"It was just one of those things. The right concept, the right record, the right video."
Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
In 2014, Australian rapper-singer-songwriter Iggy Azalea was everywhere. That June, Azalea appeared on the Nos. 1 and 2 spots on the Hot 100, with her guest appearance on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” being held off the chart’s top only by her own summer-conquering smash, “Fancy.”
"What does 'new classic' really mean?" Azalea mused in her Billboard cover story at the time, referring to her debut album title (and enduring social media handle). "I just think whatever classic hip-hop is, the classic image of that? I don't think that's what it is anymore. And I am a good example of what it could look like now."
The track took a village -- call it Fancyland? -- of collaborators, mainly hailing from the U.K. Songwriting/producing trio The Invisible Men (Jason Pebworth, George Astasio and Jon Shave) co-wrote and co-produced, spending a week in remote Wales with Azalea, away from the distractions of London (and cell phone service). Those sessions resulted in both 2013 debut single "Work" and the beginnings of “Fancy.”
Next, they brought in pop singer Charli XCX and songwriter-producer Kurtis McKenzie to help co-write. The latter, then known as The Arcade, came up with that baow, baow-baow bassline. “I remember being in a club when the song came on and seeing people react, and that initial feeling of excitement before the song starts,” McKenzie says. “As soon as people heard the bass line, they instantly knew what song it was.”
One month after the song’s release, in March 2014, Azalea put out an equally addicting video, modeled on the 1995 movie Clueless. Every shot is tight as can be, as are the fits, worn by Azalea, Charli & Co. “There's a movement behind that [song],” Director X tells Billboard. “It really grew up -- [Iggy] grew up because of it. It was just one of those things. The right concept, the right record, the right video. One of those things to speak to the power of music videos and visuals.”
Jon Shave, too, remembers how the song truly exploded after the video. “I've got a friend who lives in New York and he was saying, 'I think I heard that track last night in the club in Brooklyn.' You start to get all these little jigsaw pieces of good news that were building and building every week,” he says.
And so “Fancy” may have been the fourth single from Azalea's 2014 debut album The New Classic, but it went on to mark a number of firsts for the rapper. It was her first Hot 100 No. 1 -- holding the position for seven weeks -- as well as Billboard's official 2014 Song of the Summer, topping 11 major Billboard charts in total. “When people say or think of the word 'Fancy,' they think of that song. It's cemented in pop culture,” McKenzie says.
Iggy Azalea’s breakout summer would prove the peak of her early career. Featured guest Charli XCX became a cult pop fave and occasional mainstream star, while Azalea became a sort of cautionary tale about how easy it is to fall from such heights -- that is, once you’re tangled up in social media spats and having to defend accusations of cultural appropriation from those in and around the hip-hop community. “Before it was like, ‘We’re at the top of the mountain, and we have to stay at the top,’” she admitted to Billboard last year, striking a very different tone than that of her cover story confidence. "I slid down the mountain a bit.”
Still, a random screenshot from the “Fancy” video is instantly recognizable today, and when that tell-tale bassline plays, just about anyone under the age of 35 is ready to spit, “First things first, I'm the realest.”
“We kind of had no expectations,” says Shave. “So for it to end up going platinum in America is just crazy to us, considering it was this record we made in the middle of a field in Wales.”