How Spontaneous Inspiration Supercharged “Faint” by Linkin Park

Although they were quickly lumped in with the nu-metal movement that made a lot of noise in the late 1990s into the early 2000s, California sextet Linkin Park were not considered part of that domain by some due to their integration of pop and hip-hop influences. They were a more distinctly commercial band, yet at the same time they explored a variety of styles that helped make them stand out from the pack. After their mega-selling debut album Hybrid Theory quickly turned into them international stars, they had the daunting task of following up with Meteora, an album that also went multi-Platinum and sold nearly as many copies worldwide. That’s a rare feat—a band’s first two albums reaching nearly 60 million in combined sales.

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One of Meteora’s standout songs was its second single “Faint,” a revved-up heavy rock track that contrasted sweeping strings and Mike Shinoda’s contemplative rapping in the verses with pummeling guitars and Chester Bennington’s anguished singing and screaming in the choruses, all underpinned by a dancing, syncopated groove from drummer Rob Bourdon. The track clocked in at under three minutes and played back and forth between the tension of contrasting the two main parts and a heavy breakdown in the middle. The lyrical message was succinct and pinpointed feelings of alienation and isolation, and the need for recognition and support from someone close. It’s a universal feeling a lot of fans understood.

I am a little bit of loneliness, a little bit of disregard
Handful of complaints, but I can’t help the fact that everyone can see these scars
I am what I want you to want, what I want you to feel
But it’s like, no matter what I do, I can’t convince you to just believe this is real

So I let go, watching you
Turn your back like you always do
Face away and pretend that I’m not
But I’ll be here ’cause you’re all that I got

I can’t feel the way I did before
Don’t turn your back on me, I won’t be ignored
Time won’t heal this damage anymore
Don’t turn your back on me, I won’t be ignored

A Troubled Figure

Bennington himself was a troubled figure who often talked about his struggles with mental health. Tragically, he committed suicide in 2017 by hanging himself at the young age of 41, leaving family, friends, and fans stunned. His close friend Chris Cornell had died the same way just two months earlier. Bennington was an emotionally wounded figure whom many fans connected to because of his honest and often raw lyrics.

“My whole life, I’ve just felt a little off and I find myself getting into these patterns of behavior or thought,” Bennington told Music Choice in 2017. “Especially when I’m stuck up here (points to head). I heard somebody say this once and it stuck with me, but this (pointing to his head) is a bad neighborhood and I should not go walking alone. Most of my problems are problems that I cause myself.”

Although “Faint” has a power that can immediately take hold of listeners, it took a little while for the right sonic balance to be reached. In an interview with Shoutweb from 2003, Shinoda talked about how guitarist Brad Delson brought in the guitar part, wanting to play it at somewhere around 70 beats per minute. As they programmed the drum tracks for a demo, Shonida wanted to double the temp to 140 beats per minute, which Delson was not thrilled with.

“First he argued with me and told me that it wasn’t supposed to be that,” Shinoda recalled. “Then I told him, ‘I know what you intended but I think this works.’ He listened to it and he totally changed his mind. I just heard something different when I first heard the part so that’s how this came about. ‘Faint’ was just a working title that we wanted to keep. I don’t know what the actual title would have been but it wasn’t that. That word doesn’t even appear in the song.”

Fixing “Faint”

As the band recorded songs for Meteora, something kept nagging at Shinoda. He felt that there could more to the power chords that drove the chorus of “Faint.” He felt like something bigger could happen, and as he was driving one day to NRG Recording Studios in North Hollywood, California, an epiphany hit him. He ran into the control room in excitement.

“You guys, can we open up ‘Faint’? I have an idea. I know how to fix it!” Shinoda recalled to L.A. radio DJs Booker and Stryker what he told his bandmates. “They’re like, ‘Ahh, we’re working on this other thing.’ Turn it off, shut it down! Turn on the guitars, give me the guitar!’ And I changed the power chords to octaves, so in the register of the song they moved way up in frequency and became like a melody. Then I put chords underneath it and opened up melody underneath Chester singing. Everything was already there, [but it] changed the whole thing. Then we recorded the bass—I think I did the bass as well. [We] listened to it and everyone was like, ‘Dude, what just happened to this song?’ We liked it. It was good.” But it got better and not only became Shinoda’s favorite song on the record, but one of the band’s most enduring hits.

A Lit Video

The video directed by Mark Romanek captured the volatile emotions within the song. A majority of the clip featured the band playing to a large audience, both sides backlit by a wall of 600 identical lights silhouetting everyone within. The band was mostly shot from behind in that setting. That look was inspired by an Alexander McQueen fashion presentation in 1993. At the end, the band and its crowd appear lit on a decaying urban set, almost as if the group has been performing all night and still going. The clip turned out to be the first one not directed by Linkin Park’s turntablist/keyboardist Joe Hahn (aka Mr. Hahn). Romanek felt flattered to be offered.

While “Faint” didn’t chart as high as many other Linkin Park singles, topping out at No. 48 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, it received a lot of airplay and sold a million copies in the U.S. The video was shown a lot on Fuse and MTV2, and the single reached No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock radio chart. It also went Top 40 in Australia, Austria, and Canada. The video has amassed 451 million views on YouTube and 678 million listens on Spotify.

The song’s immediacy and anxiety-laden chorus continue to enthrall listeners today. The song is a cry for recognition, about the need to be heard and seen, and Bennington’s performance certainly encapsulated that over the hard-driving music. And no one seems to care that the title has nothing do with the song.

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Photo by Roger Kisby/WireImage

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