A Chump’s Silver Jubilee: Reckoning With a Quarter-Century of Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other

25 years ago, Fred Durst, Wes Borland, DJ Lethal, John Otto and Sam Rivers did it all for the nookie, changing nu-metal forever and giving the genre an apex never reached again.

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A Chump’s Silver Jubilee: Reckoning With a Quarter-Century of Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other

Growing up in the Midwest in the early-aughts was the epitome of a convergence of weird, perpendicular and strange worlds. Butt rock was infiltrating my father’s iPod Nano; high schoolers I idolized were caught in-between the righteous, chaotic, dichotomous influx of pop-punk and gangsta rap that was washing over the music zeitgeist. JNCO jeans had left the building, but kids with frosted tips still moseyed around in ankle-hugging shorts—AND1 or otherwise. Everything that flooded the coasts didn’t reach Middle America until later, and existing at the turn of the millennium felt like stepping into a time capsule passed around like a spliff burned down to the nub. It’s why I had a pair of HitClips (which I stole from a buddy’s house while he was in the bathroom) in my childhood closet for years after they were discontinued, I’d imagine.

From what I remember, Limp Bizkit never caught on much in Ohio, at least not when they were at their most venerable. Nu-metal didn’t really shine around here until Linkin Park put out Meteora in 2003 (again, that regional lateness wins out, as the Agoura Hills breakouts had already gone bonkers on the Diamond-certified Hybrid Theory three years earlier). I probably encountered Limp Bizkit subconsciously while playing NHL Hitz 2002 on a friend’s PlayStation 2 (scratch that, it was likely the brief inclusion of “Just Like This” in one of the greatest films of my lifetime, Big Daddy); I didn’t know who Fred Durst really was until I went through an Eminem phase and saw the MC in Em’s music video for “The Real Slim Shady.” My friends and I used to sing Nickelback’s “Rockstar” on field trip bus rides but turned on the Alberta band as soon as we colored our palettes brighter. As far as I can recall, Limp Bizkit never even registered with my generation or the cultural runoff we found ourselves siphoning a voice out of in the first place.

By the time their commercial successes wore off after their Platinum-certified fourth album, Results May Very, the ripples were too weak for Limp Bizkit to infiltrate rural pockets of the country—or, at the very least, the place I grew up in, which always felt culturally sequestered and stuck in bygone eras lapped over and over and over again by an immeasurably quick, revolving-door kind of nomenclature. Sure, people here liked Durst and his band. But it never really felt like my hometown held any stock in the movement Limp Bizkit was galvanizing—which is a shame, because their sophomore album, Significant Other, would’ve done numbers here.

But Significant Other, which hit the shelves on June 22nd, 1999, blew shit up. It made Limp Bizkit’s debut album, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$, sound like it was written by suburbanites who didn’t place at their local talent show but thought they had “something to say.” Significant Other is exactly the kind of level-up you’d want out of a band threatening to detonate the mainstream. It sold 16 million copies, so clearly folks felt compelled to buy into what Limp Bizkit had to offer. The band had dropped a cover of George Michael’s “Faith” the previous October and it—paired with the talk surrounding Michael’s bathroom arrest in April of that year, the word-of-mouth buzz around Limp Bizkit’s live shows around California and guitarist Wes Borland’s penchant for donning absurd costumes every night—helped capture momentum that proved vital in showcasing how the five-piece weren’t just a diet version of Korn (the band that helped them score a record deal in the first place).

After the inaugural iteration of Korn’s Family Values Tour (which featured a bill of Korn, Ice Cube and Limp Bizkit, Orgy and Rammstein, if you can believe that) concluded in 1998, Durst, Borland, DJ Lethal, John Otto and Sam Rivers took to NRG Studios in North Hollywood in November 1998 to record their second album. Interscope urged the band to take it easy after the tour, but that wave of energy and intrigue circling the “Faith” cover was too undeniable. The sessions for Significant Other would last through February, with Terry Date (Pantera, White Zombies, Deftones) tapped to produce. When they made Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$, critics accused Durst’s lyrics of being misogynistic, so he retooled his storytelling approach on the next project and focused on being more “lyrically mature”—which meant he would still write vindictive songs about his ex-girlfriends, but he’d stop using the words “bitch” and “whore” all the time. Baby steps, supposedly.

