Green Day’s “American Idiot” remains relevant in a turbulent time

The American Idiot album cover

Reprise Records

Aria Khalique and Shruthi Narayanan

Green Day’s “American Idiot” album, released in Sept. 2004, made a memorable statement about the political situation amidst the Iraq War. 15 years later, the album’s relevance endures in its critiques about the government and American culture.

Self-described as a “punk rock opera,” the concept album chronicles the story of Jesus of Suburbia, a young individual who attempts to cope with dead-end jobs, puppet presidents and other issues facing suburban citizens at the time. The album represents young individuals growing up in a turbulent time as a result of the Iraq War. With lyrics such as “I’m the son of rage and love” from the song “Jesus of Suburbia,’’ the album portrays many Americans’ mindsets as they struggled to choose between paths of love and hate at a time when mass media and the political administration were sending mixed signals. 

Today, many people find themselves still relating to the themes and concepts present in the album as a result of the current Trump administration and its policies. Many undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. their entire lives now find themselves isolated from everything they once knew. Their sentiment is similar to that of the main character of the album, Jesus of Suburbia, as he, too, could not recognize the world he was living in. 

Jesus of Suburbia refers to someone who lived in the U.S. during the early 2000s. The fact that people are experiencing similar emotions towards political policies 15 years after the album debuted demonstrates how its critiques of politics and mass media are still relevant today.

The title track of the album, “American Idiot,” claimed America to be “one nation controlled by the media.” This line references the one-sidedness of the media and how it manipulated Americans during the Iraq war. 

English teacher and Green Day fan Mr. Michael Morelli explains that the line holds equal weight today, given how polarizing the media is.

“The political right will say that the media is controlling the narrative,” Morelli said. “And they’re making all Republicans and the president look bad. Whenever you log onto social media, every post seems like [President Donald] Trump is bad. It’s bad. ”

The line explains how the media portrays certain people as villains. Given the amount of influence the media has on people today, anything the media publishes can exacerbate the political divide. Left-leaning media negatively represent Trump and other Republicans, while right-leaning media negatively represent many prominent Democrats. People who consume left-leaning media tend to have negative opinions of Republicans, while people who consume right-leaning media tend to have negative opinions of Democrats, showing that if the media negatively portrays someone, the people will do the same.

Although the album criticizes mass media for spreading intolerance throughout the country, it also deals with the idea of a political administration spreading hate. In their hit single “Holiday,” the band talks about a “flag wrapped around a score of men / A gag.” The line indicates how the political administration hurts citizens while justifying themselves using patriotic reasons. 

Morelli feels that the line demonstrates how now, people use being an American as a shield for consequences.

“People who say and do whatever they want… They don’t think about the consequences — they just wrap themselves in the flag to guard themselves by saying ‘I’m an American,’” he said.

Though the line was aimed at the Bush administration and its decision to fight the Iraq war, many feel the message applies equally today with the Trump administration’s policies on immigrants and minorities.

The album’s relevance to the current political climate puts the band in a unique position. Green Day has taken advantage of this by leading an anti-Trump chant whenever they play the album’s title track in concerts.

Morelli feels that this chant, which goes: “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA,” demonstrates the band’s strong distaste toward the current administration, applicable in today’s political and social climate.

“A lot of artists in general just don’t agree with the way the President conducts himself,” Morelli said.

The album’s forever-pertinent political message can still be seen through its fans. In July 2018, “American Idiot” hit no. 18 on the UK charts in anticipation of Trump’s then-impending visit. Starting from a single tweet, the protest quickly spread until actual results were found. British people adopted the song, originally written about George W. Bush, to protest Trump and his policies about immigration, refugees and much more. Trump’s visit was also accompanied by large protests in London, proving that the appearance of “American Idiot” on the chart was anything but a fluke. 

Although many artists release music with political undertones, it is uncommon that an album is still pertinent and popular more than a decade after its release. The rarity of this proves that “American Idiot” is still important and relevant in modern-day society as its political messages continue to impact people not just in the U.S., but around the world.

“It is really a testament to the rock opera status it has,” Morelli said.