Jimmy Eat World’s single “The Middle” was a great teen film compressed into an under-three-minute pop song. Lyrically, singer Jim Adkins’ message echoes what director John Hughes was telling teens in his heyday — you don’t fit in with the cool kids and you don’t play their games, but why should you? On your own, you’ll do great things.
Fittingly, the song’s music video is just like a coming-of-age flick: the fresh-faced protagonist (played by Josh Keleher) enters alone into the coolest party in town, which is “clothing optional.” Almost all the guests have taken advantage of that option, save for the band members themselves, who perform their hit in pants and short sleeve button-downs, just like they always do. Just as he’s tearing off his clothes, about to submit to the shirtless, suburban madness, our hero (conveniently) finds someone just like him. It doesn’t hurt that she looks a lot like Katie Holmes, either.
With the help of its iconic video — which made its rounds on “TRL” after its 2001 release — “The Middle” became Jimmy Eat World’s breakout hit, peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100 chart. Frontman Jim Adkins is just beginning the press cycle for the band’s eighth studio album, “Damage” (out June 11), but looked back with Billboard at the music video that introduced his band to the masses, in the latest edition of Pop Shop’s Remember The Time series.
Billboard: How did you come up with the concept for the video?
Adkins: It was pretty much all [director] Paul Fedor. It was a leap of trust to work with him, because it could’ve ended up… He tastefully told the story a little bit on the edge. But it could’ve gone really bad. We just had to trust him and it worked out.
I’m guessing the filming experience was pretty different than the ones you had for previous videos like “Rockstar” and “Lucky Denver Mint.”
Oh yeah. It was very different.
What was the vibe on set, with everyone in their underwear?
It was weird! (Laughs) I mean, it was fun. It did feel like a party when we were shooting the mimed performance, a crazy-ass party, dancing in a crowd with people all around. Insane! It was awkward for people at first, but after the first hour it became this normalized thing and people were just kicking it. … It was kind of hot that day, too.
And you were the only guys with clothes on.
We were the only guys with a trailer, too, so it kind of worked out for us that we had clothes.
Where’d they get the extras? Were any of them just your friends?
Yeah, there were friends of ours sprinkled throughout. I think the crew was mostly local and it was a really long day and everyone worked their asses off and it made it an awesome finished product that ended up getting played.
At that time, did you realize how much of a hit the song was becoming?
Not at all. I didn’t realize that until several months after, when we got done touring… like, ‘Damn, that blew up!’ That opened up so many doors for us. We got to go to the VMAs, which was surreal. That was the year Michael Jackson did his thank-you for the Lifetime Achievement Award. I saw that in person. Seriously, so weird. Guns N’ Roses played. That was odd.
Are there any other events from that time that stick out in your mind?
It was just bizarre, man. It was just something that I watched as a kid that was a huge deal. Seeing videos on MTV, the theatrical metal videos, was one of the reasons I wanted to play the guitar. The guitar-mania videos where you got the sword cruising around and people rocking; the Duran Duran wall of water pouring out of the jumbo-tron. All that stuff was like, ‘Whoa dude, rock ‘n roll!’ It was awesome. It was huge deal to be invited to spectate that world first-hand, and “The Middle” video got us there.
Do you have any plans for a music video off your upcoming album, “Damage”?
We’re working on that. I’ve resubmitted my idea about chicks in bikinis and uzis, but I don’t think it’s gotten much traction.
A little reprisal of “The Middle” there?
Yeah, “The Middle” gone awry.