Imagine Dragons Songs: "Radioactive" Meaning and Lyrics

Updated on April 21, 2016

The meaning behind the music

Confusion is everywhere, especially about Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive." The meaning of "Radioactive" has become a heated debate ever since the song hit the shelves. This confusion definitely comes from the subjectivity of the lyrics to "Radioactive," as the Imagine Dragons certainly left their fans to imagine what the meaning of this song could truly be.

Imagine Dragons "Radioacitve" featured on Night Visions album


Despite heated debates, only one interpretation of the song truly fits. The song depicts a person who was behind bars for such a long duration that they were release from prison in an unfamiliar "new age." A more poetic interpretation of the song could be that the song was mean to describe a futurist world, and a person experiencing this mystifying world for the very first time. This interpretation could certainly apply with "Radioactive's" use in the hit movie "The Host," which was based on the hit novel series about human assimilation by extraterrestrials. When you think about "Radioactive" from this perspective, it's easy to understand how trapping a person in an entirely morphed form controlled by parasites could be considered as living life in prison. However, then the lyric "I'm radioactive" doesn't really apply because the host does not involve radiation, it involves a parasitic infestation.

Hence, the realistic interpretation of the song would only make sense: being sentenced to living nearly life in prison, only to be released into a new world, where all one's loved one's are long gone and nothing has remained the same.

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Analyzing the song for the sake of the music itself

The first stanza of "Radioactive" describes a persons struggle or daily life in prison. With lyrics like "I wipe my brow, and I sweat my rust," it's easy to envision the hard, physical labor associated with being in prison. The lyric "I'm breathing in the chemicals" most likely refers to the prisoner taking a smoke break to deal with the stress of being in prison. When Imagine dragons mentions "I'm breaking in" they are probably trying to describe how prison will break a person in like a person breaks in a horse. "Shaping up" describes the process of probation; this would make sense, seeing how the lyric to follow is "then checking out on the prison bus," inferring that the person passed testing during a probation session. "This is it, the apocalypse" helps a listener to understand that the prisoner known the world is going to be very different after wasting away so many years of their life in captivity.

The remainder of "Radioactive," beyond the first and second stanza, describes the prisoners acceptance of the new world around them. Hence, "I'm waking up" and "Welcome to the new age" displays the prisoner coming to grips with the reality that the world will never be the same as it once was before prison.

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Considering that Imagine Dragons loves to reflect their song lyrics around their own troublesome life experiences, something as concrete as experiencing life in and out of prison would make the most sense as the meaning of "Radioactive." No one can really say if any of the band member of Imagine Dragons have ever been in that situation, but it's possible that Imagine Dragons's "Radioactive" was written about a friend whose life was forever changed by prison. Needless to say, Imagine Dragons lyrics are almost always focused around their own personal misfortunes. Correspondingly, most people would agree that living life in prison is enough to make anyone "Radioactive" or experience insanity.

Some of the most interesting lyrics out of the entire song, in my opinion, are "All systems go, the sun hasn't died. Deep in my bones, straight from inside." These lyrics would leave fans to believe that the "hope" or the "happiness" of the prison hasn't died with prison, that life does go on after an extremely difficult experience. Whether life is able to continue, is based solely on a person's perspective, and strength to continue; perhaps, this is the moral of the song, see that Imagine Dragons also aims to use the descriptions of their personal misfortunes for the benefit of their listeners. Imagine Dragons aims to help their fans learn from OPE (Other People's Example, pertaining to their mistakes/misfortunes) with their music, instead of having fans gain their own first-hand experience the hard way.

Imagine Dragons's "Radioactive" lyric video

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    • profile image


      6 weeks ago

      "Despite heated debate only one interpretation truly fits." What?????? Thats the dumbest thing ive ever heard. Im a musician and a songwriter myself and trust me; nobody knows what the song is about exactly except the person who wrote it. Plus, once a song out there and other people start listening to it, its becomes its own ever evolving thing.

    • profile image

      Warrior Poet 

      5 months ago

      I've always thought when hearing the lyrics, it reminded me of someone who has come out of favor with his people, or his social circle they were ones apart of and liked/respected by them.

      They are somewhat ostracized but still forced to be in the same place [s] as them [perhaps work or school, etc.].

      And where once they had been very friendly, even people who were apart of that circle, but don't think the ostracization of the person is 'fair', nonetheless give in to the social pressures of the others and despite that empathy for the person, they don't want to risk their own standing in the group and the consequences that may occur, if they give in to their empathy and reach to the ostracized person to console them.

      The 'Odd man out' as it were, and the loneliness and hurt feelings they may be enduring while not having the choice of still coming in contact with the group.

      Radioactive - Don't get too close or it may negatively effect you too.

      "The New Age" being the time after they became ostracized by the former group that the person was once a part of.

      That's how the lyrics always struck me as meaning at any rate.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      I believe it's a person that's gone through a lot of s*** and now he realize he's going through something else.. something spiritual he's having a wakening radioactive... he's moving forward getting ready for this new age

    • profile image

      Anita P. Sheppard 

      8 months ago

      this song makes me think of Cancer people tend to avoid you because of it.n. Cancer destroys your body the chemicals bring you back to a level of living. you go through your own trials and tribulations it sucks and every time I have a MRI or CAT SCAN I listen to this song a young gentleman going through cancer told me to listen well to this lyrics because when you have cancer your in oprison for live

    • profile image

      Del G 

      8 months ago

      I believe that the meaning of the song is the inmate dreams about getting free from his lifelong sentence in prison. But when he "wakes up" he tries to rack his brain and goes mentally insane, meaning he is put in an insane asylum and to the other people held captive there believe he is sourced with energy and the "Painting our faces red to fit right in" is telling them a story of how he got there and telling them the power he has and how they will get out.

