21 Years Ago: 3 Doors Down Breakout With ‘The Better Life’
The year was 2000. Nu metal was taking over, pop-punk had a seat at the table and emo was just starting to emerge, but cutting through the glut of all the rock clutter came a straight-forward rock band from Mississippi delivering some of the year’s most memorable songs. On Feb. 8, 2000, 3 Doors Down released The Better Life album.
In a year where pop stars *N Sync, Britney Spears, superstar rapper Eminem and Carlos Santana’s all-star collaboration album Supernatural ruled the charts, upstart rockers 3 Doors Down finished 2000 with the 11th best selling album of the year. But the band’s story starts several years prior to that.
In their early years, 3 Doors Down started as a trio with singer Brad Arnold also serving as the band’s drummer, playing alongside guitarist Matt Roberts and bassist Todd Harrell. The lineup would grow after a couple of years of playing together with guitarist Chris Henderson joining the group. Deciding the time was right, they recorded an EP that included what would become their breakout single, “Kryptonite.”
The band had taken a liking to the song. Arnold wrote the track while he was still a 15-year-old high school student. The singer revealed that it came to him one day in math class. Speaking with SongFacts, he explained, "That's like the third or fourth song I ever wrote, like, period. That skippy little drumbeat was just me beating on my desk. That's the beat we almost played, too, just kind of drumming, just skipping along with it. And I was so bad in math. (laughs) I'm telling you. Thank God for the little dude in front of me. That dude deserves a credit on the album. (laughing) But my teacher knew I was not good, not paying attention, but he just kind of let me go."
After handing their CD to a local station, “Kryptonite” caught fire locally spending 15 week’s as the station’s most requested song. That success drew attention when the station contacted a rep from In De Goot Entertainment and a showcase was booked for the band at New York’s CBGB.
That In De Goot rep, Phin Daly, told HitQuarters, “Once they got on stage and started playing it was apparent the magic was in the music. So we moved to sign them.”
Though the group became a five-piece when it came time to support the album, Arnold actually remained on drums during recording for the set. The band signed with Universal / Republic and remained in New York to work on their debut album with producer Paul Ebersold.
To get the ball rolling on the upcoming record, the label released "Kryptonite" in January of 2000. Reflecting on the heady lyrical content, Arnold stated, "It's question is kind of a strange one. It's not just asking, 'If I fall down, will you be there for me?' Because it's easy to be there for someone when they're down. But it's not always easy to be there for somebody when they're doing good. And that's the question it's asking. It's like, 'If I go crazy, will you still call me Superman?' It's asking, 'If I'm down, will you still be there for me?' But at the same time, 'If I'm alive and well, will you be there holding my hand?' That's kind of asking, 'If I'm doing good, will you be there for me? Will you not be jealous of me?'"
He added, "That's something that's always stuck with me: every 15-year-old has those questions in their head. They might not know quite how to say it, or they might not feel like it's acceptable to say something. And the biggest thing that I've had as an artist is to be able to say something, and after I say it, it's okay."
Speaking with Loudwire in 2020, Arnold revealed the song has evolved for him over the years. "Back then, I kind of had to make up a meaning for it. Now I actually have a meaning for it. I’ve always said it’s about an unconditional friendship and it was, but I’ve seen that song be personified in certain situations where people are really happy to see you do good, but maybe just not better than them. I’d never really dealt with that then, but I’ve dealt with it a lot since then." He later added, "If you have a couple of real friends in your life that will still call you Superman, you’re doing good."
The listening audience sure connected with the track. Much like had happened when the band first hit the airwaves with it locally, "Kryptonite" became a monster hit. The accompanying Dean Karr-directed video featuring an aged superhero was all over MTV and radio in multiple formats latched on as well. "Kryptonite" spent nine weeks atop the Mainstream Rock Chart, eleven weeks at No. 1 for Modern Rock and even crossed over to the Hot 100 singles chart where it peaked at No. 3.
3 Doors Down, "Kryptonite"
But with that huge early success, the band faced a problem — albeit a good one — in that the song was arguably too popular. It was nearly half a year before 3 Doors Down were able to push forward with a second single. But what a single it was as "Loser" quickly showed that this was not a one-hit wonder situation.
In fact, "Loser" spent a chart record 21 weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Reflecting on that accomplishment with Loudwire, Arnold stated, "In hindsight, it’s cool. But even while it was doing that, I think it was No. 1 for like six months or something like that (editor's note: 21 weeks atop Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart), but yet we were still kind of focused on 'Kryptonite' being such a big song. That was so big that 'Loser' didn’t get the attention, but looking back now, you realize that it was a deal maker."
He continued, "Having a song as big as 'Kryptonite,' that can be the kiss of death. How many bands have a song like that that ever have anything else? Because a song like that can make your career, but can also make it impossible for you to ever live up to it again. Thank God that we had 'Loser,' and then 'Duck and Run' and 'Be Like That.' But 'Duck and Run' and 'Be Like That' would have never got the chance if 'Loser' hadn’t done that good."
Taking a darker tone, "Loser" was actually written by Arnold about one of his friends growing up who got mixed up with drugs. The singer clarified to SongFacts, "That song wasn't me calling him a loser, but it was how I think he viewed himself through the cloak of that drug. It's kind of like his own self doubt. And thankfully he's doing a lot better now. I get a lot of people that really can identify that song with their life in some way. And I think everybody feels like that every now and then."
3 Doors Down, "Loser"
With two giant singles, 3 Doors Down went even deeper with their debut album. "Duck and Run" became the band's third chart-topper on the Mainstream Rock Chart, spending three weeks at No. 1. Having seen their successes translate while touring, the band let the cameras roll on their live show giving fans a performance clip showing a bit of the crazy touring life now thrust upon them.
Reflecting on that time in their life, Arnold told Loudwire, "It was like a different lifetime and we were all, well I’ll use the word 'work' loosely, but we did so much back then. We were just doing everything for the first time. I’d never been out of Mississippi much. We’d never toured or anything before that [album], and that first album cycle was such a whirlwind and such a blessing."
"Looking back on it, I didn’t realize how volatile every moment was. We look back and man, that was dangerous," he says laughing. "How in the world did we get out of that alive? It was so much. It was like having a backstage pass to life. You just wind up in so many different places and situations with people that you just don’t normally find yourself in."
3 Doors Down, "Duck and Run"
Finishing out the singles from the debut album was "Be Like That," an uplifting mostly acoustic-led song with a positive message about following your dreams. Though it didn't achieve the success of its predecessors, the song did become the band's second crossover hit on the Hot 100 chart. The track got an extra boost when a re-recorded version was included in the film American Pie 2.
3 Doors Down, "Be Like That"
3 Doors Down definitely rode the wave of the album's success, touring extensively in support of the album and turning around the follow-up Away From the Sun in quick succession.
But while the band moved forward with their career, a lasting piece from the positivity of their debut carried over in an impactful way. Borrowing the title from their introductory record, the band launched The Better Life Foundation in 2004 with a mission to make a positive change in the lives of children and young adults near their home base. The group has continually held benefit concerts to help fund their efforts and they expanded their scope in 2005 to help out organizations providing support in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In the years since its release, 3 Doors Down's The Better Life album has been certified seven times platinum and was the 46th biggest selling album of the 2000s. The success didn't stop with The Better Life as 3 Doors Down continued to crank out hit records through the first two decades of the 21st century. But in a rock world filled with different styles of rock vying for supremacy, a straight-up rock band with good songs stood near the top of the heap in 2000.