"We Are Young" stars used touring, massive hooks and a very timely ad placement to find overwhelming success.
One year and five days before the 2013 Grammy Awards, a car flew through the air for the first time.
The vehicle was a black and orange Chevy Sonic, careening off the side of a ramp in slow-motion in front of millions of football fans watching the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots. The Chevrolet ad debuted during Super Bowl XLVI and allowed a massive audience to give a listen to fun.'s Janelle Monae-assisted single "We Are Young," which was playing as that vehicle set forth on its epic flight.
"We Are Young"
Chevy Super Bowl Ad
The Super Bowl synch was preceded by several high-profile opportunities for "We Are Young," including a December 2011 cover on "Glee," but the Chevy Sonic TV spot -- like the spinning car at its center -- started an incredible upward trajectory for the indie-pop band. Before "We Are Young," fun. was a band struggling to find large crowds as frontman Nate Ruess' first post-Format project. The group's first album, 2009's "Aim and Ignite," peaked at No. 71 on the Billboard 200 chart, and failed to produce a crossover single. They opened for Jack's Mannequin, and then for Paramore after signing to Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic in early 2010, but there was never a guarantee that Ruess and co. would capture an audience equivalent to either of those artists.
And then "We Are Young" happened -- or, more accurately, the group's sophomore album, "Some Nights," happened. Released on Feb. 21, 2012, the album was a fiercely original slice of pop-rock, with producer Jeff Bhasker's hip-hop-savvy hand guiding the project and the refusal to use live drums resulting in a slew of synthetic hooks. "Aim and Ignite" has more than its share of charming moments, but "Some Nights" is a more complete effort with obvious singles at its disposal. As a result, "Some Nights" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, just as "We Are Young" was barreling toward the top of the Hot 100, which it reached in early March.
"We Are Young" stayed atop the chart for seven weeks, and as casual music fans continued singing about setting the world on fire and burning brighter than the sun, fun. polished a live show that translated the power of "Some Nights'" melodies to burgeoning crowds. Last June, fun. performed at the 2012 Bonnaroo fest in Manchester, Tenn., and was slotted at the same time as the Shins, the Civil Wars and Young the Giant. While a large portion of the crowd sang along with every deep album cut, hundreds were undoubtedly there to check out a group whose out-of-nowhere radio smash had piqued their curiosity -- and fun., in return, delivered a rousing, enormously engaging set, filled with songs that some may not have heard before that evening but loved by the end of it.
Most importantly, these sets often ended with the epic "Some Nights" title track, which contains an all-encompassing vocal hook that sidesteps any confusion that its strange structure and Auto-tune breakdown might presents. Months later, "Some Nights" began its own run inside the Top 5 of the Hot 100, eventually peaking at No. 3 on the tally and almost immediately negating any "one-hit wonder" chatter.
From there, the small steps toward superstardom continued: Ruess wrote songs with P!nk and Ke$ha, and guitarist Jack Antonoff started dating "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, creating an immensely likable "power couple" for the indie sphere. Last December, fun. performed "We Are Young" at the Grammy nominations concert in Nashville, and by the end of the night had walked away with nominations for album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist. "We felt like we finally belonged in this world, on this planet, and it felt very good," multi-instrumentalist Jack Antonoff told Billboard  the day after the nominations concert.
In the middle of a headlining tour that included a sold-out show at New York's Radio City Music Hall, fun. stopped by the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday night to complete an impossibly positive year at the 55th annual Grammy Awards. Following a stirring performance of new single "Carry On" that will likely guide it up the Hot 100 (the song is currently at No. 65), fun. scored the song of the year trophy for "We Are Young," and was named best new artist; the latter award places the group in such esteemed company as Mariah Carey, Bon Iver, the Carpenters and the Beatles.
"If this is in HD, everyone can see our faces and we are not very young," Ruess told the crowd upon winning song of the year. Success took a little while to fall upon fun., but when it rained, it poured.
- Pop