100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #20: “We Are Young” by fun. ft. Janelle Monáe

The song at #20 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “We Are Young” by New York-based band fun., featuring Janelle Monáe. The second song by fun. on this list (their follow-up single “Some Nights” ranks at #81), “We Are Young” is a life-affirming, fist-pumping anthem celebrating the hope and promise of young adulthood, as well as touching on regret for past mistakes. Released in September 2011, the track initially gained attention from only online media, though it did receive its first commercial radio airplay on Tampa Bay alternative radio station 97X upon its debut. But it was soon covered by the hit television show Glee, then licensed for use in a Chevrolet Sonic commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVI, which propelled it, and fun. to mainstream success. The song became a huge hit around the world, reaching #1 in more than 10 countries, including Canada, Australia, the UK and the U.S.. It became a crossover hit, spending many weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts.

The band teamed up with producer, songwriter & instrumentalist Jeff Bhasker (who’s produced albums and songs for Kanye West, Alicia Keys, P!nk, Jay-Z and Beyonce, among others) for their album Some Nights, of which “We Are Young” was the lead single. Together they used a rich palette of orchestral instrumentals and keyboard synths, and layered them over a thumping drumbeat that starts off like a military march, then slows to a pounding, bass-driven hip hop groove, highlighted by a repetitive banging piano riff. Lead singer Nate Ruess’ vocals are lovely, with an almost tender vulnerability as he sings the poignant opening lyrics:

Give me a second I
I need to get my story straight
My friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State
My lover she’s waiting for me just across the bar
My seat’s been taken by some sunglasses asking ’bout a scar, and
I know I gave it to you months ago
I know you’re trying to forget
But between the drinks and subtle things
The holes in my apologies, you know
I’m trying hard to take it back
So if by the time the bar closes
And you feel like falling down
I’ll carry you home

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

He told Rolling Stone that the lyrics were inspired by “my worst drinking night of all time.” He said he was kicked out of a taxi for vomiting all over it, and all he could do was stand on the street corner with his head against the wall. Singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe, a personal friend of Bhasker, provided guest vocals for the chorus, but some felt her considerable talents were wasted by giving her such a small presence on the song. That said, “We Are Young” is a great track overall.

The music video, directed by Marc Klasfeld, was filmed at David Sukonick Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and touches on youthful angst, young love and raging hormones. The band is shown performing on a stage in a bar, which erupts into a slow motion bar fight.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #81: “Some Nights” by fun.

The song at #81 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Some Nights” by New York City-based alternative pop-rock band fun. Formed in 2008, fun. consists of singer-songwriter Nate Ruess, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost and singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer Jack Antonoff (who’s also front man for the terrific band Bleachers). Their debut album Aim and Ignite was fairly well-received, though a commercial disappointment. But it was their second album Some Nights that propelled fun. to international fame. The title track “Some Nights” was the second single and follow-up to their massive hit “We Are Young” (which appears later on this list). The song was a worldwide hit, reaching #1 in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Israel, and also the Billboard Alternative, Rock and Adult Top 40 Charts. It reached #3 on the Hot 100.

With both folk rock and power pop elements, “Some Nights” has an incredibly exuberant melody, with a powerful military-style drumbeat and Ruess’ commanding vocals that give it a jubilant vibe. The song has been favorably compared to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”, and in fact, in an interview with Billboard, Ruess stated that Paul Simon’s Graceland was a major influence for the song. He added that the song is about “just being someone different on any given night.” In another interview with Mesfin Fekadu of the Associated Press, Ruess explained: “I’m always thinking about, ‘Who am I and why did I do something like that?’ And I think then it harkens back to my family, and I have such a strong tie to them and it’s always therapeutic to sing about them.”

The rather dark and intense video, produced by Poonam Sehrawat and directed by Anthony Mandler, depicts a fictional battle taking place during the American Civil War. The band is shown performing the song from afar as a battle breaks out, with lead singer Ruess appearing as the commander of the Union force.

In early 2015, fun. announced they were going on hiatus so that each band member could pursue their own individual projects. Ruess sang on P!nk’s 2013 hit single “Just Give Me a Reason” (which will also appear later on this list), and on Eminem’s 2014 single “Headlights”, and released a solo album Grand Romantic in June 2015 to mostly positive reviews. Andrew Dost wrote the soundtrack for the 2015 black comedy The D Train, and is currently working on new music. In addition to his work as front man for Bleachers, Jack Antonoff has worked as a songwriter and producer with several renowned artists, including Taylor Swift (on her albums 1989, Reputation, Lover and Folklore), Lorde (on her album Melodrama), St. Vincent (on her album Masseduction), Lana Del Rey (on Norman Fucking Rockwell) and The Chicks (on their album Gaslighter).