Borland played a seven-string guitar for the first time on Significant Other, having scored an endorsement deal with Ibanez and given access to rare models of the company’s guitars, notably the RG7 CST. Durst and DJ Lethal experimented with their interests in rap music by bringing Method Man in to do vocals on “N 2 Gether Now,” while Gang Starr’s DJ Premier was brought in to produce the track. Wu-Tang Clan collaborator Mathematics also lent some additional arrangements, while Staind lead vocalist Aaron Lewis, Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis, MTV DJ Matt Pinfield, Stone Temple Pilots singer-songwriter Scott Weiland and Primus bassist Les Claypool were given guest features (all vocals and interludes) on the record, too. For a second offering from a band whose debut didn’t initially catch wind, Significant Other sported an all-star cast that feels terminally Y2K yet refreshingly confident—especially considering that, when they went on tour with Faith No More in 1997, the San Francisco band’s fans booed Limp Bizkit off the stage multiple times.

Significant Other yielded four singles: “Nookie,” “Re-Arranged,” “N 2 Gether Now” and “Break Stuff.” “Nookie” peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, while “Re-Arranged” went #1 on the Alternative Airplay chart. “Break Stuff” went Platinum in the UK but failed to crack the Top 10 of any Billboard chart. But Significant Other soared to #1 on the Billboard 200 and finished at #9 on the year-end chart. It was a Top 10 album in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and the UK, too—going 19x Platinum across the globe.

Critics were mostly onboard with Limp Bizkit’s nu-metal stylings, too. Rolling Stone was especially hip to their second LP, giving the record 3.5/5 stars. NME hated it, so did Robert Christgau. The LA Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and The Independent rode for the record. Pitchfork didn’t review Significant Other, as nu-metal was likely far too mainstream or off-putting or beneath them in 1999 (they were late to the party on Deftones; they didn’t review Toxicity until 2018; Korn has put out 12 albums since P4K’s formation but never scored a review from publication; Hybrid Theory got a review in 2020 once it was given an anniversary release; the list goes on and on, you get the point).

While nu-metal as a genre has not benefited from retrospect, despite JNCO jeans trying to make a comeback and Tech Decks becoming something of a coveted trinket in 2024, Limp Bizkit have, miraculously, lasted long enough to see their legacy circumvented. In some ways, Limp Bizkit are more revered now than they were in 1999. Between the two Woodstock ‘99 documentaries that hit streaming services in 2021 and the band’s general continued presence on the touring circuit, Durst and his bandmates have remained closer to the tip of the zeitgeist’s tongue than their contemporaries. You might not know what Korn are up to these days, but you’ve certainly heard about Fred Durst coming out on stage in his “Dad Vibes” wardrobe or trolling fans by wearing cowboy attire and talking in a southern accent during shows. The meme-ification of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water and the band’s name have kept them in the lexicon.

Perhaps being the butt of many, many jokes in the 2000s—and the meme-ification of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water and the band’s name—has clenched Limp Bizkit into a diamond and kept them in lexicon; maybe their music was always just good enough to last and we were naive. 10 years ago, Revolver called Significant Other “one of the great guilty pleasure hard-rock albums of all time,” and I say fuck that. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Own up to what you like. Thus, chant it with me: Significant Other is for the people—a transcendent, aggressive and downright gnarly buzzsaw of bitching and moaning. “Nookie,” despite its comical legacy (Borland suggested the title after seeing the word on the cover of a porno mag, after all), was still the song that broke the circuits and vaulted Limp Bizkit into the mainstream; the accompanying music video #1 on MTV’s Total Request Live six times between July and August of 1999. And “Just Like This” is rambunctiously menacing in all the right ways; “Do you wanna catch the vibe that’s keeping me alive?” sounds like a battle cry for the ages, as does the “Music is key, it’s the way we’re set free from all this world is throwing at me” chorus.

When I’m in the car with my friends and I’m on aux duty, sometimes I add “Break Stuff” into the queue, if only because it makes for a masterful energy realignment. You can’t deny the “it’s all about the he says/she says bullshit” chorus or Borland’s instantly-recognizable opening riff or Durst yelling “it’s just one of those days” in the kind of nasally, strained cadence that’d get your ass stuffed into a locker if the wrong guy heard it. Limp Bizkit were queening out before the rest of us even went conscious, and “Damn right, I’m a maniac” hits differently now that the angry, privileged, poser white kids who made the song a biblical text have long been out of the nu-metal game, having sold their souls to corporate America or receded into sewers of suburbia where they belong. “Break Stuff” can now be co-opted by its rightful audience: the dorks, weirdos and queers who’ve been overshadowed by the shills. Fuck the shills, stick it up your (yeah!).

