“Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.

“Shiny Happy People” is one of those types of songs in which people who are familiar with it feel they already know what it’s about. And in this particular case, that would be an ideology based on individuals coexisting with each other happily and harmoniously. Indeed even the track’s music video features colorful, gregarious paintings which were created by kids.

History behind “Shiny Happy People”

But the reported history behind this song is quite interesting. The phrase “Shiny Happy People” is said to have been derived from a poster in China which was basically a piece of propaganda promoting the aforementioned ideals. The implication is that said poster was created by the Chinese government. Meanwhile the song itself came out just two years after the Tiananmen Square protests in China which officially resulted in the deaths of almost 300 people. So from that perspective, what the band actually appears to be doing is mocking the Chinese authorities by implying that they are hypocrites. In other words, they propagate a vision based on peace and harmony.  But then they turn around and massacre hundreds of their own citizens.

And overall if a listener really pays attention to the lyrics, even without this foreknowledge of the song’s origin, they may suspect that something is peculiar about the utopian vision presented. For instance, there is the mention of “gold and silver shine”, and monetary riches are not often applied to such society-wide idealistic portrayals. But it is also arguable, as commonly interpreted, that such an expression is rather a metaphor for the good feeling the vocalists are bigging up.


So perhaps the best way to describe “Shiny Happy People” is from two different perspectives. The artists themselves (at least to some degree) intended it to be a criticism of authoritative regimes who rule by force yet promote peace. But there is really nothing in the lyrics explicitly pointing to this idea. Rather they focus almost exclusively on people loving one another.  And R.E.M. would be wise enough to know that the mass audience would rather perceive it from that viewpoint.

Lyrics of "Shiny Happy People"

Music Video

R.E.M. utilized Katherine Dieckmann to helm the music video to “Shiny Happy People”. This was the same director who worked on the video to one of the band’s prior classics, 1988’s “Stand”.

Date of Release

R.E.M. released “Shiny Happy People” on the 6th of May 1991 as the second single from their 7th studio album. The album in question, which is titled “Out of Time”, also produced the band’s Grammy-winning hit “Losing My Religion“.

Success of “Shiny Happy People”

All things considered, “Shiny Happy People” can be called R.E.M.’s most-successful song. For instance, it is the only track from their heyday which was able to break the top 10 on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Moreover it charted in over 15 countries and in most cases performed likewise.

The success of this tune is interesting considering that it is a song which R.E.M. hates, that they even refused to play live. Moreover as time progressed, “Shiny Happy People” has been placed on a number ‘worst songs’ lists. For example, it was dubbed the “Wussiest Song of All Time” by AOL in 2006.

Writing Credits

This song was written by the individual members of R.E.M.. The official writing credits are therefore as follows:

  • Bill Berry
  • Peter Buck
  • Mike Mills
  • Michael Stipe

And the band in unison produced the tune in conjunction with Scott Litt.

Designed to be “Friends” Theme Song

This song was originally intended to serve as the theme song for the 1990s sitcom “Friends”. However, The Rembrandts’ Grammy-nominated song “I’ll Be There for You” was rather used for the sitcom.

Who is the female singer on “Shiny Happy People”?

“Shiny Happy People” features Kate Pierson, a singer who is known primarily as a member of a band called The B-52s. The B-52s and R.E.M. are both from a city in Georgia (USA) called Athens.

1 Response

  1. No Too Kow Tow says:

    this song should be used in conjunction with the covid protests in China. It would not only take the piss out of the idiots running the country it would fuel the vigour of the protesters, knowing that the pricks running the country would at best not realize or at worst think its complimentary.

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