Crazy like ‘The Fox’: joke becomes a sensation
The goofy Norwegian brothers behind the song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” are finding that instant fame is a mixed blessing as they travel around, performing a song that was never meant to amount to anything.
New York Times News Service
Studio 6A, the Rockefeller Plaza home of NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” was filled with artificial smoke and laser lights when Bard and Vegard Ylvisaker arrived. These Norwegian brothers, who had spent the previous days traveling from Oslo, Norway, to London to New York, did not seem to be particularly fazed as they surveyed their surroundings, which included a squad of dancers in fox masks and makeup, two long rows of full-length mirrors and a man dressed in a head-to-toe horse costume.
“It’s absurd,” said Bard, who is 31, with a deadpan demeanor and long blond hair. “But after a while, it starts to feel like work.”
This has become the routine for the Ylvisaker brothers, known collectively as Ylvis, for the past month, ever since they became unlikely pop-music sensations with a willfully silly if undeniably catchy song called “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).”
Over a thumping electronic beat, “The Fox” asks in pleadingly sincere tones why, if there are distinctive sounds associated with the many other animals in creation, is there not one for the fox?
In the past week, “The Fox” reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, surpassing hits like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Lady Gaga’s “Applause.” An equally mystifying video that features the photogenic Ylvisakers and other performers in a variety of animal outfits has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.
But even as the song continues to grow in popularity it is becoming both a blessing and a burden to its creators. How much further, they wonder, can they take something that was never meant to go anywhere in the first place?
In their homeland, the Ylvisaker brothers are jokesters and the hosts of their own comedy talk show, “I Kveld Med Ylvis” (“Tonight With Ylvis”), on Norwegian television.
They made “The Fox” with assistance from Stargate, the producing duo that has also helped create hit songs for Rihanna, Katy Perry and Wiz Khalifa — except that their track, the Ylvisakers said, was intended to be bad.
“From a comedian’s perspective, it would be much more fun if we misused their talents,” Bard said. “We go make that song, we come back to our talk show and we say, ‘Sorry, guys.’”
Instead, the video became an international phenomenon when it was posted in early September, racking up hundreds of thousands of views by the day.
“The Fox” made its debut at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
As they made their way from NBC headquarters to SoHo, the Ylvisakers said they were satisfied and relieved by their appearance on “Late Night,” where the house band, the Roots, had joined in on “The Fox.”
Before that evening’s performance of the song, Bard said, “We never rehearsed it, because it was never supposed to be a live thing.”