There are few 2010s songs as iconic as Fun’s number-one hit “We Are Young” featuring Janelle Monáe. It introduced the world to both Fun — and most importantly, soon-to-be-world-renowned producer Jack Antonoff, who was a member of the band — as well as acclaimed singer and actress Monáe. “We Are Young” itself was much loved, going on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year with additional nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Released in September 2011, “We Are Young” was very much a product of its time. Its popularity was spurred by its feature on the popular TV show “Glee,” and it also was part of a new wave of indie pop hits that really ruled the year. Songs like Gotye and Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks,” Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time,” and Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” were among the top hits of the year, alongside Fun’s own “We Are Young” and “Some Nights.” So “We Are Young” not only was a great song that appealed to voters, but it might also have been seen as a sneak peek of what was next for mainstream music, particularly in the pop world.
When Grammy nominations came around, Fun pretty much maxed out, scooping up noms in all four general field categories, as well as for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Out of these, many expected the band to win a couple of awards at the very least. Complex, Billboard, E! News, and Vulture all predicted the band to take home Song of the Year. Luckily for Fun, while the aforementioned “Somebody That I Used to Know” beat them for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, “We Are Young” didn’t have to face it for Song of the Year, so Fun were able to win there. This was due to old Grammy rules that didn’t allow songs with samples to compete in songwriting categories, which disqualified “Somebody” in that race.
Why was “We Are Young” such a presumed lock for Song of the Year? It was not the biggest hit of the lineup — that was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” However, “We Are Young” was probably considered a more serious song, and as such probably appealed more to older Grammy voters, especially being an anthemic rock-style song. The other nominees were probably either too pop/made-for-radio (Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”), or not relevant enough (Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” nominated while Sheeran was still an up-and-comer). The last nominee was Miguel’s “Adorn,” which likely suffered from not being popular enough outside of R&B circles.
As for why “Somebody That I Used to Know” was so strong in other races, first and foremost, it was the bigger hit of the two; it topped Billboard’s year-end Hot 100, while “We Are Young” was number-three. “Somebody” might also have connected more with voters because it’s a more reflective, understated song, which means that it was likely to alienate fewer people. And perhaps some voters might’ve thought the Fun song was not as heartfelt as the emotionally gut-punching and sad “Somebody.”
“We Are Young’s” win has aged well. While it would be amazing if Carly Rae Jepsen had a Grammy on her mantel, especially considering the impressive career ahead of her, “We Are Young” was one of the defining hits of the 2010s. It was also truly a gift to get rising star Jack Antonoff out of it, especially knowing he’d produce more acclaimed, Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning albums like Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F*cking Rockwell!” and Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.” Thanks to his work with Fun and Swift, he’s now only missing a Record of the Year win to become one of the few people to have won all four general field awards. Perhaps Swift’s latest, “Anti-Hero,” will do the trick.
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