Describing the way Imagine Dragons sounds is basically encapsulating popular music as a whole in 2018. Hip-hop runs in its veins, like it does in most aspects of our culture, dictating the way frontman Dan Reynolds delivers his verses even if his rhythms feels more like subconscious embedding than an overt choice. There are vague nods to electronic music that give the songs a chaotic texture while imbuing them with futuristic, or at least contemporary, flare. There’s pop music gloss that makes their sound a perfect fit for streaming, radio, and approximately 25% of all movie trailers released in the last five years. And, of course, there is the rock music core, that the band holds onto like the last bastions on a dying planet, entrenched in a fight where relevance and audience are hardly guaranteed.
And the weirdest part? They’re winning.
The first time I heard an Imagine Dragons song, though, my impression was quite different. I was driving to pick up a friend from LAX and “Demons” came on the radio. Imagine Dragons has already had a string of hits that somehow had escaped my immediate knowledge, but “Demons” immediately struck me as something that I rarely heard in commercial music. It sounded, well, Christian. Maybe it was the titular reference and bits about “kingdom come,” “sinners,” and “hell.” Naturally, as someone who stopped going to church regularly in 8th grade, I hated it.
Clearly, I wasn’t alone. Even from their earliest brushes with success, perhaps no contemporary musical project has been reviled to such an extent as Imagine Dragons. For every meekly flattering (though masterfully written) semi-defense of Imagine Dragons there are countless forums, threads, and reviews that would gleefully cast the band into its own smoldering breath.