Nothing has become more emblematic of Significant Other’s impact on Y2K music history more than Limp Bizkit’s ill-fated set at Woodstock ‘99 on July 24th. The band was, sensically, using the festival to promote the album, but the dominating demographics of those in attendance (namely: white kids between the ages of 17 and 21) proved to be a cursed, hostile and apathetic crowd of listeners. Artists were getting pelted with water bottles; Alanis Morissette’s set concluded with fans booing her and chanting Limp Bizkit’s name, as they were awaiting the band’s set later that afternoon.

Woodstock ‘99 was a disgrace from day one, though numerous attendees have retrospectively championed the weekend-long festival in the years since. It’s hard to overlook the violence—the crowds chanting “show your tits” while Sheryl Crow performed; the Offspring’s vocalist Dexter Holland getting blasted with a glass beer bottle during the band’s set and then, later, calling out the men in the crowd for groping and assaulting women around them; the dozens of reports of sexual assault and the dozens of cases that likely went unreported; the fires that erupted across the festival grounds after anti-gun violence activists passed out candles for a planned vigil for the Columbine shooting victims. Woodstock ‘99 was held at the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York (100 miles away from the original Woodstock site in Bethel). More than 200,000 people were in attendance, and much of the grounds were set up on tarmac that, in the heat of July, proved to be blistering and destructive (temps soared as high as 100°F). Three people died during the weekend, including David DeRosia, who passed away from heat stroke-induced hypothermia. On top of that, vendors upcharged food and water, and water fountains quickly were tempered by busted plumbing and overflowing porta-potties. USA Today likened Woodstock ‘99 to “a concentration camp.”

Limp Bizkit’s set at Woodstock ‘99 is considered to have been the catalyst for the onslaught of violence and vandalism that plagued the final 36 hours of the festival. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the late Verne Troyer, who played Mini Me in the Austin Powers franchise, was bequeathed the responsibility of introducing Limp Bizkit that day. 1999 was something else.) By the time Limp Bizkit graced the stage, the crowd was destroying site structures, moshing against each other violently and using the remnants of those destroyed structures to crowd-surf. Organizers asked Durst to say something to the fans; during “9 Teen 90 Nine,” he asked them to “mellow out a little bit.” “They say too many people are getting hurt,” Durst continued. “Don’t let anybody get hurt, but I don’t think you should mellow out. Mellowing out? That’s what Alanis Morissette had you motherfuckers do. If someone falls, pick ‘em up.” If you watch either of the recent documentaries about the festival—Max’s Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage or Netflix’s Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99—they both highlight Limp Bizkit’s set and how the thousands of drunk, exhausted, mid-no-sleep-bender, dehydrated, overheated and angry fans knocked the door to the festival’s lawlessness clean off the hinges across the hour Durst and the band spent onstage.

Let’s rewind a few minutes to when Bassist Sam Rivers walked out in front of Durst with both middle fingers extended at the crowd. If there was ever a proper thesis statement for the weekend, that would be a picture-perfect example. Durst stood before a quarter of a million people and, as their shepherd stomping on the crumbs of Morissette’s preceding set, doused the entire day in kerosene and didn’t hesitate to strike a match. Check the footage of Limp Bizkit’s performance and you’ll be met by shots of a miles-deep ocean of bodies jumping up and down in unison. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying all at once—a good sketch of what one of the most popular bands in the country (at the time) could do in the company of a pre-internet-obsessed crowd of hungry, restless and identity-less people. “Bunch of crazy motherfuckers out there,” Durst says into the mic between songs. Tip of the iceberg, my friend. Woodstock ‘99 neglected its patrons until it became a pressure cooker; Limp Bizkit performing when they did was like putting a grenade in the hands of men who knew, if they pulled that pin, their popularity might have become entangled with infamy, but that’d they’d live on forever all the same.

Limp Bizkit pulled the pin during “Break Stuff.” Durst delivered a monologue that has outlived most of the festival’s performances, where he said: “Time to reach deep down inside and take all that negative energy and let that shit out of your fucking system. You got girl problems? You got boy problems? You got parent problems? You got boss problems? You got job problems? You got a problem with me? You got a problem with yourself? It’s time to take all that negative energy and put it the fuck out!” And maybe you already know what happened next, or maybe you don’t. They called that mosh pit “the Alamo,” muted Durst’s mic while medical staff evacuated injured fans and stage techs abandoned their posts. While performing “Nookie,” Durst offered a commentary on what unraveled before him: “We already let all the negative energy out. It’s time to reach down and bring that positive energy to this motherfucker. It’s time to let yourself go right now, ‘cause there are no motherfuckin’ rules out there.” It was too late—Limp Bizkit had just given a decimated vibe the soundtrack of a lifetime.

