After they racked up six GRAMMY nominations for the 55th annual awards ceremony, including Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Record of the Year — all the major categories — we look back at the long, strange trip it’s been to the biggest year of fun.’s career.
During our interview, fun. warn me that they may be a little loopy. Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost says they’ve been up since 4:30 a.m., and that guitarist Jack Antonoff never went to sleep. But they still manage to drop pop culture references into almost every answer, each reference a little left of center. Awake or not, they name drop ‘80s sitcom star Shelly Long, ‘90s boy band LFO’s hit single “Summer Girls,” and wanting to work with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra. It’s clear that fun. are far from your average pop band.
The name drops, along with their inside jokes, are delivered so dryly that it’s hard to tell when fun. are pulling your chain. Conversational subterfuge seems to be par for the course for the guys and it extends beyond their pop culture frame of reference. A quick look at their costuming also shows them to be not quite like all the other pop bands. They always appear in one of two outfits: tuxedos or yacht wear that could be inspired by a Wes Anderson film and includes some combination of high water pants, short-sleeved shorts with a cuff roll, boat shoes or loafers with no socks, bow ties and button-up shirts. These things sound fashionable on paper, but end up looking anti-fashionable in the way fun. assemble them. It’s the opposite effect of Devo’s oddball costumes with the flower pot hats in the ‘80s: fun. seem normal at first, but get weirder the closer you look. Case in point; their SNL performance.
Their “not what the other kids are doing” mentality may also be the very reason fun. managed to create one of the most popular songs of 2012, “We Are Young.”
In reality, the guys are nowhere near as wild and crazy as “We Are Young” would make you think. When asked if they’ve ever been so drunk that they locked themselves in a bathroom, Antonoff turned to Dost and said, “You went to college, you must have gotten so drunk that you did something.”
But Dost claimed he didn’t drink until he was 22. Why wait so long? “Ummm…lazy, I guess.”
For their album Some Nights they worked with Jeff Bhasker, who is best known for producing Kanye West’s masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Bhasker also co-composed several hit singles from West’s artistic exploration, including “All of the Lights,” “Monster,” and “Runaway.” fun.’s admiration for the album, and subsequent desire to work with Bhasker, should be looked at as a choice that walks the line. It is willfully artistic and commercial.
Talk of producers is where Jeff Lynne entered the conversation. Singer Nate Ruess mentions him on a very short list (as in, a list of two) of people they would be interested in working with in the future — the other is Jon Brion. Fans of fun. who aren’t already acquainted with Lynne’s band, Electric Light Orchestra, are advised to take a listen. They are both part of the family of universally likable and quirky music, just separated by a few decades.
fun. are favorites of the digital generation, although Ruess says he had to take a break from Twitter because he “feels like it ruins [his] brain.” (Antonoff, on the other hand, uses this opportunity to mention his Twitter obsessions with Shelly Long, who is often name-checked in his feed, and the non sequitur Tweeting style of Lil’ Wayne’s mentor Birdman).
andrew- “there’s a third party narrator in sk8ter boy”. me- “like ben vereen in pippin.” andrew- “exactly like ben vereen.”
— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) May 22, 2012
No traditional band like fun., who include guitars and pianos, have been at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 in all of 2012. The beginning of the year saw a musical chairs of sorts in which it was dominated by Rihanna, Adele and Kelly Clarkson, until the end of March when fun. took over.
They got their break after a Glee remake of “We Are Young” in February 2012 and parlayed that into a #1 hit on three different radio formats, the Billboard Hot 100, and managed to break a digital record by selling over 300,000 copies of their single for seven weeks. Billboard called it “unprecedented” noting that, “No song previously registered more than five weeks (consecutive or not) of such stratospheric download totals.”
It’s made the landscape for “song of the summer” completely different from the past. This is where LFO’s “Summer Girls” comes up as Ruess’s favorite summer song. Antonoff disagrees with his assertion that it’s the “summer song of all time,” bringing up Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime.” This leads to a conversational devolution, where the guys try to prove their point by repeating the song lyrics and picking them apart.
“I mean, ’Summertime girls are the kind I like/I stole your honey like I stole your bike’?” Ruess ends the lyric in an uplift, challenging his bandmates to dis his song choice.
“Sounds like a d***,” Antonoff deadpans, making Ruess laugh.
“Also, I think that lyric about that thinking it’s fly that girls stop by in the summer? It’s like what does that mean?” wonders Dost. “That creates this image that there’s girls packed into Passats or something with the roof down just stopping by places. It’s weird.”
But in the present summer, fun. are the first beneficiaries to a change in Billboard‘s chart tabulation that include on-demand online streaming from services like Spotify. This leads to a domino effect, where “We Are Young” became the first one of three outlier songs (the other two being the ubiquitous offerings from Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen) that made history at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 2012 and dominating the summer.
“We cover both songs,” Ruess says, referencing their straight on German radio take on Jepsen and their BBC 1 Live Lounge version of Gotye with Paramore’s Hayley Williams (a label-mate to the band). “So I think that we think they’re pretty good songs.”
But Dost was more revealing in his answer, hinting at a music snobbery that might lie beneath the surface of this particular outsider band.
“We like them all and I think it’s neat that, I think both songs are really good and I guess I don’t always feel that way about songs that are big,” Doost said. “I think it’s a neat time to be making music, when you can really respect a lot of your peers.”
They are slyly confrontational about other music as well. After discussing the drama of their name, which they were forced to change by adding a period when a Finnish noise rock band who already held a claim on calling their band Fun and (according to fun.) want to have a band fight over the name, I asked if they’d looked up the other band to see if they could take them in a band fight. Antonoff snarkily replies, “We should have done that. It’s hard to find them now because when you Google fun, we come up instead.”
“I was worried, when we first decided this was going to be the band name about all the negative puns that would happen,” Ruess says. “Like, ‘This is no fun at all!’ It’s really just people coming up to us and saying…’Well that was really fun! Whoops, I did it. Tehehehe.’”
With such a common word as the band’s name, it’s almost impossible to avoid entirely. “You’re gonna say it,” warns Antonoff.
“Yeah, if you say it and you acknowledge that you said it, don’t bring it up to us,” advises Ruess. “That’s for future reference for everybody.”
-Courtney E. Smith, CBS Local