Review Summary: An album that changed and empowered a generation of teenagers.
Objectively, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory
is not a very good album. The song structures are incredibly cookie-cutter, generally opting for the standard nu-metal and rap-metal formulae of rapping, singing, and screaming simple patterns over distorted power chords. The lyrics aren’t particularly impressive, either - they tend to deal vaguely with generic themes such as paranoia, fighting back against society, love lost, and the like. What’s more, there’s an omnipresent lack of creativity which mires the album in the muck of the nu-metal explosion of the early 2000s, seemingly nothing separating it from the rest of the distortion-laden bands of Linkin Park’s ilk. A review from British music magazine NME cites the band’s attempt at an “eclectic” sound “as reflective of the half-measures which permeate this Arizona quintet's debut album.” This excellent summary of the album leads to one essential question, though: why did it sell so well?
Because sell it did. Certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (500,000 units sold) within five weeks of its release, the album went on to sell approximately 100,000 copies every week for years after its release, eventually becoming one of only dozens of albums ever certified diamond by the RIAA (10 million units sold). People everywhere loved it. Teenagers blasted the singles on the radio. Mothers, noticing the conspicuous lack of the devastating “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker, were happy to purchase the album for their kids. Everyone went home happy, despite the seeming lack of musical content needed to justify the album’s RIAA certification.
I think I have a pretty good idea of why the album sold so well and continues to fly off the shelves. Not too long ago, after all, I was part of the target demographic. I was your average middle-school outcast, and I needed something to provide an escape from the apathy I felt towards nearly everything. I didn’t have the social grace to navigate the treacherous terrain of the awkward early teenage years, as someone who spent his elementary school years talking about Pokemon and playing Gamecube instead of learning how to talk to people. I don’t really know what the cause was, but the end result was my isolation, rejected as one of the outcasts and losers of seventh grade.
Honestly, what probably kept me out of the “cool” cliques was other people’s perception of me rather than something I actually did. In sixth grade, my dad passed away after an uphill battle against brain cancer, and just like that my fate in middle school was set. I wasn’t just your average kid anymore; I was the kid whose dad died. People didn’t want to talk to me for fear of having a difficult conversation, and I, reeling from the shock of a parent’s death, was perfectly happy to stay silent. It felt better to keep my feelings inside back then, after all. I didn’t want to talk, so no one listened, and the vicious cycle continued until I was lagging behind in terms of social skills.
provided the escape. I felt so horribly alone during those early teenage years, and I thought that no one else could feel the way I did - empty, jagged, jaded, cold. Coincidentally, I was starting to tire of the radio, and had started looking for some other sources of music, music which would mean something to me instead of being whatever crap Kiss 108 was spewing out. Hearing those wonderful distorted power chords for the first time was wonderful. I glommed on to the music, seeing it as a gigantic, multi-platinum middle finger to the pop conglomerates. The lyrics reinforced my ideas even further: never before had I heard such violently misanthropic imagery in music, and Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda spoke to me in a way nothing really had before.
More importantly, though, it showed me that other people felt the way I did. Quite simply, I needed Hybrid Theory
to come into my life - it was angst, it was solidarity, it was important. It represented what I felt so well, and it came as a blessing for me to see that I wasn’t alone in my miserable pre-high-school years. It also acted as a gateway into the world of music. Without it, I would never have realized my passion for all things musical. I didn’t know music could speak volumes to me until Hybrid Theory
, and discovering it prompted me to find other kinds of music, the stuff that would give me a window into the lives of so many others. At its purest, music is a form of people-watching for me: I can see how others treat the world in demeanor, speech, and thoughts, and learn that many people see and hear the world close to how I do.
I guess the way Hybrid Theory
empowered me to take control of my social life is the most important facet of the album’s influence. I can’t really tell if my first real foray into the world of high school interactions midway through freshman year was a direct cause of my hours spent listening to the album, but what I know is that sometime during the waning phase of my Linkin Park obsession I stepped back and decided that the people like me which the band alluded to in their songwriting and lyrics were worth getting to know. I found that the only real way to get to know people was to actually talk to them, and as scary as that might have been to 15-year-old me, I jumped headlong into social interactions I was most certainly not prepared for. Of course, most of my inexperienced attempts to make new friends turned out fruitless, but the times I was able to spend with my companions, whiling away the hours laughing and chatting, made me more confident and encouraged me to keep trying to find the people I hoped to meet.
All that Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory
has done for me, I believe, makes the album deserve no less than the term “classic.” Objectively, of course, it’s not very creative or interesting. But, as Sputnikmusic writer Eli Kleman showed with a brilliantly satirical review of Lady Gaga’s recent album ARTPOP
in which he makes only totally factual statements about the album, what is objectivity if not subjectivity hidden behind the veils and shrouds of complex terminology and name-dropping? Going back to my initial question, the reason Hybrid Theory
sold - and continues to sell - so well is because so many teenagers, alienated from a society of peers who were like but not like enough, found solace in the power chords and screams of Linkin Park. It changed a generation of teenagers, and it meant so much to me that it’s only fair I give it the credit it’s earned.