R.E.M.'s Shiny Happy Sentiment
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"Shiny Happy People"
R.E.M. had plenty of reasons to feel joyous when this buoyant song and accompanying video emerged in 1991. Out Of Time, the GRAMMY-winning album from which "Shiny Happy People" emerged, was a smash hit and the first-ever No. 1 album for the band, who debuted with their critically acclaimed Murmur LP in 1983. It was clear that the members of the Athens, Ga., band were no longer just alternative rock hipsters, but full-fledged stars.
In their early days, the quartet — drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and frontman Michael Stipe — was known for their jangly Byrds-influenced folk rock that was both melodic and a bit melancholy at times. Stipe's vague vocalizing and intriguing lyrics tended to leave fans in search of meaning and definition. However, "Shiny Happy People" proved to be a rather atypical R.E.M. track in its unironic projection of celebration and good cheer. It's a sensibility that is fully captured in the song's sunshiny video, which features Stipe and guest vocalist Kate Pierson of the B-52's. The pair sing and dance animatedly in front of a brightly painted backdrop detailing various scenic images. The other three members of the band also play merrily with the scenes ultimately morphing into a robust dance party with numerous young people joining the festivities. There are a few brief scenes showcasing an older man riding a stationary bicycle. Ultimately, he too is invited to join the dance party, which is now rounded out by a group of "shiny happy people" representing all ages and ethnicities — an uplifting show of cross-generational community building.
It is fitting that both Stipe and Pierson share vocals on "Shiny Happy People" as both were representatives of the influential Athens rock scene. The B-52's were new wave trailblazers in the late '70s and early '80s, while R.E.M. spearheaded an alternative rock revival in the '80s. As punk and alternative rock became more mainstream, both bands would score hit albums. The B-52's' 1989 release Cosmic Thing climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and generated two Top 5 singles with "Love Shack" and "Roam." The songs "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion" helped Out Of Time become R.E.M.'s biggest-selling album up to that point. The album earned the group their first six GRAMMY nominations in 1991, an impressive debut, including three wins for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal and Best Music Video — Short Form for "Losing My Religion."
R.E.M. went on to release several albums that reached the Top 10, including Monster (1994), New Adventures In Hi-Fi (1996), Up (1998), Reveal (2001), Accelerate (2008), and, the group's final studio album, 2011's Collapse Into Now. The band ran "out of time" so to speak in September 2011 when they announced that after 30 years they were calling it quits.
"To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band," said the band via their website. "We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening."
Part of the shiny happy group — Buck and Mills — were spotted at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, in March, joining Blitzen Trapper and members of Big Star for a performance in tribute to the late Alex Chilton.
Are you a shiny happy person? Leave us a comment.