Firebreathers: How Imagine Dragons Conquered Stadiums
Photos by Matt Eastin

The legend of Imagine Dragons lies in the band’s jump from playing clubs and theaters to selling out arenas in a single year from being signed to a record label. The feat stands in contrast to the baby steps that usually take place over the course of a decade before a major breakthrough shoves an artist in front of thousands of screaming fans.

But the band that formed in Provo, Utah in 2008, still paid their dues. Meeting at Brigham Young University (more commonly known as BYU), Dan Reynolds (now 35) started the band with some college classmates performing in smaller clubs scattered around campus. Over the years, the lineup changed to now include Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee and Daniel Platzman. Long before the guys thought of selling out stadiums, they were there for one thing: to make music that spoke to them. 

Over the past decade of rare success that kick-started with their inescapable 2012 hit, “Radioactive,”  the band has released a double album that maintains their original ethos of writing music from the heart. Mercury Acts 1 & 2, released in July 2021 and July 2022 respectively, finds Reynolds focusing on themes of loss and the long road to recovery. 

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Stadium Lights: Dan Reynolds soaks in the fans at Imagine Dragons’ May 4 show at Bell Centre in Montreal. Photos by Matt Eastin

Live Nation’s Omar Al-joulani has been promoting Imagine Dragons since 2012, when they did their first headlining tour in venues like House of Blues and the 1,200-capacity Irving Plaza. Less than a year later, the band was headlining arenas. Imagine Dragons’ catalog features massive rock anthems and quieter ballads, with the wild success of hits “Radioactive,” “Demons,” “Believer” and “Thunder” making Imagine Dragons the first group in music history to have achieved four diamond singles.

“Imagine Dragons is a rollercoaster ride of emotion,” Al-joulani explains of their sets. “From these big anthemic rock songs to these really significant sing-alongs. I just think it’s a perfect show, because it takes you on a real emotional journey through their songbook.” 

Their success doesn’t end at four diamond singles. Their “Evolve World Tour” ran from 2017 to 2019 and landed at No. 23 in Pollstar’s Year End Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart in 2018, grossing $67.4 million across 77 dates in 72 cities. 

The band kicked off the summer North American leg of their 2022-2023 “Mercury World Tour” at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Aug. 5, with the show selling 34,487 tickets and grossing $2.7 million according to Pollstar‘s Boxoffice. 

The North American run features a mix of amphitheaters, arenas and stadiums, with dates booked through a Sept. 15 show at Los Angeles’ Banc of California Stadium. In October the band heads to South America, followed by a few stadium days in South Africa in February. 

“I think this was the cycle for them,” Al-joulani says. “Where the plan was to go play bigger based on the success of the last cycle. I would say our plan has been consistent for the last five years, and 2022 was the year they were gonna go out and play larger venues, headlining the bigger festivals. So it’s always nice when your plan comes to fruition. I think it was just really exciting. They’re out playing the bigger shows of their career right now, which is really rewarding.” 

Agent Corrie Martin, EVP and managing executive at Wasserman Music, has been representing Imagine Dragons since before they were even signed. She met them back when they were playing Las Vegas casinos with a set featuring half covers and half originals. To see the band’s career skyrocket came far from a surprise to her.

“It’s fun to look back on the naysayers’ comments from that time period because so many people doubted the decisions we were making and it was such an unprecedented move to go from clubs to theaters to arenas on a cycle like that,” Martin tells Pollstar. “People really doubted that that was the right move, but clearly it paid off in the long run.”

The band has balanced their success with supporting good causes. Their Tyler Robinson Foundation sees all of the band members raising funds to support families whose children are battling cancer. 

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More than Believers: Wayne Sermon rocks out at Letnany Airport in Prague, Czechia, on May 30, 2022.

“It’s an incredible organization filling a real gap in care for pediatric cancer families by supporting them financially and emotionally as they deal with a diagnosis,” Imagine Dragons’ manager, Mac Reynolds, says. 

Dan Reynolds also started the LOVELOUD foundation in 2017 (see sidebar here) which helps provide support systems to LGBTQ+ youth raised in orthodox faiths and communities.

“Philanthropy and giving back and making a real impact on the world has been really important with them,” Al-joulani says. “We established the Tyler Robinson Foundation back in 2014, and then the work that’s gone into LOVELOUD is really important. It’s a real testament to Dan, Daniel, Ben and Wayne that not only are they commercially successful, artistically successful, they’ve also put a lot of time and effort, their own sweat and equity into building these great charitable endeavors.” 

With more than a decade of experience under their belts, Imagine Dragons has crafted a live show that’s fiercer than ever.

“This is a band that brings everything they’ve got into their live performance,” Martin says. “There’s no phoning it in, there’s no getting through the show. It is a moment where a fan can feel absolutely engaged and connected to what has become an incredible body of work. There are fantastic production moments mixed in with hit after hit, and emotion and true heartfelt connection with the band.” 