Woodstock ‘99 co-organizer (and certifiable shitheel) John Scher vilified Limp Bizkit—Durst, especially—for the chaos that ensued during the band’s set (and the rest of the weekend). For years, despite the successes of Significant Other, that reputation and blame followed Durst and the band. In an interview after the festival, Durst claimed he didn’t see anyone getting hurt. “You don’t see that,” he continued. “When you’re looking out on a sea of people and the stage is 20 feet in the air and you’re performing, and you’re feeling your music, how do they expect us to see something band going on?” At the end of the day, the id won out. The id kicked in and the id kicked out.

But placing the blame for Woodstock ‘99’s disastrous final day-and-a-half on one band is exactly the kind of thing people like John Scher do. They refuse to see how their corner-cutting crafted a hotbed for violence and unrest and, rather than take accountability for not hiring real security or setting reasonable prices for food and water, they pin the failures on somebody else. John Scher claimed that Durst “could have quieted [the crowd] down in a minute,” but that he was “enjoying” the chaos unfurling in front of him; John Scher doesn’t know what the hell he’s on about. At the end of the day, one man in baggy pants and a backwards Yankees cap who’s holding a microphone cannot quell the tantrums of 250,000 people. He simply cannot. But Limp Bizkit are still beloved 25 years after the organizers of one of the most recognizable festivals in music history labeled Fred Durst “a moron.” No one gives a fuck about John Scher, but so many of us give a couple of fucks about Fred Durst. Life’s strange and poetic like that, ain’t it?

Woodstock ‘99, in retrospect, feels like a pretty sound representation for what American culture was like at the turn of the new millennium: It was a vacuum-packed microcosm of hedonistic white people slowly being boiled to death and starved of sleep, water and a decent place to go to the bathroom. Where emcees were warning concert-goers about that dreaded “brown acid” at the original Woodstock, the 1999 version of it was someone standing on stage after Limp Bizkit’s set, pleading that “we have a really serious situation out there” after multiple fights, rapes and vandalism occurred post-“Break Stuff.”

The festival’s lineup put an emphasis on the heavier bands courting the mainstream, like Limp Bizkit, Korn, Insane Clown Posse and Metallica, and those heavier bands attracted a nihilistic type of fan—one that embodied a macho, angsty, frat bro persona heightened by a mob-mentality culture becoming more desensitized by the growing violence of life and the consumable, widespread media accessibility surrounding them. Woodstock ‘99 hit just as the decade was winding down, and it was an era defined by riots, slut-shaming, extremism and a major murder trial with a verdict watched by 150 million people. Don’t believe everything you see in the movies; the tragedy of the American teenager in the late 1990s fostered a cynicism in young Gen-Xers and older Millennials who had no identity and were free-falling toward a century turn conceived as “the end of the world.” It wasn’t all Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. The real world was far more merciless, especially toward young women—and Woodstock ’99 perpetrated that hatred (the festival’s official website posted pictures of topless women in the crowds with captions like “show your tits” and “nice pair”), even if only a fraction of those in attendance were at fault for doing so.

When Woodstock ‘99 happened, the United States was in-between two wars on terror and misery was cyclical and ruthless (same as it ever was, to be honest). Put kids in a bubble in Upstate New York and task them with surviving for three days on $4 water (which would be about $7 nowadays) unavoidable heat burning their feet with every step, campgrounds tainted by sewage running off from nearby restrooms and food prices that skyrocketed as resources thinned, and the ending practically writes itself. It was a lost generation left to wade through the muck, mud and piss of Woodstock and mosh and trash to music that was the antithesis of peace, love and harmony. It was swaths of fans disinterested in any kind of unity and far more concerned with unsupervised partying, met only by organizers who believed they could recreate the exact feelings, celebrations and legacy of a 30-year-old historical moment and, after they failed to capture such a dated sense of oneness, pointed fingers at everyone but themselves. “Delusion” is the word that comes to mind.

