Fun promotional photo
Photo: Fun promotional photo

Fun’s ‘Some Nights’ at 10: A Predecessor to Conscientious Pop

The indie band fun.’s thoughtful pop songwriting on Some Nights ushered the music industry into the internet age and created a still-omnipresent legacy.

Some Nights
Fueled by Ramen
21 February 2012

The pop-rock outfit fun. (period part of the name) dominated airwaves in 2012 with number one hits “We Are Young” featuring Janelle Monae and “Some Nights”, hasn’t made an album in years – and their split, according to former frontman Nate Ruess, was less than amicable. Ruess the least high-profile member of fun. at the time of the split, eclipsed by guitarist Jack Antonoff, allegedly initiated the breakup. He delved into a passion project, writing love songs about his now-wife, English fashion designer Charlotte Ronson, which would become 2015’s Grand Romantic, his first solo album. “You get a little selfish about songs that you write,” he told Rolling Stone. But his new place behind the driver’s seat of his lyrics may have taken the fun out of them. 

Many of the songs Ruess had been working on for fun.’s much-anticipated follow-up to their breakout album Some Nights (2012) became the songs he stole away for his solo project. Grand Romantic, however, an obviously-titled album about falling in love amidst a backdrop of 1970s retro pop, didn’t break any new ground for the singer-songwriter. His powerful, soaring vocals couldn’t breathe life into an album with foundations rooted in cliche. Besides, when another band member begins to outshine you isn’t the best time to strike out on your own. 

Guitarist Jack Antonoff had surpassed Ruess in name recognition during the reign of fun. thanks to a high-profile relationship with Girls actress Lena Dunham and the well-received release of his 2014 solo project, Strange Desire, created under the name of Bleachers. Despite this success, Antonoff told Billboard, “We’ll obviously make another fun. album.” He had the wisdom to balance his solo career with continued involvement with fun. But there was someone else whose grand ambitions caused him to overlook that wisdom.

Fun. was a formula, as many bands are. Take the Harry Styles away from the Niall Horan, and do you care as much about Niall? Some people simply need extra ingredients surrounding them to make their flavor stand out. Nate Ruess is one of those people. He lent powerhouse vocals to fun., and he’s credited as a songwriter on most of their songs. Most notably, he wrote the hook of the band’s breakout hit, “We Are Young.” He also might be the reason the song became a hit. After he sang the chorus for producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Beyonce) in a hotel room after a business meeting where they shared drinks, Bhasker immediately booked them studio time. This auspicious night became the eve of massive success – that would eventually cave in on itself. 

The success of “We Are Young”, released as a single on 20 September 2011, would shoot Ruess, Antonoff, and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost from relative obscurity into the upper echelons of pop. Glee’s cover treatment of “Young” in December of that year increased its sales by 1,650%, from 3,000 to 49,000 units. A GMC Superbowl commercial provided the final boost, moving 1.2 million copies of the song in three weeks. “Young” would spend six weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and break Eminem’s record for the number of weeks a song sells over 300,000 copies. Album Some Nights would debut at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and second single “Some Nights”, a catchy marching chant about anguish and redemption, would debut at no. 1. The album’s third single, “Carry On”, peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 but didn’t garner the same widespread recognition as the first two. That didn’t matter- the band had already proved itself. Their reputation, however, would outlast them.

All three band members would achieve things before and after their time in fun. Antonoff added the intellectual element to fun.’s songwriting that elevated it above the bubblegum pop Ruess would later release on his own. Speaking to The New York Times Magazine, Antonoff said, “Those people, that ten percent who know all the Springsteen cuts, beyond the hits… That’s who I make music for.” He has made this clear throughout his work as Bleachers.

On 2021’s Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, he wrenchingly described the end of his relationship with Lena Dunham: “I watch her take another pill, take another pic / Then flip another switch / And she’s gone.” Here, his autobiographical description of internet culture’s negative effects anchors the listener in songs that don’t always reach the spectacular heights of fun. Pitchfork said, “The marriage of Ruess’ vocal theatrics to Antonoff’s ear for layered songwriting brings otherwise-mundane sentiments within reach of transcendence. Apart, they lack definition.”

Antonoff has maintained a level of celebrity nonetheless. Taylor Swift even wrote a song about him, and many men who wish to be celebrities couldn’t say as much. Swift’s 2014 track, “You Are in Love”, a bonus song on her pop-breakthrough 1989, chronicled his relationship with Lena Dunham – a close friend of Swift’s – from the outside looking in. Antonoff’s friendship with Swift raised his celebrity profile, bringing him back to the upper echelons of pop and the Grammy stage. However, name-checking a celebrity ex (Scarlett Johannson – the two dated in high school) in true Swiftian fashion on “Better Love”, written for Steel Train, his pre-fun. band didn’t hurt his popularity either. 