Al-joulani is also buzzing with excitement about the current run of dates. He, Martin and Reynolds have all been with the band since their early days. 

“I’m proudest of the fact that we’ve all kind of grown up together and been able to accomplish our business objectives with the band together,” Al-Joulani says. “I think that’s the most exciting part.”

From their early days in Provo to selling out stadiums across the globe, Imagine Dragons have kept consistent and true to themselves. 

“This band has always known what they wanted to accomplish and they set their goals high and they work in sync with their team to make those goals happen,” Martin says. 

Pollstar chatted with Reynolds to learn more.

Pollstar: What inspired your most recent album?
Dan Reynolds:
It’s split into two parts, Mercury Act One and Act Two. The first act is primarily focused on dealing with kind of grief and death and the shock of that. The second part is post. What happens after and how do you continue on in life and how does your outlook change? I know it sounds a little sad and morbid, but that’s really the focus of Mercury.

Well, especially after the past few years, I think a lot of people can relate to sad and morbid.
You know, I hope so. I think that’s the goal, right? Music is there to help us feel less alone. I always try to work from a more journaling approach. That seems to be the only way I know to write because it’s quite cathartic for me.

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Peace & Love: Ben McKee shows off his pink bass.

How has it felt to take these new songs out and be on the road for your first round of post-lockdown tour dates?
I think it’s been really good for everyone. The audience seems especially enthusiastic to be back in a live setting. You know, it’s when you take something away from everybody for so many years, that principle of distance makes the heart grow fonder. Everybody appreciates it more, everybody is more attentive. People are excited to come together and gather in groups and listen to live music again. And I’m reinvigorated as a performer to be on that stage. … I’m just excited to be back on stage. Excited to see people’s faces, their smiles, their eyes. To sing, to feel less divided. It’s very easy to feel as though we are all at such a far distance from each other because of the physical barriers that we’ve had over the last years and the emotional and political climate. Music is the great uniter. It helps you feel connected to humanity and that’s incredibly important.

Did it take you a while to find your footing, or were you ready to just jump right back in?
I thought it would take a while, but actually, the very first show it came back quite easily. I’ve done it for over a decade previous to COVID, so it’s ingrained in my DNA at this point. I almost feel more at ease and relaxed onstage than I do in normal life.

What’s something new fans can expect from your upcoming tour dates?
It’s a brand new show. It’s our first stadium tour, so we really upped the ante in all regards. It’s a bigger show. It’s a longer show. We have five-plus records at this point and EPs to get through, so it’s a very long set list. It’s certainly our most production value, which we’re trying to reach everyone, even in the farthest back part of the stadium. We arrange somewhere for two, two and a half hours. And that’s pushing me to my vocal limit, to be honest with you.

And back to your earlier days as a band, you managed to go from smaller venues to arenas in just one year. What was that experience like?
In some ways, it felt like a grind. We were three or four years unsigned before being signed. So we played a lot of small dive bar clubs and played on casino stages, doing 50% covers, 50% originals to make ends meet. So by the time we got signed, we’d been a band for four years. Then everything kind of did blow up within the next year, year and a half after that. But it started as large clubs and theaters, then arenas, and now stadiums.

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With the Thunder: Imagine Dragons’ Wayne Sermon and Dan Reynolds get down on stage.

Do you think that transitioning to arenas so quickly influenced your approach when it comes to the rest of your career and following tours?
I really don’t see it as that different for me. Any stage I’m on feels the same. To be honest, I really don’t perform differently when I’m on a stadium stage, as opposed to when I’m on a stage in front of 150 people. I always try and look at people, to look them in the eye instead of looking over them. That’s really important to me as an artist. It helps me stay connected, it helps me give a good show. One of the best pieces of advice I was given early in my career was it’s very easy as a performer to get in your zone and not really look at anybody. I think when you look at people in the eye, that’s what creates the magic and connection. And then there’s a ripple effect that reaches out to the people next to them, and the people next to them. I really try to go where I was when I wrote the song and then connect with the people that I can see with my eyes.

How are you incorporating your newer material with the band’s big hits in your setlist?
It’s a tricky dance because a two-and-a-half-hour show is already a really long show. It’s long for the crowd, it’s long for me. We certainly want to play all the hits, but we also want to play all the new material. We change up the set list almost every night, substituting things in and out. We’ll continue to do that. And you find the right balance of new material and old material through that process.

Are there any songs that you’ve written and performed that may or may not be one of your big hits, but is just a personal favorite you feel the need to sing each night?
Lately, we’ve been singing one of the songs off the new record called “I’m Happy,” which is kind of a deep cut on the record. It’s far back in, it’s not a single, but there’s something about the message of it that’s very now for me. It’s very easy for me to feel the emotions of the song as I start to sing it.