PTSD treatment for military veterans doesn’t seem like an easy inspiration for a pop song. But that was indeed the impetus for Broke Royals’ new single, “Bad Chemicals,” and its accompanying video, premiering exclusively below.
The Washington D.C. group’s Philip Basnight tells Billboard that he got the idea for the song from reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, in which he documents biotech research into using Artificial Intelligence to help treat post-service trauma. “He talks about how the military and private sector companies are all working on PTSD treatments that are going to be fueled by Artificial Intelligence,” Basnight says. “Right now they’re working on a microchip you can put in somebody’s brain and monitor their levels and, in an ideal world, adjust (chemical) levels. Reading that, it all came together for me.” But if that conjures up images of AI going wrong, Basnight is quick to add that Broke Royals are just writing about the issue, not advocating it.
“We’re not casting any judgment with this song,” explains Basnight, whose grandfather, father and brother are all army veterans. “We want to create awareness. It’s happening, under the surface. AI is getting a lot of attention right now. It seems to be on a hot streak in the media. It’s really compelling for us. We consider it our role to ask questions, to provoke questions and tell a story that’s compelling and puts it in people’s minds.”
The video for “Bad Chemicals” focuses on a young war veteran’s AI-induced flashbacks about his sister, a fellow vet, who was killed in combat. Both actors are also military veterans, which Basnight says “is a really awesome touch, in our opinion. It makes everything more authentic when you know these are feelings and experiences they actually have.” The song is currently out as a single, while Broke Royals is working on a follow-up to its 2017 debut album, which is due out next spring.
“It’s sounding similar to what we did before,” Basnight says. “I think ‘Bad Chemicals’ is going to be one of the heavier tracks, thematically, on the album. There’s a lot of arena-ready rock, premium rock n’ roll. There’s definitely some synthetic elements, but a lot of heavy guitars, too, that we didn’t have on the first album, so we’re excited about that. We’re on the surface a pop band, but we like to make sure the guitars come through.”