Well, we knew it had a chance, but this is still pretty surprising. Fun., a band that not a whole lot of people had even heard of four months ago, have reached the summit of the Hot 100 this week with their Glee-and-Chevy-Sonic-produced single “We Are Young,” supplanting Kelly Clarkson after her non-consecutive three-week run. Not only is it the band’s (as well as guest vocalist Janelle Monae’s) first-ever chart-topper—it’s their first song to rank on any Billboard chart, ever. “Young” rises from #3 to the top spot thanks to another huge week of digital sales (over 300,000) and a hugely increased presence on radio, as the song debuts at #24 on the Pop Charts this week.
With their ascent to pole position, Fun. and “We Are Young” set a whole bunch of “First #1 single since ___” demarcations. The band is the first to reach #1 with their debut chart entry since Nickelback did so with “How You Remind Me” all the way back in 2001. (Owl City did it in 2009, but that was really just one guy and that was more of a pop/electronic thing anyway.) They’re also the first real rock act of any kind to hit #1 since Coldplay did so with “Viva La Vida” in 2008, and they’re the first act ever on the Fueled By Ramen label to have a #1 song—even Fall Out Boy, arguably one of the most popular rock bands of the ’00s, only peaked at #2, with their “It’s Not a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.”
Of course, all this just barely scratches the surface of how unlikely a #1 “We Are Young” is. Not only did it start out as an unknown band by an unknown song, but it breaks all sorts of rules for what chart-topping hits are supposed to sound like in 2012, including being a power ballad in a time of 120-BPM standardization, changing tempos dramatically within its first minute, and having a songwriting structure closer to that of a Rent-style showtune than a Dr. Luke number. Among 21st-century #1 hits, it’s rivaled only by Owl City’s “Fireflies” and maybe Plain White T’s’ “Hey There Delilah” as the least likely, most out-of-nowhere chart-topper.
Frankly, we’re thrilled for Fun. and for America that such an improbable hit song could still top the Adele/Katy/Rihanna-dominated charts of the 2010s. We love the song, and we’re thrilled that it managed to do what such similarly great underdog alternative crossover hits of recent years like Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” and Neon Trees’ “Animal” could not quite. When chart enthusiasts complain about digital sales having too much impact on the pop charts—as evidenced by the preponderance of Glee Cast entries on the Hot 100 and the fact that every song from a new Taylor Swift album might end up charting in the same week—this is the flipside: That occasionally, a song that pop radio would otherwise have ignored forces its way into the mainstream by undeniable popular demand over iTunes and other download sites. It’s a pretty cool thing.
Oh, and by the way—a similarly left-field chart entry isn’t that far behind “We are Young,” as Gotye and Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” rises from 16-9 on the Hot 100 this week, with big gains in both digital sales and on radio, and the song currently sits at #3 on the iTunes chart. Will 2012 be the year of the awesome unpredictable chart-topper? We can only hope.