The problems with Green Day’s ‘Kill the DJ’

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, center, with Mike Dirnt, left, and Tre Cool in the video for "Kill the DJ," which is not safe for work.
(Warner Bros. Records)

Green Day’s “Kill the DJ” starts promisingly enough. The choppy, stop-and-start guitars use the riff-as-groove in much the same way as the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven.” A little homage to Joe Strummer’s socio-political dance-rock anthem is never not warranted, especially during an election year, and the title of “Kill the DJ” holds the promise that Green Day is again entering the culture war, a battlefield it visited on 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown.”

“Kill the DJ,” the second video (adult content) from Green Day’s upcoming trilogy of albums, continues the bass-first approach used by the Clash as it unfolds, but the similarities soon evaporate. Strummer painted the picture of a sad sap stuck in an office cubicle and in desperate need of the revolution the Clash liked to promise was coming. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, on the other hand, drops some cursory nods to war and religion in the opening bars, but soon brings the imagery of waterboarding and torture straight into the dance club.

Yet, if the song is a metaphor, it isn’t a very well-developed one.

It’s all played rather straight. “I’ll pick up what’s left in the club,” Armstrong sings suspiciously, and the video released Tuesday doesn’t do much to present the song as a statement. Armstrong and his band stroll tiredly through a dance club while half-naked, neon-accessorized participants go nuts around them. When the club revelers start throwing punches at one another, any hope at a message is forever lost. If there’s an establishment Green Day is questioning, surely it’s more than one with a $20 cover and blue drinks?


So what, perhaps, does Armstrong have against DJs? Nothing, likely, and the song shouldn’t be seen as a takedown of the EDM-craze sweeping the nation. The band isn’t one for cheap genre shots, and Green Day rose to prominence during the last mainstream boon for DJ culture (see Moby, Fatboy Slim) without care for the movement. Also, “Kill the DJ” is a bit of a dance song in and of itself, therefore making it more trend-hopping than trend-tackling. Finally, Green Day’s embrace of Broadway on “American Idiot” and use of rock ‘n’ orchestra suites have long proven that the band has a love of musical adventurousness.

The most-quoted defense of the song comes from Armstrong’s Q&A; with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke. Asked who is the DJ Green Day wants to kill, Armstrong responded, “It’s about static and noise.” We’ve heard this before from Green Day. We’re living, the band sang on “21st Century Breakdown,” in “the Static Age,” and that song was a foaming-at-the-mouth guitar rant that everyone -- pundits, politicians, celebrities -- should stop babbling and shut up.

“Kill the DJ,” meanwhile, buries such a message. “We are the vultures,” Armstrong warns, and there’s bullets, fatal drownings and the oft-repeated chorus of “someone kill the DJ.” Again, it’s not about an actual DJ -- for real, promise. Armstrong told Rolling Stone that the song had political ambitions, inspired by how “this government cannot, will not, agree with itself. They refuse to make it work. Right, left -- it doesn’t matter.”

So what’s an artist to do except “write a song about being drunk, going through this chaos” Armstrong said in the same Rolling Stone interview? Well, the Clash wrote that song, too, but theirs, "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” was presented as a challenge, a disappointed survey of halfhearted musical attempts at rebellion that were little more than excuses to get drunk and get down.

Green Day wants the person who has the floor to disappear. The Clash, blissfully idealistic as the band may have been, simply wanted the person with control of the audience to have something to say. With a trilogy of albums on the horizon -- "¡Uno!” arrives on Sept. 25, while "¡Dos!” arrives Nov. 13 and "¡Tré!” will round out the threesome on Jan. 15. -- here’s hoping Green Day does more than simply add to the static.


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