The Killers contrast a mythic American dream with a darker, more depressing vision of U.S. life in their scathing new song “Land of the Free.” Frontman Brandon Flowers criticizes President Trump’s proposed border wall, institutional racism and the country’s failure to introduce substantial gun control reform.
The singer uses “the land of the free” as an ironic refrain, citing the injustices that seemingly shouldn’t occur in such a society. “When I go out in my car, I don’t think twice,” he sings over gospel-styled piano and grandiose backing vocals. “But if you’re the wrong color skin, you grow up looking over both your shoulders.” Later, he asks, “How many daughters, tell me how many sons, do we have to put in the ground before we just break down and face it? We’ve got a problem with guns.”
Toward the song’s climax, Flowers touches on Trump’s signature campaign promise. “Down at the border, they’re gonna put up a wall,” he sings. “Concrete and rebar steel beams/High enough to keep all those filthy hands off of our hopes and our dreams/People who just want the same things we do.”
Spike Lee directed the track’s arresting video, which highlights the struggles and resiliency of real-life migrant families near the U.S./Mexico border. The Killers gave the filmmaker full creative control for the clip, which he filmed over a few weeks toward the end of 2018.
In a Facebook statement about “Land of the Free” – the Killers’ first song since their fifth LP, 2017’s Wonderful, Wonderful – Flowers said the lyrics originated in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. “On December 14th, 2012, I woke up, unlocked my phone and, like so many others, saw the pleas to ‘Pray for Sandy Hook,'” he wrote. “The news was devastating. Heart-wrenching. A gut punch. But, sadly, not as shocking as it should have been. As a father I’ll never fully comprehend what that community and those parents went through. But my church upbringing taught me to mourn with those that mourn and I did it the best way that I knew how. I cried for those kids and teachers. I got on my knees and I prayed for those families.
“We dishonor our values, our ancestors and our heritage when we tear gas our brothers and sisters seeking asylum,” Flowers continued. “I see my family in the faces of these vulnerable people. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that my grandmother and her family immigrated from Lithuania to escape the U.S.S.R.’s oppression. They chose to leave everything they knew behind to come to America and work grueling jobs in dangerous coal mines, rather than endure tyranny at home.”
The singer echoed those sentiments in an interview with Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show, adding that he initially felt “inadequate” to write a song with such overt themes of social injustice.
“I think it’s a very important time right now,” he said. “And ‘enough was enough’ is basically where it comes from. It started in my mind around when Sandy Hook happened, and as a father how that affected me. And then it just started stacking up – things like Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, things like what’s happening at the wall. This stuff didn’t seem to be in harmony with the values that I believe my country was founded on. I would start the song and then I would put it away and I’d say, ‘I’m not the guy to do this,’ or I’d feel inadequate, waiting, somebody’s going to write this song. Then it just piled up … Las Vegas, Orlando, Parkland, and it just kept coming and I was just like, I have to get this out.”
In other Killers news, the group announced that they will perform at Elton John’s annual Academy Awards viewing party on February 24th. John and partner David Furnish host the party every year to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.