Some Nights

fun. - Some Nights

I can still remember the moment when I realized that fun. were going to be ubiquitously, annoyingly, stratospherically huge. It was February 5, 2012 and I was sitting on a ratty faux-leather sofa in my college apartment, hanging out with my roommates and watching the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. During one of the commercial breaks, I heard an already familiar (to me) wall of synths and tinkling pianos, and a soon to be inescapable (to everyone) chorus hook that loudly declared: “Tonight/We are young/So let’s set the world on fire/We can burn brighter/Than the sun.”

That 60-second TV spot, an ad for the 2012 Chevy Sonic, effectively launched this trio of pop-rock polyglots into outer space. “We Are Young” already had a little bit of buzz building behind it at that point, having featured prominently in an episode of Glee that aired in December 2011. But it was the Super Bowl placement that, to quote the song, set the world on fire. A week later, “We Are Young” topped the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart. 16 days after the Super Bowl, fun. released Some Nights, their sophomore album, which contained “We Are Young” in the track-three slot. The album sold 70,000 copies in the first week and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, despite generally mixed critical reviews. By March 17, “We Are Young” was the No. 1 song in the United States – a status it maintained for six weeks.

If you wandered anywhere near a radio during the spring of 2012, you surely heard “We Are Young” a lot, and that counts for double if you were in college at the time. As a newly-21-year-old junior at a midwestern university, I was right in the sweet spot that fun. was probably aiming for when they wrote “We Are Young.” And therein lies, probably, the secret to the success of the song. When its midnight on a Friday and you’re out drinking with your friends, shouting along to a chorus that proclaims “WE ARE YOUNG” feels profound, and cathartic, and true. And when 2am roles around and its time for last call, there’s something comforting in a song that ends “So if by the time the bar closes/And you feel like falling down/I’ll carry you home tonight.”

Certainly, among my college friends, “We Are Young” was an instant smash – a surprising turn of events given that fun. had been around for three years and had probably never landed on a playlist for a single college kegger. The band’s debut album, Aim & Ignite, came out in August of 2009 and was batshit weird baroque pop, landing somewhere at the cross section of Queen-style arena rock, flamboyant musical theater, The Lion King, and circus music. Approximately zero things about the band seemed marketable to the pop mainstream in 2009, but the album did find a small but ardent following in the emo/pop-punk community. I’m not sure if you could have accurately described fun. as a “supergroup” at the time, given that the members – Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost – weren’t really “superstars,” at least not anywhere outside of the forums. But as the members or masterminds of beloved little cult bands (The Format for Ruess, Steel Train for Antonoff, Anathallo for Dost) these guys had a fair amount of clout among a certain segment of music fans. (To underline the band’s emo/pop-punk ties, their first shows, played in the fall of 2008, were as the opening act for a Jack’s Mannequin tour.)

The limited name-brand recognition that Ruess, Antonoff, and Dost had in 2009 helped make Aim & Ignite a bit of a cult classic itself, though I doubt anyone who was listening at the time would have predicted that fun. would eventually land a No. 1 Billboard hit. But Some Nights was a different beast than its predecessor: slicker, catchier, grander, a little more conventional. The album maintained the band’s flair for theatrical, but paired it with the kind of massive pop choruses that could fill arenas. Some fans bristled at the more mainstream-friendly sound, but those opinions were quickly drowned out by the worldwide embrace of “We Are Young.” This band was on a runaway train, and any cries of “sellout” were minuscule compared to the momentum that Some Nights built over the course of 2012.

By the time the 2013 Grammys rolled around, it was difficult to remember a time when fun. could have been feasibly described as “underdogs.” “We Are Young” won Song of the Year, and the band clinched Best New Artist. Some Nights lost Album of the Year (to Mumford & Sons’ Babel, in a field that also included Frank Ocean, Jack White, and The Black Keys), but the night felt like a victory lap for fun. regardless. “We Are Young” had topped the charts. “Some Nights” was nearly as huge, peaking at No. 3 for six weeks. Even “Carry On” made it to No. 20.

The Grammys took place on February 10, 2013, just over a year after the big Super Bowl feature that launched fun. into the stratosphere. For the band, I’m sure it was the definition of “whirlwind year.” As a long-time fan, it was surreal. I’d once thought of these guys as lovable little indie-pop weirdos; now, they were one of the biggest bands in the world. Where it had once seemed like an out-of-body experience to hear a fun. song on a Super Bowl commercial, after the Grammys, I figured it would only be a matter of time before they were playing the Super Bowl as the halftime show headliners.

Instead, fun. never made another album. In June 2015, the band announced plans to go on hiatus, and they have not been seen or heard from since. Looking back at Some Nights 10 years later, it seems unlikely that fun. will ever be a proper “band” again, even though the hiatus announcement made a point of assuring fans that they were “not breaking up.” But it’s also easy to trace the influence this album had on the music world. Some Nights was arguably the record that flattened the distance between rock and pop for good, at least in the mainstream. The songs feature plenty of elements that tied them to a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic: the Queen-esque intro track, the big guitar solos in “Some Nights” and “Carry On,” that very ‘90s-indie-rock guitar figure that starts “Why Am I The One.” But it also leaned way into modern pop sounds and signifiers: the big-as-hell choruses, the booming beats, the vocoder breakdown in “Stars.” The core collaborator on the project, outside of the three band members, was producer Jeff Bhasker – fresh off his acclaimed work on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – and he helped fun. build a version of rock music that made sense on the radio waves in 2012. It’s probably no mistake that most of the major “rock band” success stories to happen since – Imagine Dragons, just about to burst onto the scene when Some Nights dropped; Fall Out Boy, roughly a year away from their big Save Rock and Roll comeback; other big winners on Billboard’s decade-end “Hot Rock Songs” chart, like Panic at the Disco’s “High Hopes” or Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” – sound a whole lot like Some Nights.

There’s also the fact that this album helped launch probably the single most influential music producer to come along in the 2010s: Jack Antonoff. While Antonoff’s production and songwriting style aren’t necessarily on clear display here – his true “proof of concept” is 2014’s Strange Desire, his first release under the moniker of Bleachers – it’s no stretch to say that his rise to being one of modern pop music’s most prominent architects wouldn’t have happened without Some Nights. His first notable songwriting and production credits came shortly after this album – 2013 saw both the Sara Bareilles song “Brave,” Antonoff’s first big non-fun. hit; and “One Chance,” his first collaboration with Taylor Swift – and those credits are the foundation to everything’s that’s happened for him since. Love Antonoff’s influence or hate it, there’s little question that widely adored records like Lorde’s Melodrama and Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell – not to mention Taylor Swift’s entire post-Red catalog – would sound different without him.

For all the reasons discussed, Some Nights is an album with a lot of baggage. The massive influence; the Antonoff factor; the fact that “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” got so wildly overplayed on the radio in 2012 that even fans of those songs probably got tired of them, It’s also bizarre to think about how this band was inescapable for more than a year and then simply never made music together again. But when I listen back through Some Nights, removed from the overhype and overplay that set in during the spring of 2012, nothing about these songs seems fleeting: “Some Nights” is still gargantuan and so, so hopeful; “Stars” still over-reaches for pop maximalism in a way that feels both fearless and utterly joyful; and “Out on the Town” still sounds like the perfect callback to old fun. – a little less famous and a little more naïve. Most of all, “We Are Young” still sounds like those stolen moments with friends at 2am on some spare Friday night, thinking we had all the time in the world when we really had nothing but the music and the night.