Coming of age is a perennial theme in music, be it Billie Eilish singing about the joys and woes of growing up on “My Future,” or Olivia Rodrigo baring her soul on “Brutal.” For the band Fun., which released its seminal second album “Some Nights” 10 years ago today (Feb. 21), that moment came as its frontman, Nate Ruess, was nearing 30.
Joined by multi-instrumentalists Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, Reuss wanted to create a work that pivoted from the highly arranged sound of their debut album “Aim and Ignite” to more of a pop and hip-hop influence.
It’s little wonder since, at the time “Some Nights” was conceived, Fun. had Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Drake in high rotation. Seeing producer Jeff Bhasker’s name pop up in the credits of several of songs they were listening to, the band set out to enlist his talents.
Bhasker was initially reluctant to work with Fun. — his dance card was full producing hip-hop and R&B at the time — but Ruess convinced him to meet up over drinks at a New York hotel, in between Bhasker’s sessions with Beyoncé.
“I had said to myself, ‘Why am I going to meet with some indie band from Brooklyn?,’” Bhasker recalls. “‘I do Urban music. I don’t fuck with indie rockers from from Brooklyn.’ That was not in my vision.”
After some libations, Ruess brought Bhasker up to his room and played him some of the songs he was working on; he also sang the chorus to “We Are Young.” Bhasker was hooked and met up with the band the next day to record it. After their session, Bhasker told Fun. he wanted to produce their entire album.
“I think with the first album, there was a bit of an internal focus on making each other excited about what we could do,” Dost tells Variety. “And with the second, there was more of an outward focus [of], ‘How do we construct something more timeless and universal?’ We really wanted to think bigger and longer in terms of the life of something.”
“We Are Young” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since received a diamond certification by the RIAA, signifying 10 million units. But its success wasn’t instant. John Janick, then-head of Fueled By Ramen (and current chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M, home to Eilish and Rodrigo), planned for the song to be a slow burn, shopping a freshly-recorded version of the track to “Glee” music supervisor PJ Bloom months before its official release.
“It was the first time I saw anyone execute a rollout on that level,” Bhasker says. “[Janick] was like a fortune teller. Immediately he was like, ‘This is going to be like a slow bubble,’ and he went around to everyone. He got it in ‘Glee’ and he got in the Chevy commercial in the Super Bowl [in 2012].”
Equally iconic is the song’s music video, directed by Marc Klasfeld, which finds Fun. performing in a nightclub as a chaotic scene encircles the band, and features an appearance by Janelle Monáe, who sings opposite Ruess on the song’s bridge.
Says Klasfeld: “One thing I remember is her skin was just so completely flawless and almost didn’t seem real. When she walked so calmly and angelic through it all, it was really a special moment.”
“We Are Young” has become a go-to at graduations and all manner of celebrations, but like many of the songs on “Some Nights,” it contains darker undertones. Some have interpreted the lyrics, “I know I gave it to you months ago” and “I know you’re trying to forget” as references to physical scars and domestic violence.
“I think with a lot of our songs, there is a tendency to have a bit of a darker lyric in a candy shell,” Dost says. “There’s a narrative way of looking at it, but then there’s also a veneer that makes it a little more palatable.”
Tracks like “Carry On” and the auto-tuned “It Gets Better” look to find glimmers of hope amid the heaviness, while the song “Why Am I the One?” — in which Ruess laments, “If you were thinking that the worst is yet to come, why am I the one always packing up my stuff?” — is about the life of a musician. As Dost explains: “You’re living out of a suitcase; you’re traveling; partners are dumping you because you’re inconsistent and preoccupied. I think we all have always been the ones packing up our stuff in a lot of different ways, and just never quite feeling like you’re home.”
Bhasker remembers “Why Am I the One?” for being among the hardest to write and produce for the album. “We change tempos in ProTools all the time,” he says. “So we’re at the end of the session and there are 100 [layers] in the track and the computer can barely keep up, and Nate says. ‘You know what, it needs to slow down just a little more?’ So every time I would do that, it would have to re-render the session for one small change, and the computer kept crashing.”
“Some Nights” went on to sell more than three million album units and win two Grammy Awards, including song of the year for “We Are Young.” The track remains a monster, amassing north of 740 million streams on Spotify and nearing 1 billion plays on YouTube.
Today, Dost lives in his Michigan hometown teaching songwriting, recording, arranging and producing. Antonoff is the frontman of Bleachers and one of the industry’s most in-demand producers, having worked extensively with Taylor Swift, St. Vincent, Lorde and many others. Ruess has written for the likes of Kesha and Pink, and released a solo album in 2015. He tends to stay out of the spotlight, but recently made an appearance on Young Thug’s “Love You More” alongside Gunna.
Despite the fact that the guys have seemingly gone their separate ways, Dost says a new Fun. album isn’t completely out of the question. Still, Dost demurs: “I think it was a special moment that’s not really repeatable. We said what we had to say. I’ve heard Paul McCartney say, ‘You can’t reheat a souffle’ when talking about the Beatles. And I think that was true of Fun. as well. We had this moment in time; we did what we hoped to do, and then that was it. It would have been great to make another two, three or five albums; I would have been very happy to do that. But looking back, it feels like the story ended appropriately.”