Put any heavy band in Limp Bizkit’s Saturday night slot and the same explosion still happens. The mouthpiece just changes shape. Reviewing one of the band’s shows in 1997, the Hartford Courant wrote that “seeing some twentysomething kid sputter and curse about his problems just isn’t very shocking—or very interesting.” It was that kind of attitude that, I’d argue, speaks greatly to why Limp Bizkit’s music caught fire like it did, and why Limp Bizkit’s music was likely a net-negative for American music culture in 1999. Give that sputtering and cursing kid a #1 record and 250,000 people who probably bought it, and, well, you’re going to have 250,001 people sputtering and cursing about their problems, too. The troubling part is that the destruction of Woodstock ’99 came with little closure, especially for those who were the victims in the numerous reports of assault and rape in the mosh pits, at campsites and in a van near the rave hanger. Out of all of the cases of sexual assault that were reported, only eight were investigated and just one person was charged with a crime. The 2021 documentaries sought to provide context to a reputation soured deeply by a dangerous micro-populous of bad people, but an episode on a streaming service can’t heal wounds like that.

Now it’s 2024, and Significant Other is celebrating its silver jubilee. I came to Limp Bizkit quite late (more than 10 years after their three-year hiatus in the mid-aughts, to be exact, and long before I knew anything about Woodstock ’99), and I’m not going to sit here and try to argue that nu-metal still holds water or is due for a much-needed renaissance (it’s not), though Deftones are having a moment with Zoomers (albeit it’s their more shoegaze-oriented stuff rather than the thrashing early stuff). But what can be said about songs like “Break Stuff” and “Nobody Like You” is that they don’t sound nearly as dated as nu-metal’s long-past expiration date may have once suggested they would. They’ve aged neither gracefully nor poorly; you can hear just exactly how the distortion and the animosity and the debasement influenced the next 10, 15 years of rap metal and alt-rock. Though nu-metal has started and stalled and started again regularly since the genre stopped headlining festivals (though Limp Bizkit has made their rounds at global iterations of Lollapalooza recently, including in Chile in March), we don’t really need another Significant Other. One is plenty.

But hindsight has been refreshingly kind to Limp Bizkit. Significant Other sounds like it’s about to overdose on testosterone with every crushing melody that passes by and yet, Fred Durst has very quietly turned into a pretty likable dude who enjoys putting on a fun little outfit and trolling his audiences while still sounding just as tight as he did in 1999. And, as a non-binary person, it meant a lot to me to see him have a role in Jane Schoenbrun’s new film, I Saw the TV Glow. You don’t take that kind of role if you’re not at least a little bit cool. And people are still as all-in on Limp Bizkit now as they were 20 years ago, hence why the band’s set at Download Festival in England drew in one of the biggest crowds of the entire event. The mosh pits are less malicious and more communal, and a track like “Break Stuff” has finally found the cathartic purpose Durst might have once hoped it would when he asked 250,000 people to take their negative energy and “put it the fuck out.” It took more than two decades for Limp Bizkit’s magnum opus to really register in a harmonious way. Perhaps that is just a measurement of its target demographic growing up, or maybe it means a new, more tender and welcoming demographic has reclaimed it. Maybe having Limp Bizkit play Woodstock ‘99 did make sense, but it just happened 25 years too soon.

Significant Other doesn’t have the top-to-bottom splendors of a modern-masterpiece, but it’s that one nu-metal record that has stood the test of time, if only because its makers have proven that the toxic environments and attitudes that fueled its creation are nothing but bygone elements now no longer requisites for that said material’s successes. But don’t get it twisted, it’s an album that made an imprint on the state of the then-current makeup of rock ‘n’ roll, for better or for worse. I’ve loved this record for years and, slowly, the rest of the heavy music-loving world is admitting how much they agree.

Limp Bizkit’s OG audience are all adults now, and many of them likely have kids of their own. You can find them all at gigs, as the band still tours around the world and is reaching new listeners as if it’s 2001 and nu-metal hasn’t lost a step. Borland still dons the most alien costumes imaginable, and TikTok FYPs are reinvigorated by clips of the band’s off-the-beaten-path, passionate live sets. As Limp Bizkit put it 25 years ago, we’re in a world where “actions speak louder than words.” So let Significant Other be a lesson in how problematic music can have merit if you continue to consider its influence, impact and life-expectancy with the nuance required to refine those offensive and abrasive corners into something constructive and worth revisiting over and over. Never stop questioning the intentions of the music that makes you dance and expel your demons—the rewards are far greater than you could ever imagine. For many, this weekend marks a celebration of a game-changing piece of post-grunge America’s identity crisis. We’ll post our favorite songs online and reshare our favorite clips of Fred Durst kicking up a fuss at a gig while sporting a fu-manchu mustache and red-tinted aviators, if only because we all did find our voices eventually. For everyone else, I guess it’ll just be one of those days.

Matt Mitchell is Paste’s music editor, reporting from their home in Northeast Ohio.

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