For a while, Mike Shinoda had known that longtime Linkin Park fans would have an emotional experience listening to “Lost” for the first time, from the moment they heard Chester Bennington’s tidal wave of a voice crash down onto the previously unreleased headbanger. Recorded during the sessions for the band’s 2003 sophomore album Meteora, the haunting hard-rock anthem represents the rare demo featuring Bennington’s completed, mixed lead vocals – a long-standing request from the band’s active online community for new music featuring the late lead singer, which Shinoda and his bandmates were thrilled to finally meet.
More surprising to Shinoda: the many, many other listeners who connected with “Lost.” Upon its February release, the single blew up on social media, provoked several YouTube reaction clips, racked up millions of streams and became Linkin Park’s biggest Hot 100 hit in over a decade.
“I felt like it would connect well with fans that were around back then,” the Linkin Park co-frontman tells Billboard in early March. “I didn’t expect it to, like, trend on TikTok!”
“Lost” streaked to a No. 38 debut on the Hot 100 chart in February, marking the band’s best showing since 2012 and first top 40 hit since Bennington passed away in 2017. Its success not only speaks to Linkin Park’s enduring cross-generational appeal, but the continued interest in one of the band’s most fruitful album eras. Following the group’s mega-selling 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory, Meteora also moved millions of copies and spun off more hit singles – “Numb,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “Faint” and “Breaking the Habit” all became Hot 100 hits and long-running alt-rock radio staples – while expanding Linkin Park’s hard-rock palette to incorporate more incisive lyricism and adventurous production choices.
The Meteora 20th Anniversary Edition, due out on Friday (Apr. 7) through Warner Records, is designed to offer a comprehensive exploration of that period. Linkin Park released a 20th anniversary edition of Hybrid Theory in 2020, but this box set is “a different animal,” says Shinoda – mostly due to how much more material had been archived during the creation of the band’s sophomore album compared to their debut, when they were still winding their way towards a rap-rock breakthrough.
“In the era of Hybrid Theory, we were just kids in our bedrooms – we didn’t save stuff, we weren’t filming anything, video footage wasn’t a thing,” Shinoda explains. “The Hybrid Theory [reissue] did so well, everybody loved it so much, and we decided that we’d look into doing one for Meteora. And, immediately, we found so much good stuff.”
That includes six unreleased demos, led by “Lost” and the sharp-edged rap showcase “Fighting Myself,” which hit streaming services last month; three DVDs’ worth of previously unreleased concerts, including sets in Seoul, Manila, Denver and Philadelphia; behind-the-scenes footage of the band crafting Meteora while touring the world behind Hybrid Theory, including a candid, rollicking documentary titled Work in Progress; and an expansive 40-page book, among other physical collectibles. Shinoda says that the vault is now empty on the band’s second album, no stone unturned, so listeners should savor every inch of this sprawling return.
It’s a treasure trove for diehard fans, but the crown jewel remains “Lost.” Bennington’s penchant for fragile verse melodies and scorched arena choruses is distilled into three minutes and change of soft-loud catharsis, with the electronic-leaning production and pummeling guitar coalescing as the song title escapes his mouth with fury and grace.
Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson tells Billboard that, when he listened to “Lost” for the first time in 20 years, “I was really taken aback, both by the song and particularly by Chester’s vocal performance. It’s just so beautiful and raw and stunning.”
When the band finalized the 13-song track list for Meteora 20 years ago, Shinoda explains, “Lost” was the very last song to miss the cut. “The only reason that it didn’t make it onto the album was because it had the same energy as ‘Numb,’” he says of “Lost,” which had been fully mixed in 2003 and was ready to be mastered before it was dropped off the album. “We were like, ‘Oh, we can’t have two “Numb”s on the album, let’s save this for later.’ And then I guess we left it on a hard drive and forgot about it!”
Two decades later, streaming and radio programmers have belatedly embraced the single: “Lost” has earned 25.7 million on-demand official U.S. streams through March 30, according to Luminate, and has logged seven weeks at No. 1 so far on Billboard‘s Hot Hard Rock Songs chart, as well as seven weeks and counting at No. 1 on Rock & Alternative Airplay.
It’s a real, unearthed hit for Linkin Park – and between “Lost” taking off and the impending Meteora box set release, the band members are reliving a pivotal moment in their evolution. “There’s a natural interplay for me, in terms of memory and emotion,” says Delson. “It’s just brought me back to a really unique time.”
Shinoda remembers getting a note from a label rep near the end of their first album cycle, telling the band that Hybrid Theory had been the best-selling album on the planet in 2001. He and the rest of his bandmates – all in their early twenties – couldn’t comprehend the news: “We were like, ‘What does that even mean? That’s ridiculous!’”
After all, Hybrid Theory – which became a commercial behemoth following its October 2000 release thanks to genre-blurring smashes like “In the End,” “One Step Closer” and “Crawling” – represented an outlier as a diamond-selling metal project. With 4.81 million copies sold during 2001, it’s the last time a rock album, and the only time a hard rock album, was Luminate’s year-end top album since it began tracking music sales in 1991. “If you put it in today’s terms,” Shinoda continues, “imagine being told, ‘Your record is bigger than Adele and Drake and Dua Lipa and Post Malone, and everyone.’ We’re just kids from the suburbs of Los Angeles. I lived in my parents’ house not too long ago!’”
Hybrid Theory remains one of the biggest debut albums of all time – 13.58 million equivalent album units to date, with 11 million in sales, according to Luminate. But Delson says that such mind-boggling success created “a tremendous amount of pressure” for Bennington, Shinoda, bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, drummer Rob Bourdon and DJ Joe Hahn to deliver a worthy follow-up. “The joke is like, you have your whole life to make your first album, and you have three weeks to make your second,” Delson says with a laugh.
