Imagine Dragons has a peculiarly malleable brand: sorta positive, sorta spiritual. Sorta pop, sorta rock, sorta alternative, sorta rap. Thematically and stylistically, the quartet led by frontman Dan Reynolds is sorta difficult to nail down.
It’s an approach that’s apparently worked, as Imagine Dragons is one of very few rock acts that’s commercially visible and viable in a musical landscape where rock is pretty much dead (at least as far as chart success, sales and streams are concerned).
Imagine Dragons’ sorta-this, sorta-that amalgamation is apropos for its latest single, “Whatever It Takes.” The third release from the group’s forthcoming third studio album, Evolve, exemplifies these four guys’ willingness to do whatever is necessary to keep from becoming an irrelevant musical outlier.
Reynolds raps as much as he sings in “Whatever It Takes.” And the portrait he paints of the state of the world today is a grim one. “Everybody circling, it’s vulturous/Negative, nepotist,” he observes early on. “Everybody waiting for the fall of man/Everybody praying for the end of times.”
But despite the distant thunder rumbling through pseudo-apocalyptic clouds on the horizon (a setting we’ve seen over and over with this Mormon-influenced band), these guys aren’t cowering in fear or paralyzed by uncertainty about the future. Instead, it’s more like, “Bring it on!”
Reynolds’ response to our insecure age? “I was born to run, I was born for this.” Whatever obstacles he and his band might face, they’re simply challenges to be overcome: “‘Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins/I do whatever it takes/’Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains.”
Speaking of insecurity, though, Reynolds does admit that there was a time when feelings of inadequacy had a stronger grip on his identity. “Always had a fear of being typical/Looking at my body and feeling miserable/Always hanging on to the visual.”
But those feelings have now been replaced with confidence. “Working onto something that I’m proud of, out of the box/An epoxy to the world and the vision we’ve lost.” Reynolds hopes to be someone who’s influence is long-lasting, not simply a flash in the pan: “Don’t wanna be parenthetical, hypothetical.”
He also recognizes the paradox of being both broken and valuable at the same time: “I’m just a product of the system, a catastrophe/And yet a masterpiece, and yet I’m half diseased.” As the song nears its conclusion, he talks about dying with contentment and no regrets: “And when I am deceased/At least I go down to the grave and die happily/Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me.”
Elsewhere in the song, the band checks the “sorta spiritual” box again—with typical vagueness, I might add—when Reynolds rap-sings, “Looking at my years like a martyrdom/Everybody needs to be a part of ’em/Never be enough, I’m the prodigal son.”
Imagine Dragons songs often leave me pondering the old saw about a glass being either half full or half empty. The way someone would describe such a glass depends a lot on their perspective of reality.
Imagine Dragons offers a similar kind of thought experiment. On one hand, the group emphasizes perseverance, determination and grit. On the other hand, the group consistently describes our world as grim place and suggests that many, if not most, people are beaten down by it instead of beating the odds to become overcomers (as they obviously seem themselves).
I’d lean toward describing “Whatever It Takes” as a glass-half-full song. Maybe even a notch or two above that, actually. But I’d understand if someone thought it sorta sounded like the glass might be close to half empty, too.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.