There’s a term that many use for bands that essentially are popular and accessible. “Gateway” bands are usually considered those who open the listener up to a new world of music, relatively speaking. While the bands in question aren’t necessarily precluded by being commercially successful, it does happen quite often. For example, Metallica are surely the most popular and successful thrash metal band of all time, as their Black Album helped them cross over to a mainstream audience – while their peers never quite got there (though obviously, bands like Megadeth and Slayer garnered accolades of their own).
The same can probably be said about Linkin Park, too. For them, their 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory was also the rock anthem (a collection of them, really) for a generation – much like Nevermind was in the grunge era. One of the highest-selling albums of all time, the aptly titled album blended together various styles of rock, electronic, and hip-hop in a way that hadn’t quite been done before. It’s true that nu-metal had already reached mainstream status with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit (whose Chocolate Starfish album, released a week before HT, sold over a million copies in its first week of release). However, Linkin Park’s unique approach and obvious talent in all facets of the band, from their distinct lack of pretension to relatable lyrics and even the way they used the Internet to garner an initial fanbase, their rejections from almost every record label under the sun did not deter them from making a nuclear impact for all time.
By not fitting in anywhere, Linkin Park ironically fit in everywhere.
There’s a line in LP’s song “Dedicated” that proved eerily prophetic. Over a year before the band’s debut album was released, Linkin Park was already “dedicated to wherever music lives”. The band’s dedicated street team and supporters were active well before the record’s release, where the band frequently communicated with their established base by e-mail and in chatrooms. Similar to what Limp Bizkit did when they headlined a 2000 tour sponsored by file-sharing service Napster, the Internet and developing early social media made communication much easier in their early beginnings, and Linkin Park were that much ahead of their peers in that regard.
An underrated aspect of Linkin Park’s early material – specifically Hybrid Theory but also Meteora – was that their music contained no profanity. Always finding better ways to convey their lyrical anger and feelings than saying the f-word 48 times in a song, this trait endeared the band to their fans, who were quite often pre-teens to young adults during this tumultuous time period (especially yours truly, the writer). Combine that with huge events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a time of technology and social media growing rapidly, and Hybrid Theory provided the soundtrack to a tumultuous time period for many – with Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda the primary voices of the generation.
With pop sensibilities to balance out an abrasive sound, Linkin Park was successful because their brand was based on honesty. Honesty with themselves, and honesty with their burgeoning audience. Simply put, bands who aren’t honest with their fans don’t last – and quite obviously, Linkin Park’s fanbase is world-reaching in its influence. And that’s before you even talk about the music and lyrics, which were perfectly placed and set up for success. After years of being told “no”, over 27 million people worldwide said “yes” to Hybrid Theory.