Linkin Park pose with the GRAMMY for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 44th Annual GRAMMY Awards
Photo credit: LEE CELANO/AFP via Getty Images
What It Meant To Me Will Eventually Be A Memory: Linkin Park's 'Hybrid Theory' Turns 20
Back in August, nu-metal heroes Linkin Park released their first new song since the passing of lead singer Chester Bennington in 2017. The song, "She Couldn’t," is a lost B-side from their massive debut Hybrid Theory, which turns 20 this October 24. Built upon a minimalist trip-hop beat and a ghostly Mos Def sample, "She Couldn’t" sounds nothing like the album that came after. There are no crunching guitars, no screamed refrains—just a band in their infancy figuring out the depths of their sound.
Hearing Bennington's voice from out of the ether hits right in the gut. When he’s not screaming away his demons (of which he had many), he could be gentle and sincere. Hybrid Theory B-Side "My December" (not to mention its Reanimation remix "My
"There's some pretty pissed-off kids all over the world," Bennington told The Guardian back in 2001. "I think that's a good thing. Anger feeds change—more so than happiness, because I think when people become happy and comfortable they become lazy and melancholy. When there's a little bit of rage behind, you get motivated."
By the year 2000, Linkin Park had plenty to be angry about. Bennington—a troubled kid from Arizona—had just joined the band as a last-ditch attempt at a music career and a life outside of a cubicle. Meanwhile, vocalist/rapper Mike Shinoda, guitarist Brad Delson drummer Rob Bourdon, bassist Dave "Phoenix" Pharrell and DJ Joe Hahn, had spent the better part of the '90s in the L.A. suburbs trying to get their music project off the ground with little success. The band had big plans to change the world, but the world wasn’t ready for them.
Linkin Park eventually landed at Warner Bros, but the label didn’t know what to do with them. First, they wanted the band—who at the time was known as Xero—to change their name (which they did, twice). Then they wanted Shinoda to rap more like Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. When he declined, they wanted Shinoda out of the band and Bennington to be the star (to which Bennington told the folks at Warner Bros to go… well, you can probably guess). On top of all that, their producer Don Gilmore didn’t like any of their songs, and asked the band to rewrite the whole bunch. It’s a minor miracle that these songs ever saw the light of day, but against all odds, Linkin Park released what would be one of the most successful rock records in history—perhaps the last of its kind to take over the world.
It’s easy to forget that Hybrid Theory was a debut record. The rap-rock sound they were going for already sounded so fully realized. It wasn’t just hip-hop or grunge; there was metal in there, as well as bits of screamo and electronica. It sounded futuristic. These were carefully crafted pop songs hidden behind layers of guitars and turntable scratches—decidedly more genre-diverse than their nu-metal peers Korn, Slipknot and the aforementioned Limp Bizkit. With hooks for days, Hybrid Theory songs leaned more into Linkin Park's hip-hop influences, and reached for the heights of U2, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
And back to that voice. No disrespect to Mike Shinoda, who was an integral part of the band’s unique indebtedness to West Coast hip-hop, but without Bennington, songs like "By Myself," "With You" or "A Place For My Head" probably wouldn’t have had the same impact. The guy didn’t just yell these refrains, he shred them, as if his voice was on the cusp of tearing into pieces. So when Bennington yelled "SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!" on “One Step Closer,” you damn well paid attention. Meanwhile, underneath the theatrics lurked the aforementioned vulnerability looking for human connection.
And boy did it ever connect. Hybrid Theory debuted at number 29 in the U.S. Billboard 200, eventually peaking at number two. It sold 50,000 copies in its first week, and it has since sold roughly 11 million copies in the U.S. alone and around 30 million copies worldwide. As recently as September 11, 2020, it has officially gone 12x platinum. The track list for Hybrid Theory read like a greatest hits collection, because that’s exactly what it was. It produced four singles – "One Step Closer," "Papercut," "Crawling" and “In The End"—each one bigger than the last, the latter of which being the band’s biggest crossover hit at number two on the Billboard 200. And although they weren’t singles, album tracks "Points Of Authority" and "Runaway" made appearances on rock radio as well. The stats almost don’t seem real, but for a good while, Linkin Park really was the biggest band in the world.
It’s not hard to understand why kids connected with the music 20 years ago. For impressionable teens who grew up in the '90s and who were perhaps too young to appreciate grunge when it erupted, too embarrassed to openly enjoy teen pop staples like 'NSYNC or Britney Spears, or too chicken to buy The Marshall Mathers LP with the big "Parental Advisory” sticker on the front, Linkin Park arrived at the right time. This record was everything for millions of kids around the world at the start of the new millennium who needed a band to scream, cry and identify with.
Despite the magnitude of their success, Linkin Park were never quite destined to be the rock revival act you’d list next to fellow early aughts titans The Strokes or The White Stripes. And yet, the massive outpouring of love and tributes upon Chester Bennington’s death in 2017 reframes the band's long-term legacy. Artists, writers and fans flooded blogs and social media to share the impact the band had on their individual lives. There were stories about people whose lives were saved by the band’s music. That same year, a woman in Orlando used a Linkin Park lyric to save a man from jumping off a bridge. There was no hint of shame in these stories. These people weren’t speaking through layers of irony, or offering sheepish condolences for a lost guilty pleasure. These were heartfelt tributes from those same 30 million kids who screamed, cried and identified with every word Bennington and Shinoda sang on Hybrid Theory. These kids knew that Linkin Park was sincere all along. Most important, perhaps, it was proof that while many of us had since moved on through the musical gateway they provided, we always had a place in our hearts for Hybrid Theory and Linkin Park. Finally, we had found a band that was speaking with us, not to us, and in the end, that’s all that ever mattered.