About the Song:
Tears for Fears broke through in the United States in 1985 with the #1 hits “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout” from their album Songs from the Big Chair. Their first album, 1983’s The Hurting, had little impact on U.S. soil, but was a chart-topper in the UK, propelled by three top-five hits, including “Mad World.”
Roland Orzabal wrote the song “about a depressed young person who feels out of place in this world.” SF Orzabal wanted to write a new wave song like Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” It was inspired by Arthur Janov, who wrote The Primal Scream, and his theories. The line “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” comes from the notion that dreams of intense experiences are best at releasing tension. WK Bandmate Curt Smith ended up handling lead vocals because, as he said, “It worked better with my voice because it’s more melancholic, darker.” SF
The song was revived in 2001 for the soundtrack to the film Donnie Darko. The director, Richard Kelly, commissioned television and film composer Michael Andrews to develop the score. Because of the project’s low budget, Andrews recorded all the instruments himself, but wanted vocals on at least one song. He tapped Gary Jules, a childhood friend with whom he’d worked in the Origin and the Greyboy Allstars. WK Tears for Fears was one of their favorite bands so they opted to record a stripped-down version of “Mad World.” Jules said, “I think it’s a really beautiful example of a person struggling with the fact that life is mad.” WK
The “slower and more melodic” SF version was more fitting to the somber lyrics, although some considered the original “upbeat dance tune by Tears for Fears” SF to be deliberately ironic. Jules said, “Every so often a song with just vocals, piano, and cello creeps up on you and says something about who you are, where you’re going which stops you in your tracks.” WK
Donnie Darko was well received by critics, but didn’t do well commercially. However, after its DVD release, it gained a cult following and demand grew for a single release of “Mad World.” It was released in late 2003 and it topped the UK charts. Orzabal said the cover reaching #1 was the proudest moment of his career. SF
The song had yet another comeback in 2020 during the coronavirus epidemic when people found themselves quarantined worldwide. Many musicians turned to in-home, intimate performances to reach out to fans and offer some entertainment and comfort. Curt Smith and his daughter Diva performed “Mad World” in a style more like the Andrews/Jules version and it went viral.
First posted 5/7/2020; last updated 12/27/2022.