When Linkin Park released Hybrid Theory 15 years ago this past Saturday, the nu-metal movement was already in full swing. The disaster of Woodstock ’99 had already happened, and fourth-graders everywhere were driving their teachers mad singing “Nookie” in class (or maybe that was just me). It had become to the predominant form of rock music in America, replacing grunge/alternative and, to a lesser extent, the short-lived swing revival. The one thing nu-metal had yet to do was cross over into the pop world. Until, that is, Linkin Park came in.
No matter how popular nu-metal was on rock radio, it seemed highly unlikely that it would have much crossover appeal. You couldn’t very well slide “Break Stuff” into the rotation alongside Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, could you? The swearing-and-violence aesthetic was a big part of how nu-metal found such a large audience, yet it was also the biggest thing keeping it from growing any further. Linkin Park, however, had the same angst and anger of their brethren, but in a way that conservative radio programmers would find a bit more palatable. The result was that Hybrid Theory launched several hits, had songs that were played on several radio formats, and became a sales juggernaut. At 27 million copies sold, it was the biggest-selling album of the 2000s.
When considering why Hybrid Theory was so popular, we can’t just chalk it up to the band’s relative cleanliness. No, the band had – and still has – a serious knack for writing pop hooks. Think of the singles from this album – “In the End,” “Crawling,” and “One Step Closer.” All of those songs have instantly memorable bridges and choruses. Even if you hate those songs, you remember them. Linkin Park has a funny way of sticking in your head, which is a huge part of why they’ve hung around for so long.
In 2003, they followed Hybrid Theory with Meteora, a fairly similar album, and another smash success. Once again, the band blended rap-rock angst with an incredible knack for pop sensibility. The one deviation from the previous record was the single “Breaking the Habit,” which was more of a straightforward techno-rock song, and was probably best known for its cool, anime-heavy video. Other than that, it was a lot of the same, and fans weren’t complaining. The band had found a formula that worked and they were sticking to it.