    • profile image

      Franz Rogar 

      10 months ago

      I don't know why you complicate the explanation so much. KISS method: a person in jail gets free and, for the rest of the people, he's "radioactive" (they won't approach him).

    • profile image

      Ella o 

      10 months ago

      love this song I feel like it is for firefighting

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      love the song and it is about people who are in jail

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      The song is about a nuclear apocalypse.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      This about a life of a sexofender

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      Your interpretation yadda yaddas over the entire second verse. The lines about raising flags, donning clothes, and revolution don't really seem to fit the picture of a released prisoner to me.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      are u kiding me people

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      demons is a deep song

    • profile image


      20 months ago

      This song is about chemtrails and how they're poisoning us daily thru spray.

    • profile image

      Who Cares 

      22 months ago

      This song is about Baking a good cake that keeps u amped and wired on a sugar rush. And the possible things that could happen if caught.

    • profile image


      23 months ago

      I am 100% sure whoever wrote this song had just finished watching Prison Break and was inspired by it. First time I heard this song, I immediately thought of Prison Break. The "Radioactive" part of the song is referenced towards the end of the series when the main character electrocutes himself to break his wife out of prison in the very last episode.

      fan made the video: (not by me)... seems like other people agree with this theory.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      While these interpretations are deep and fascinating, you're all wrong... although I would never have guessed at the truth either, for what it's worth. According to a 3/4/2013 Associated Press article entitled "Rising in rock: Imagine Dragons making moves", and other interviews that year with Alex da Kid on signing Imagine Dragons, Radioactive and a number of other songs on this album were originally written as inspiration for Spiderman Turn Off the Dark. The problem was, they were just too good, so instead, Alex da Kid signed them, they scrubbed the Spider-Man bits off the songs, and made history instead. So yeah, puts a bit of a different spin on it, doesn't it?

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      The song is about the realization that the old way of life in which "he" thought he lived is completely destroyed and replaced "ash and dust". When a person realizes that the way they are accustomed to living was meant to keep them from knowing anything beyond that way of life, they become somewhat upset. (Upset? Heated? I'm Radioactive right now.) Breaking in is an odd choice of words for me but I think it really means catching up with the times and being up to speed, while "checking out of the prison bus" is a lot like "jumping off the bandwagon" just in a whole different wording. With "painted red to fit right in", well, when you think of the term "beneath the paint", you might come to the conclusion that all that is pretty on the outside may have conflicts within.

      Now personally, I realized this song after my mini-awakening, and I think the overall tone of the song is like saying, "Well now I know we've been living a lie. This is my journey from lala-land to reality. My reality check. You keep telling me the world is ending and this and that, and why I should be "this" way. But, now that I can see and grasp whats going on around me... I'm pissed. No... I'm radioactive and about to blow.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Its about hard drugs. Keep it simple. The best art comes from the most troubled souls

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Also, I feel like the drumming/stomping is such a prominent part of the song and represents a rising primal call to action.

      Btw, the songwriter describes this song as coming out of a long, dark time of depression and feeling a burning of new life, feeling alive with hope and possibility after a long time in a prison of despair.

      Shows how a song can have many meanings depending on the view.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The song is about awakening spiritually (the sun hasn't died, deep in my bones, straight from inside, I'm waking up) and to the corrupt realities of the world (I'm waking up to the ash and dust, the prison bus (slave system), and the apocalypse). It's also about transhumanism—breathing chemicals, sweating rust, feel it in my bones—"systems" grow (bio-computer-nanotech), radioactive. Painted red to fit in could be the new age of communist/fascist/one world control. The sun hasn't died could also be interpreted as "Son" as in the Spirit of Christ/God (or the Light of Consciousness) hasn't died—waking up to our salvation by stepping out of the prison bus through awareness of real world reality and not shrinking away from the apocalypse (corrupt control) but raising ones flag (strength/power of awareness) in revolution.

    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      I'm sorry but you're interpretations are wrong, although technically all musicians know that every song is subjective and may have different meanings for different people, depending on how they relate to it personally.

      What the song actually means is pretty obvious in my opinion. It's about the New Age movement and about how people are becoming spiritually enlightened - we have been enslaved in a system of governmental control (which is why Earth is commonly referred to as a prison planet) and the word apocalypse actually translates to the unveiling of previously hidden knowledge.

      The song is about becoming enlightened to the true nature of reality which is a phenomenon happening to people all over the globe. The word radioactive relates to the feeling of unconditional love that you get when you become enlightened and that unconditional love literally feels like electromagnetism when you experience it. The video itself is metaphorical, as just about every music video is. The cover of the EP also depicts this meaning.

      Think about it:

      "I'm waking up..." (spiritual enlightenment)

      "I sweat my rust..." (stepping out of the old and becoming renewed)

      "This is it, the apocalypse..." (the awakening)

      "I feel it in my bones..." (unconditional love... I feel it too!)

      "Welcome to the New Age..." (of love, light and truth)

      "It's a revolution I suppose..." (people are waking up, realizing what's been going on and are taking control)

    • Dano Gillette profile image

      Dano Gillette 

      4 years ago from Utah

      One of the best concerts I have ever seen. Really tells a lot about a band on how they perform live. Drums and beats in radioactive are just as good in person if not more amazing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am 100% sure whoever wrote this song had just finished watching Prison Break and was inspired by it. First time I heard this song, I immediately thought of Prison Break. The "Radioactive" part of the song is referenced towards the end of the series when the main character electrocutes himself to break his wife out of prison on the very last episode.

      fan made video: (not by me)... seems like other people agree with this theory.


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