‘Bulletproof’: La Roux’s Defiant Anthem Still Resonates
For years, the song was ubiquitous on dance floors worldwide. It still hits.
“This time, baby / I’ll be bulletproof,” Elly Jackson sings defiantly on the chorus of La Roux’s 2009 smash hit, “Bulletproof.” It was the third single from the British electro-pop duo of Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid. Dropped on June 21, 2009, five days before their self-titled debut album, it became the biggest song of La Roux’s career. For at least two years, the song was ubiquitous on dance floors worldwide, and catapulted Jackson to pop star status, something she never quite settled into.
“It’s a relationship song about being fed up – fed up of treating myself like this, and of letting myself be treated like this. It’s saying I’m not going to do this anymore, or make the same mistakes anymore. It’s been very good for women who are just breaking up with men, or independent women. It’s like my Destiny’s Child song, I guess,” Jackson said in 2010.
Listen to La Roux’s “Bulletproof” now.
The biggest 2009 pop hits in the United States included Lady Gaga‘s “Poker Face” and “Just Dance,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and The Black Eyed Peas‘ “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling.” Americans were ready to dance it into the new decade. The dance party readiness of La Roux fit in with the times, but sounded different. The production harkened back to ’80s pop, but sounded fresh. Inspired by the likes of David Bowie, Prince, the Knife, Nick Drake, and Joni Mitchell, heartfelt, universal lyrics set to emotive, synthy grooves became La Roux’s signature. “Even if you listen to ‘Bulletproof’ without vocals, it sounds defiant, and it’s relentless. ‘In for the Kill’ is supposed to have a feeling of striding, of purposefully doing something. You have to create a soundscape that goes with the track. That’s the essence of songwriting for me,” Jackson explained.
The anthemic track was an instant pop hit in La Roux’s home country, but took a year to reach the mainstream pop audience stateside. It debuted at No. 1 on the UK singles chart and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart by September. (“In for the Kill” was a No. 2 UK single, and in 2010, after the Skream remix was featured on HBO’s Entourage, a No. 1 on the U.S. Dance Club Songs chart.) On March 16, 2010, La Roux performed “Bulletproof” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and it entered the Billboard Hot 100 four days later, hitting a high at No. 8 in June.
In the summer of 2009, La Roux played massive UK festivals Reading, Leeds, and Glastonbury, as well as major US fests like Lollapalooza. (They played Coachella the following year.) La Roux went platinum in the UK, won the Best Dance/Electronic Album GRAMMY Award in 2011, and was nominated for a Mercury Prize. La Roux had become a big dance pop act.
Swiftly and sharply, the duo felt the double-edged sword of success. Jackson’s anxiety heightened, causing her to lose her voice and have panic attacks. After delays and challenges, including Landmaid’s departure from the group, the critically acclaimed sophomore La Roux album, Trouble In Paradise, came in 2014. “I found success really, really hard,” Jackson reflected in a 2020 Guardian interview. “It made me want to run for the hills. It wasn’t cool to be that popular.”
“Bulletproof” put her on the map and helped her buy a house, but it some ways it overshadowed the androgynous icon. It remains her biggest hit. “I think it’s weird when so many people see you as being represented by that song, and you feel so far away from it,” she stated in 2014. “Part of the anxiety I experienced was because of the type of attention that ‘Bulletproof’ received, and therefore I received. I wasn’t that keen on it. I don’t know if I want to have a hit like that again.”
More recently, “Bulletproof” has had a second life among Gen Zers. Controversial figures like Tana Mongeau and James Charles used the inspirational track in a 2020 TikTok “challenge” that has logged over 806,000 entries, where video text reads “You think you can hurt my feelings?” “People use our songs for so many different things,” Jackson said in 2010. “It’s so true that a song means whatever you want it to mean.”
La Roux’s “Bulletproof” appeared on NOW That’s What I Call Music 35, alongside other hits like Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro.” Looking for more stories behind music’s biggest hits? Check out the Now! That’s What I Call Music page.