When little-known New York indie band Fun released “We Are Young” as the lead single for their second studio album Some Nights in September 2011, it went largely unnoticed, only garnering some attention from online critics and quickly fading off the Billboard Hot 100 after debuting at No. 53. But then Fox’s Glee covered the song for a pivotal scene in a December 2011 episode, sending sales for the single soaring 1,650%. The show put “We Are Young” on the map and back on the charts. The song’s subsequent use in a Chevrolet Sonic commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl pushed it to No. 1.
Tonight, “We Are Young” won a Grammy for Song of the Year, with Fun named best new artist. In their emotional acceptance speech the trio didn’t mention Glee but they probably should have. Glee music supervisor PJ Bloom was given a copy of the single ahead of its release and has admitted he was reluctant at first. “Glee doesn’t break bands,” he told Billboard last year. “We celebrate existing pop success — that’s our core model.” But after listening to the song once, he changed his mind and sent the song to Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, who went on to build one of the key scenes of the season, performed by the entire young cast of the series. With that, Fun became the first new band Glee has broken. The success of the group and “We Are Young” will no doubt encourage more aspiring artists to seek the Fox show — which remains a music force despite declining ratings — as a launching pad.
Fun was not the only big Grammy winner tonight to have benefited by a cover on Glee. Gotye‘s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, which landed the coveted Record Of The Year prize, too got a strong boost when performed on Glee in a talked-about scene. (He also won for best Alternative album.) Gotye’s original had premiered at No. 91 in the U.S. in January 2012. It wasn’t until the Glee cover by Matt Bomer and Darren Criss on April 10 kicked off a string of high-profile performances of the song, including by Phillip Phillips on American Idol the next night and by Gotye and Kimbra on Saturday Night Live three days later, that propelled the song to No. 1, turning it into a mega hit overnight. The success has gone both ways, with the Glee versions of the two songs also enjoying blockbuster sales. Which proves that the show should probably stray more often from its tried-and-true pop hit covers and take greater risks with artists outside the mainstream.