Since Antonoff collaborated with Swift on 1989, he has become an autobiographical soothsayer for A-list pop acts. He has produced and co-written seminal albums with Lorde, Lana Del Rey, P!nk, up-and-comer Clairo, and has continued working with Swift. However, in the era of Dr. Luke, a male producer collaborating almost exclusively with female artists might cause concern. Some have postulated that Antonoff’s collaborations indicate a desire to physiologically replicate his relationship with his sister, who died of childhood cancer at 13.

Others propose he is fetishizing women as a heterosexual man. However, ultimately, Antonoff called these theories “entry-level analysis” and attributed his collaborations with female artists to their willingness to “[talk] about what’s gone wrong in our lives, quietly [put] it to a piano, and then eventually [make] it into this big thing”. Male artists he has worked with don’t share the same willingness to be emotionally vulnerable or autobiographical in their work – and it shows when they release music on their own.

Moments autobiographical to fun. band members other than Antonoff punctuate Some Nights, such as on album closer “Stars”, when Ruess sings, “But most nights I stay straight / And think about my mom,” referencing the passing of his mother. However, Ruess’ solo debut, Grand Romantic, doesn’t feature any trace of idiosyncratic detail. As a title, Grand Romantic would work as a parody of itself, but it isn’t self-aware enough to do that. In the single “Nothing Without Love”, Ruess presents a one-dimensional narrator who professes himself a “sinking ship”. That cliched imagery backfires by pointing out that the only sinking ship is Ruess’ solo career. 

On the opening track of Some Nights, “Some Nights (Intro)”, Ruess introduces the listener to the range and depth of his voice and the neuroses of his narrator. At first, he contemplates regretful behavior in relationships (“And you, why you wanna stay? / Oh my God! Have you listened to me lately? / Lately, I’ve been fucking crazy…”). The song then reaches a crescendo in imitation of Queen’s maximalist opera style, as he admits, “There are some nights I wait for someone to save us / But I never look inward, try not to look upward/…But usually, I’m just trying to get some sleep.”

The self-effacing jab laced into this final line creates a self-aware narrator and acts as a thesis statement for the album’s central narrative. Throughout the album, the narrator experiences euphoric highs and visceral lows depending on the night. (Is it a lonely night in? Or a raucous night out?) However, the prophetic statement, “Usually I’m just trying to get some sleep,” preemptively files all of the album’s musings in the place where we put our ridiculous notions after thinking them through. Maybe interrogating these notions that populate the rest of the album can be fun. 

This introductory song creates a narrator aware of himself and the era in which he exists. A handheld device with access to the internet can trigger his oscillations between ecstasy and grief: “I live in horror of people on the radio / Tea parties and Twitter, I’ve never been so bitter.” However, the music video for “Some Nights” takes place during the American Civil War, making clear that the album’s modern allusions portray emotions constant throughout humanity. Regardless, fun. still know they wouldn’t exist without mass media. 

Fun. create a link between bands who emerged in traditional ways, such as through excessive touring (think Paramore) and Gen Z acts which break through the internet (Shawn Mendes). Fun. was the early 2010s predecessor to instant internet fame, as its make-or-break mass media moments came on television instead of social media. Jack Antonoff acknowledged the industry shift towards digital overnight fame when talking about the breakup of Steel Train. He said, “We were in the heyday of that ‘get in the van and tour’ era…We were a real product of our time, and that time is over.” Antonoff acknowledged this changing industry norm, then profited it from immensely by co-founding fun., whose radio-friendly pop blended the wide accessibility of contemporary trends with the indie rock of the band members’ pasts. Antonoff, by going pop, simply did what he had to do to keep making music. 

Although Some Nights succeded with the teen set (Glee covered it, after all) the album makes adult disillusionment palatable through its pop veneer. The song that started it all, “We Are Young”, describes a drunken night out with subtle nuance and complexity. In the bridge, the line, “The angels never arrived / But I can hear the choir,” encapsulates the album’s ethos that jumps between wallowing in grief and reveling in hope. Such, perhaps, is the ethos of pop music overall. This would explain why an album made by people who once made music “by design only for insane, hardcore fans” could succeed on such a massive scale. 

Pop music is about making life digestible: Taylor Swift sings about heartbreak in a relatable and accessible way. Katy Perry makes raunchiness feel like rebellion. Lady Gaga makes immense spectacle something that the average person could weigh in on, even if they didn’t attend the MET Gala. And the band fun. made heartbreak, grief, disappointment, and self-loathing, well… fun. 

The album closer “Stars” recenters the album in its philosophical journey. Six minutes in length, with no clear chorus, it ties the threads of the album together when Ruess sings, “You’re always holding onto stars / I think they’re better off from afar.” In questioning whether or not individuals’ destinies are written in the stars, the song advocates for forgetting about the possibility of predestination. Ignorance is bliss. Better to live in the moment. Maybe the band will break up, maybe the relationship will fizzle out, maybe we will all die one day. But for now, go out with your friends, “set the world on fire,” and just have fun. Period.