“Half of us is punk rock, and the other half of us is super theatrical, and wants to bring a Queen vibe to the show,” fun. singer Nate Ruess said in a recent interview with Downtown Julie Brown. Fun.’s “We Are Young,” popularized by Glee, has been at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 for four weeks; Billboard, depending on its mood, classifies the band as “alt-rock,” “indie-pop,” or “alt pop,” and credits fun. with a “warm retro sound.” Here is a question: do any of these words mean anything?
fun. interview with Downtown Julie Brown on Billboard’s TMI
I have no particular beef with this terrible band, although I strongly believe that grown men who have walk-in closets devoted to Star Wars toy collections should be forbidden to express themselves in public. What interests me is that most of the words that the music press, or fun.’s members themselves, use to talk about fun. are not only misleading, but are the exact opposite of the truth. Take “indie.” “Indie” used to be short for “independent,” as in: this band is signed to an independent label. However, I see that fun. is signed to Fueled by Ramen, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, and that their new album was produced by Jeff Bhasker, known for his work with Jay-Z and Beyonce. Has the word changed its meaning? If “indie” is now short for something else, like “indistinguishable from other music” or “independently wealthy,” let it stand. Otherwise, this band should be categorized as “third-largest-conglomerate-in-the-record-industry pop.”
I am also at a loss when it comes to the “warm” and “retro” qualities of fun.’s music. Again, antonyms like “cold” and “contemporary” have the ring of truth to my ears, but maybe all it takes is a guy playing a physical keyboard with his human hands to transport listeners back to the soft, blankety olden days. In fun.’s case, the olden days are the 1990s. Ruess likes to wax nostalgic about the great music (and music videos!) of that faraway time, when giants like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Republica, Garbage, Hum, Superdrag, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Toad the Wet Sprocket bestrode the media landscape. As the Onion’s A.V. Club described “the dream of the 90s” in its recent interview with Ruess, that time was “a golden age in mainstream pop and radio when [...] the oddballs ran the show.” Of course, that is a lie, besides which, fun.’s tinny, Auto-Tuned music sounds nothing like any rock music that was popular during the 90s. But what qualifies these three ordinary clods as “oddballs”? Their outrageous style? Their shocking lyrical content? Their challenging, avant-garde compositions? I am aware that “oddballs,” “quirky,” and “alt-rock” are just code words for ugly white men with instruments, but I would be willing to bet that this band’s sales would not have suffered one bit if they had been marketed as everyday, dirt-average wieners who are just like everyone else you already know.
fun. performs “We Are Young” on Conan (“super theatrical”)
Ruess deserves our thanks for demonstrating that “punk rock” is a concept that has been emptied of meaning. I remember punk rock sounding like this:
MDC, “Corporate Deathburger”
Nowadays, “punk” describes everything from Good Charlotte to this candyass car commercial melody about burning “brighter than the suh-uh-wuh-uh-wuh-huh-hun.” It is time that we retired this word out of respect for the blessed memory of Stiv Bators. Punk rock doesn’t exist anymore, but you can always go see the Broadway musical Green Day’s American Idiot, which, like fun., is about as punk as a raffle at a church picnic.
If only the dishonest language ended with fun.’s marketing. Their song is called “We Are Young,” but singer Nate Ruess is 30. Is that young? Consider J.P. Toulon of the punk band Old Skull, who formed that band at the age of 10—that’s young. Toulon died at 30, a young age to die. Ruess, on the other hand, seems a little long in the tooth to be posing as “young” in his motivational songs for children. Nor is his band or their music very much “fun.” If they’re so fun., why isn’t he in the bathroom getting fucked up with his friends as they get “higher than the Empire State?” Blasting “Corporate Deathburger” on the boom box while skateboarding drunk on moving police cars, now that was fun.! Ruess’s melismatic, self-pitying whine, not so much. It reminds me more of work than fun. I will endorse this band when it changes its name to “job.”