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Billboard Cover: Imagine Dragons on Being 'Atypical' Rock Stars, and Singer Dan Reynolds on His Depression Struggles and Conflicts With His Mormon Faith


At this year’s Grammys, during which artists from Katy Perry to Beyoncé sang earnest devotionals, Imagine Dragons staged a bold experiment in how to promote an album: They performed live in a four-minute TV ad for Target. Using 22 cameras, music video director Jonas Akerlund dramatically captured the band playing its soaring new single “Shots” in its entirety downtown in Las Vegas, the band’s hometown.

Put off by the overt, well, commercialism of the clip (which cost about $8 million in airtime), critics sniped at the group online. But Imagine Dragons – which memorably mashed up “Radioactive,” its breakthrough mega-hit and 2014’s best rock performance Grammy winner, with Kendrick Lamar’s “M.a.a.d. City” on the 2014 telecast – saw “Shots” leap from No. 99 to No. 26 on iTunes the next day. Interscope Geffen A&M vice chairman Steve Berman says, “We saw a big spike in preorders and awareness” for the group’s new album, Smoke + Mirrors (out Feb. 17).  

“We’re an atypical band,” says lead singer/
songwriter and founder Dan Reynolds, 27, a week before the Grammys. “We’re not tatted-up, trying to make a statement. The spirit of rock'n'roll is not that you’re living on the edge, that you’re a cokehead – those are just lifestyle choices.”

The most atypical thing about Imagine Dragons may be their towering success in an era where rock music struggles for a mass audience. (The name is an anagram of another name the group rejected, and now coyly refuse to divulge.) “Radioactive” sat on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-shattering 87 weeks, and the band’s 2012 debut, Night Visions, went double-platinum in the United States. Rock radio no longer makes careers. New bands that don’t appeal to a specific segment of fans – metalheads, say – need top 40 radio to truly blow up. Only one other rock band has produced as many top 40 hits (three) since 2010: Fun (who, as Billboard recently reported, may be disbanding). “We have guitars and drums and bass, so people call us a rock band,” says Reynolds. “But I love big, poppy melodies. And I’m not going to apologize for that.”

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