It is no secret that “making it” in the music business is a one-in-a-million, never-gonna-happen scenario. But sometimes, a band defies the odds, and fun.’s Nate Reuss, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost made it happen big time.
Last Friday and Sunday, crowds flooded the Hearst Greek Theatre to see arguably one of the most successful groups in popular music right now. You’ve probably heard their songs on the radio upwards of a thousand times, but what exactly has made fun. so successful?
fun. is a second-chance band. All three members came from other groups that saw only moderate success — Reuss from The Format, Dost from Anthallo and Antonoff from Steel Train. These guys know what it’s like to work hard and not make it huge. And they’re smart. Every element of their success was flawlessly calculated, and so was every step of their performance on Friday.
They opened with the intro to “Some Nights,” dramatically strumming the first few notes while still offstage. Reuss’ voice enters, soaring over the entire theatre. It’s a Broadway-worthy belt — crystal-clear, high-pitched and instantly recognizable. (You may have heard him accompanying P!nk on her single “Just Give Me a Reason.”) Antonoff on guitar and Dost on keyboard also displayed serious musical ability.
Antonoff in particular shone in the band’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Reuss transplanted his sweeter-sounding voice into the Stones’ blues-inspired classic rock sound; it blended seamlessly into fun.’s repertoire of irresistible hooks. These hooks — on “Some Nights,” “All the Pretty Girls,” “We Are Young” and pretty much every other song — are clearly meant to be performed live in a light-filled spectacle with confetti falling. In terms of energy, fun. knows how to put on a good show.
To write songs as catchy and hit-worthy as fun.’s would certainly require real talent, but it wouldn’t hurt to have pro songwriter Jeff Bhasker, who has also worked with Kanye West, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift. Combine those addictive melodies with ultra-charming personas, and fun.’s stardom makes perfect sense. Reuss stopped at just the right moment to convey his extreme gratitude and glanced up dramatically into the heavens as if to say, “How could I possibly have gotten here?” It was cute but all a little melodramatic.
Here’s the catch with fun. As good as they are and as fun as they are, there’s something restrained about their performance and presentation. Every bit is perfectly planned to pull their audience in and to sell the canned product that is fun. It works, but one might wonder why almost everyone in the audience on Friday was either a teenager or a woman in her early 40s.
College-aged kids don’t really talk much about fun. Music big among young adults now is by performers who are more offbeat and even off-putting. The electronic music movement is all about enigmatic musicians and DJs combining sounds in unexpected and often discordant ways. Big names in indie music are quirky and awkward onstage and never use the American idol-style lip quiver.
Former iterations of fun. — the Format, Anthallo and Steel Train — all had a bit more edge, but it seems that dulling that edge is what allowed them to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and win Best New Artist at last year’s Grammy’s. fun. has great broad appeal. They’ve made it big, and millions love them. But fun. is just too perfect.