People forget about the importance of bands that are the bands you listen to before you become an adult. It's easy to dismiss the Doors—God, is it ever easy to dismiss the Doors—until you remember that the Doors are the gateway drug that lures teenagers in with their syrupy-sweet trappings (the beautiful, edgy, dead lead singer; the churchy organ; the hyperpretentious but vapid lyrics) and then, once the entire Doors catalog has been purchased or pirated and chewed to grit after endless replays, leaves those teens hungry to discover something a little more durable. For a lot of people—the suburban, the comfortable—there's simply no path to the Magnetic Fields that doesn't go through the Doors. I'm not talking about artless pap that everyone listens to, like One Direction or Blink-182. Those shitty bands only beget more shitty bands. I'm talking about bands that have some modicum of talent, even though that talent really serves only to point the way to greater talent. These are stepping-stone bands.
And fun. is the newest, shiniest set of training wheels to dominate popular culture in recent memory. These sorts of bands always take a lot of shit from people who've heard more than 36 albums in their lives, and some of that shit is warranted. I mean, their big hit single, "We Are Young," is maybe the most obvious song I've heard since the Black Eyed Peas split up. This is a song that practically writes itself: dah-DAH-dah-dah-dah-dahhhhh/DAH-dah-daaaaaahhhhhh. If fun. hadn't released this song, a bootleg recording of a hobo on Wilshire Boulevard whistling the melody could've at least cleared number five on the Billboard singles chart. But with the ornamental high-school musical trappings and the earnest lyrics that fun. brought to the song, it was practically predestined to become ubiquitous.
I'm making a little sport, here—the point is, there's a lot to like about fun. Listening to their songs brings the same euphoric sense of faux-omnipotent glee that comes from watching YouTube videos of people who attempt elaborate stunts and wind up hurting themselves spectacularly: You knew this was going to happen. And then it happens, exactly as you predicted. Your amygdala tingles with pleasure. Surely, you must be some kind of god.
So where could fun.'s pop orchestral anthems lead to? A lot of great places: Queen, Mika, the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, a host of classic musicals, Richard Hawley, Burt Bacharach, Nellie McKay, Cyndi Lauper. You may notice that a lot of these acts are gay or gay-friendly; I don't think that's a coincidence. My coworker David Schmader called fun. "the Scissor Sisters for straight people," but I prefer to think of them as the band you listen to before you realize Scissor Sisters even exist.
Fun. sounds, in a lot of ways, like the rock band that the gay-boy-who-doesn't-know-he's-gay first falls in love with in freshman year, before he comes out to himself and then to the world. That's a very important role for a band to play in a life. (One of the songs on their Some Nights album is titled "It Gets Better," and the chorus goes like this: "It gets better/It gets better/It gets better/We'll get better." Which in this day and age should at least indicate solidarity. An interviewer for Rolling Stone told fun.'s lead singer, Nate Ruess, that he assumed the song "was about growing up as a gay kid." Ruess curtly responded, "No, I'm not gay. You're a terrible Sherlock Holmes. That song is just about losing your virginity.")
So, no, you're not required to like fun. These lyrics, from "Some Nights," surely cannot have been written for functioning adults: "Oh, Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for/Whoa-oh/Whoa-oh/Most nights I don't know anymore... So this is it. I sold my soul for this?/Washed my hands of that for this?/I miss my mom and dad for this?" But come on: Say you're a kid from Nowheresville, Missouri. Your parents bought you Some Nights for your birthday at the Sam Goody at the mall. You've never heard of Weezer, and Kanye West has always secretly scared the shit out of you. You're about to go to college in Miami, and you don't know what you're doing. You know you're always going through life alone. You're going to fail. Nobody knows how you feel. Nobody understands.
Until you start listening to fun. You like the way it sounds; it's big and raw and it gives you tingles when Ruess starts belting out a chorus. Then you start listening to the lyrics. They're like a mirror for what you feel. ("And I feel so all alone/No one's gonna fix me when I'm broke... You're never gonna smile with the way that you're wired.") They grow with you. They carry you through your first epic night of boozing, when everything seems so simple and so important ("So let's set the world on fire/We can burn brighter than the sun/Carry me home tonight"). They hold your hand through your first breakup ("If you're lost and alone/Or you're sinking like a stone/Carry on"). And it feels like it's never going to end, until after a while, you find yourself skipping over the fun. songs when they come up on shuffle. They feel used up. Your new friends make jokes about how lame they are, and you realize they're right. You've moved on. But you might as well keep that CD in the back of your closet. You know, for old times' sake.