
But promise me you’ll stay and fix these things I’ve heard

A crashing tide can’t hide a guilty girl
With jealous hearts that start with gloss and curls
I took my baby’s breath beneath the chandelier
Of stars in atmosphere and watched her disappear

The two pre-choruses in the song sums up the struggle in the mind of the narrator. He thinks he could make all his suffering just disappear by killing her, letting it go away “without a word”, or try and give Jenny a chance to defend herself from accusations she doesn’t even know exist. He’s so fixed on it being true that she’s cheated on him nothing else matters.

If you can keep a secret
Well, baby, I can keep it if you can keep a secret
If you can keep a secret, I can keep a secret
If you can keep a secret
Well, baby, I can keep it if you can keep a secret

The outro to Midnight Show is our narrator’s remarks to her corpse. A darkly humorous ending to the song.

Everything Will Be Alright

Rarely played live, Everything Will Be Alright is the final track of Hot Fuss in almost all versions of the album. A sombre song which feels like a homage to songs like A Night Like This by The Cure, and Waiting For the Night by Depeche Mode.

Very minimalist with lyrics, the chorus is repeated throughout the song (the longest on the album as well). It’s an uplifting message for dark times, born out of struggles. Everything will be alright… eventually, our narrator tells himself.

I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night
Wrong until you make it right
And I won’t forget you
At least I’ll try and run, and run tonight

The idea of the song continues a theme from earlier in the album, developing feelings for the idea of someone and becoming in love with the concept of being in love.

I wasn’t shopping for a doll
To say the least, I thought I’d seen them all
But then you took me by surprise
I’m dreaming ’bout those dreamy eyes
I never knew, I never knew
So take your suitcase, ’cause I don’t mind
And baby doll, I meant it every time
You don’t need to compromise
I’m dreaming ’bout those dreamy eyes
I never knew, I never knew but it’s alright, alright

A lot of Hot Fuss is about this idea of falling in love with people easily, and knowing you do it to yourself but being unable to help. Everything Will Be Alright acts as a coda to the themes of the album, and particularly of songs like Mr. Brightside and Change Your Mind. A tragic tale of growing up and learning about yourself, your relationships, and life.

Hot Fuss is a really personally hitting album to me. In my high school years, Mr. Brightside was my anthem. It wasn’t until much later that I started realising why it hit home so much for me.

Finding out who you are as a teenager and growing up is incredibly difficult. Harder and harder as we become more reliant on social media and technology as major aids in our life. I don’t envy those who are becoming teenagers in the midst of the current world climate, but I offer to them to find solace in creativity and art.

I struggle to believe I’d be who I am without Hot Fuss and the guidance of The Killers’ music. They’re as much a part of me as my flesh and bones. It’s comfort music. I hope it does similar for other people.

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