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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fun "We Are Young" Song Analysis

Here's an analysis of a song by Fun that's currently #1 on the Ultimate Chart and a former #1 on the Bilboard singles chart called "We Are Young." The band has the distinction of being the first multi-member rock band to have a #1 in over a decade. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"We Are Young" is a very unusual song in that it has two completely different feels. The song begins with one feel, then abruptly changes to another for the remainder of the tune. Although I'm sure other hits have done this over the last 60 years or so, I can't remember one. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, B section, Chorus (feel change), Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, End

There's only a single B section in the song and it sets up the chorus and feel change. The song is one of the few hits these days that actually have a real ending instead of a fade, which is nice for a change.

The Arrangement
The arrangement is more interesting for the instruments that are subtracted rather than what's introduced along the way. The songs starts with an intro of drums that suggests the feel that will come later in the song, then gives way to piano and vocal. During the second half of the first verse, the piano goes from playing whole note chords ("footballs" as we call them in the studio biz) to simple arpeggios. When the chorus enters, the vocals are doubled, which continues until the end of the song. Also notice the harmony vocals that happen on the last line of at the end of the chorus every time.

  * The Foundation: Drums and bass

  * The Pad: Synth and organ in chorus, strings on verse

  * The Rhythm: Piano playing 8th notes

  * The Lead: Vocal (doesn't singer Nate Ruess sound like Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon?)

  * The Fills: None

The Sound
This is a rather sparse sounding song that gets pretty dense sounding after the feel change. There's not a lot of effects layering as most musical elements have either natural room ambience or a short room verb for a little bit of space. It's meant to be in-your-face and personal in the beginning and the end, and that's exactly what happens.

The floor tom sound (maybe it's typmani) is huge and takes up a lot of sonic space, as a result, the bass is pretty undefined, but that's okay because it does the job.

The Production
What keeps this song interesting is the use of dynamics. The song begins quietly, then gets big with the feel change and the first chorus and basically stays that way until the last chorus, when it gets much sparser, and finally ends with just the vocal and a piano. Also, the feel change really makes the song what it is, while the bridge is also different because it features a new lead vocalist, Janelle Monae. It's not something that you expect, and you keep thinking that it will go back to the original feel in the beginning, but it never happens. In fact, "We Are Young" is an all around great example of maintaining listener interest during the course of a song.

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Anonymous said...

Musically, I really like this song. Great use of harmony, and it's a lot of fun (pun unintended, but I'll take it). But listening to it, I'm struck at how little dynamic range there is. I pulled the wave from a CD rip into Audacity and it's like one solid bar at max amplitude. Audacity even points out a few places where there's clipping. It's completely absurd.

Talk about loudness wars!

Bobby Owsinski said...

Yes, this is the norm these days, unfortunately. I know that most mastering engineers and mixers would prefer it not happen, but have to cave to client (artist and label) demands.

Jen' D'Enise said...

"The Lead: Vocal (doesn't singer Nate Ruess sound like Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon"

YES!! And many parts of the song sound very much like REO Speedwagon style songs (At least from "You can tune a piano") I thought it was REO Speedwagon!

Jennifer Gower said...

"doesn't singer Nate Ruess sound like Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon?"

I am so glad I'm not the only one who made that connection...

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the covo, but he sounds Exactly like Kevin Cronin. I, too, thought that's who it was at first. Especially, on the latest song Some Nights.


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