Linkin Park’s first album was brimming with hits and the world wanted more… but since the group was touring relentlessly behind their debut, they had to start hammering out new song ideas on the road, recording in their tiny studio in the back of their tour bus before linking back up with Hybrid Theory producer Don Gilmore for the follow-up album.
Because the band members were logging so much time on the road together – Shinoda estimates that they were playing 300 shows in the span of 365 days – the proximity helped all six members better understand each other’s creative impulses. Bennington had only joined the band in the spring of 1999, and while Shinoda says that they were still working through their dynamic as co-frontman throughout the creation of Hybrid Theory, their endless touring schedule brought them closer.
“We were living and breathing every minute together, which is a lot,” Shinoda says. “But when it was time to get in the studio, or when we were writing the songs, we were definitely really synchronized.”
Bennington and Shinoda finding a better rhythm and feeding off each other’s energy is emblematic of Linkin Park’s evolution on their second album – the band doesn’t try to reinvent their sound on Meteora, but sharpens it with stronger chemistry and more confident ideas. Lead single “Somewhere I Belong” refines the interplay between Bennington’s singing and Shinoda’s rapping, while the bursting strings of “Faint,” the electronica undertones of “Breaking the Habit” and the menacing waltz time signature of “From the Inside” all capture a band refusing to be pigeonholed as a rap-rock flash-in-the-pan. Meanwhile, the album delves deeper into the mental health issues and internal conflicts – depression, anxiety, anger and hope – at the heart of Hybrid Theory, made universal through Bennington and Shinoda’s respective voices.
“Numb,” the gutting sing-along which closes out Meteora, peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100, and has arguably become Linkin Park’s signature hit over the past 20 years. (“The other week, I got the Spotify plaque for a billion streams,” Shinoda says of the song). Of course, “Numb” has also endured as one-half of “Numb/Encore,” from the Jay-Z/Linkin Park collaborative album Collision Course that the band released with the rap icon in 2004, which also became a top 20 hit. “[The song’s] other dimension is ‘Numb/Encore,’” says Delson. “You could love just one. However, I think about them in tandem.”
Ultimately, Meteora became another retail juggernaut for the band, with 8.55 million equivalent album units to date and 6.49 million in sales. Yet Linkin Park judged the success of their second album not by copies sold, charting singles or mash-up hits, but by how well it functioned as a succinct, effective artistic statement. It’s the reason why the band made the long-awaited follow-up to Hybrid Theory only 36 minutes long, despite coming in the age of severe CD-era bloat – and why they had so much fun recently rummaging through the Meteora archives.
“We always wanted an album to be a complete thought,” says Delson. “And we wanted to leave people wanting more.”
A few weeks after the release of “Lost” and a few weeks before the release of Meteora 20th Anniversary Edition, Shinoda is visiting New York City for an entirely different project. He’s in town for the premiere week of Scream VI, after contributing a pair of songs to the slasher hit’s soundtrack: the Demi Lovato single “Still Alive,” which Shinoda produced and co-wrote with the pop star, and his own song, “In My Head,” featuring Kailee Morgue.
Throughout his time with Linkin Park, Shinoda has hopscotched between the band, other collaborations and individual endeavors, although following his 2018 solo album Post Traumatic, which reflected upon Bennington’s tragic death at the age of 41 the previous year, his output of proper releases slowed down. “I had been doing writing and production for other people for a while, almost two years,” Shinoda explains. “A lot of those songs went nowhere – sometimes because they maybe weren’t that great, sometimes because the artist just wasn’t feeling how they were fitting in with their material. And I was getting pretty discouraged. I made some demos just for fun, just to get out of my head, and I got the bug to make my own stuff again. It felt really good.”
Around the end of last year, as Shinoda and the rest of the group were wrapping up work on the Meteora box set, the producers of the Scream franchise came to him with an opportunity to contribute a song to the latest film. Shinoda connected with Lovato, who gravitated toward his demo for “Still Alive,” while the Scream producers also liked a demo for “In My Head” that had been gradually morphing into a Shinoda vocal track – so they grabbed both songs.
“With Demi and [co-writer] Laura Veltz, we turned it into this badass empowerment song,” Shinoda says of “Still Alive,” “while my song’s very different, more about intrusive thoughts and paranoia and second-guessing.” Although there’s no timetable on the release of more material with Shinoda as a vocalist, he’s enjoyed the recent process of stretching himself in the studio alongside other artists, and expects to score more credits soon.
“Since I have been working with so many different artists, writers and producers in the last few years, I’ve picked up a bunch of tools and perspectives,” he adds. “I feel reinvigorated. I feel like I’m a better writer than I was a few years ago, which is a good feeling.”
For Shinoda, the process of tinkering with new songs coincided with the experience of revisiting an album created during a formative period in his life alongside the band mates that grew up alongside him. He describes the process of putting together the Hybrid Theory box set in 2020 “a little bittersweet,” three years removed from Bennington’s passing.
The Meteora 20th anniversary felt more free-wheeling, with the band members meeting in person or over Zoom, swapping stories and reacting to revived demos. Shinoda laughs when recounting how Farrell filled him in on watching some of the Work In Progress documentary with his family – the bassist’s kids mercilessly clowning on the band’s hairstyles, outfits and general witticisms.
Delson says that the fact that the band made an album worth revisiting 20 years later – for anyone, much less their millions of fans – is something he doesn’t take for granted. “Our goal was always to make a timeless album,” he says. “I give my band mates all the credit in the world for delivering the pure, emotional fiber that people love, and relate to, and make their own.”
“Our feelings center around gratitude,” says Shinoda of this moment. “They center around bringing back to life the joy we had, and the nervousness — you know, all of the feelings that came with putting out our second album.”