Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” Lyrics Meaning
Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” operates on a number of different levels, especially considering the historical depth displayed on the music video. But its main narrative is actually pretty simple.
The lyrics are narrated from the perspective of someone who is – for lack of a better work – penitent. Or put differently, from a moral standpoint meditating on his past actions which disturb him. Thus his current desire is to “clean this slate”, as in stop behaving the way he has before. That is to say he wants to start life anew, not only in terms of conducting himself differently but also in regards to being ‘forgiven’ for his past. Indeed to some extent, based on the lyrics of the chorus, you can say he’s looking for something along the lines of divine intervention in achieving the latter goal.
But as alluded to earlier, there is more to this song than what lies on the surface. As such, for instance, at the beginning, when Chester Bennington refers to “this farewell”, he is actually speaking to a transformation in style that Linkin Park themselves were going through at the time.
But for the most part this is once again a song of penitence. The singer looks back at ‘what he’s done’, and what he sees does not please him. Thus he wants to face the forthcoming days dedicated to not replicating the mistakes of the past. And this song can be seen as a first step in accomplishing such, as in the narrator having the courage to at least admit he has flaws and express a desire to change.
Music Video to “What I’ve Done”
As with some other Linkin Park song, the highly-cinematic music video to “What I’ve Done” was actually directed by the band’s DJ, Joe Hahn.
There is also an alternate video for the song that was made exclusively for Australian audiences. And that version stars Aussie media personality Emma Mullings.
“What I’ve Done” is a Call to Humanity
As alluded to earlier, the clip for “What I’ve Done” takes a historical, macrocosmic in terms of interpreting the song.
Some of the first footage displayed is actually derived from the Civil Rights Era, when African-Americans, in their quest for equal rights, were met with oft-deadly resistance. There is also a shoutout to rescue workers who risk life and limb in the name of saving the lives of others. A few shots of the other shots displayed were actually taken in the field of war, as well as images which deal with the subject of the environment being over-polluted. And along those same lines, we are then treated to glimpses of some endangered species. Then we have scenes where images of hunger are juxtaposed with those suggesting gluttony or an overabundance of food.
There are also segments depicting famous monuments, both of yesteryear and today.
Meaning of the Video
And the overall insinuation is that this video is indeed based on global issues. In fact all of the different clips featured throughout are from different locations and eras around the world. Moreover the video gives a shoutout to diverse influential historical figures such as, in chronologically order:
- Mother Theresa (1910-1997)
- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
- Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
- Fidel Castro (1926-2016)
- Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
- Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)
And what these personalities have in common is that half of them are considered to be the personification of brotherly love, progressive thought and freedom. However, the other half personify the exact opposite. So whereas most of the video is dedicated to scenes of harrowing aspects of reality such as racism, hunger, fascism, war, environmental degradation, drug addiction, terrorism and other tragedies, there are also scenes pointing to the ideas of rebirth, regeneration, renewal and loving your neighbor as yourself. Thus it can be said that Linkin Park wanted to present the good side of humanity as well as the bad.
And that once again brings us to how exactly the lyrical content of “What I’ve Done” coincides with the video itself. What the band is visually presenting to viewers can be described as a call to humanity. In other words, whereas the song takes a more personal approach to the idea of repentance, Linkin Park is calling on all of mankind, in light of the many deadly mistakes which have been made in the past, to also acknowledge these errors as such and accordingly strive for a better tomorrow. So in a roundabout way the music video can actually be viewed as a call to social activism so to speak. Or put differently, it is intentionally designed to shed light on sad events from the past and present, specifically within the insinuated context of encouraging viewers not to replicate them.
Release Date of “What I’ve Done”
This is the lead single from the band’s very successful third album, which goes by the title “Minutes to Midnight”. It was released as such by Warner Bros. Records on 2 April 2007.
“What I’ve Done” also made an appearance during that same year on the soundtrack to the action movie “Transformers”. In fact it served as the theme song to the multi-million dollar extravaganza.
Moreover, a live rendition of “What I’ve Done” can be found on Linkin Park’s 2008 project, “Road to Revolution: Live at Milton Keynes”. That particular rendition was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2010.
And the track is also featured in the 2011 videogame “Guitar Hero World Tour”.
Success of “What I’ve Done”
“What I’ve Done” has been certified quintuple-Platinum in the United States. In fact it is recognized as the best-selling single Linkin Park has ever dropped.
Indeed “What I’ve Done” has charted in over 20 countries, including making in onto the top 10 in over half of them. This also includes peaking at number 7 in America and number 6 in Britain. Furthermore, this hit actually went on to top the charts in Finland, Poland and Portugal.
In the years since its original release, “What I’ve Done” has popped up on music charts in 2012 (Germany), 2014 (Czech Republic) and 2017 (Hungary, Portugal and USA).
Who wrote “What I’ve Done”?
The writers of this hit song are the members of Linkin Park themselves. They are:
- Chester Bennington (1976-2017)
- Rob Bourdon
- Brad Delson
- Dave Farrell
- Joe Hahn
- Mike Shinoda
Shinoda also produced this global hit alongside American music icon Rick Rubin.