The Fox song creators celebrate 100 million YouTube hits with a sleep

Norwegian comedians behind Ylvis's The Fox say it was meant to be a skit – not the new Gangnam Style

When the video for Ylvis's The Fox passed 100m hits on YouTube this week, the Norwegian duo behind it decided to celebrate in style: "We were stuck on a plane to New York, so we had a really good sleep," said Vegard Ylvisåker, who with brother Bård is responsible for what critics call 2013's Gangnam Style.

It would have been a rare chance to catch a few winks. Like Psy's pop smash, The Fox is catchy, utterly ridiculous (its lyrics concern the fact no one knows what sound a fox makes) and comes armed with a video at least as silly as its choreographed dance routine.

It has also become ludicrously popular – more so, in fact, than Gangnam Style was at this stage of its unlikely rise.

Since being posted on 3 September, The Fox has – at the time of typing – notched 108,117,567 YouTube plays, and by the time you read this it will probably be several million more.

This week The Fox entered the Billboard charts at No 8, and Ylvis were invited on to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on NBC for a performance that involved the host donning a fox mask and singing along.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Fox's success is that the duo never intended to write a popular song. Back in Norway the Ylvisåker brothers are comedians best known for a chatshow on TV Norge, now in its third season. The Fox was intended to be nothing more than a skit for their show – the comedic idea being that they would take the most terrible song they could think of to New York and have it produced by Stargate, the production and songwriting team behind hits for Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Rihanna.

Stargate, also a Norwegian duo, owed Ylvis a favour ever since the Ylvisåkers produced a mockumentary for them. Stargate offered to produce a song in return, but the brothers worried that an attempt to break into the pop world would damage their reputation as comics, whose day job involves parodying such things. So they decided instead to write what Vegard calls an anti-hit.

Vegard said: "We had this great opportunity to work with Stargate in New York – and the best we could come up with was a song about what sound a fox makes. We screwed up. Sorry. We wanted to misuse the talents of a great producer duo."

It is hard to argue that they achieved this mission. The song's lyrics list the noises made by various animals ("Dog goes woof, cat goes meow") before asking the question generations of great minds have struggled to answer: "What does the fox say?" What follows is a synthesiser-led chorus in which the duo attempt to guess what that noise could be from "Ring-ding-ding-ding-der-ding" to "Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho".

You could argue that the song itself is a satire of the lyrically vapid electronic dance music genre that has swept the US. But Vegard claims it was born out of a genuine curiosity and nothing more.

"The funny thing is, nobody really has a good answer for how a fox sounds," he said. "The fox is an animal that has a strong individual thing when it comes to sounds. Some foxes say this, some foxes say that."

Returning home with their recording, Ylvis made a cheap video featuring people wearing various animal costumes borrowed from the Norwegian film institute. They uploaded it to YouTube and expected nothing more than mild amusement.

But by the second night they realised something was happening. Previously their most popular song had garnered 2.5m hits, but The Fox had already surpassed it. Two weeks later they found themselves in Las Vegas playing to a crowd of 20,000.

"We didn't plan any of this," said Vegard. "It's scary in the sense you would like to have some control over knowing what would happen with something you make."

The band's appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show, backed by house band the Roots – also in fox masks – was simply the latest milestone. The pair have now signed to Warners and a series of international No 1s could be on the cards, although Ylvis has bigger ambitions.

"We want to get a negative number on Billboard," said Vegard. "Passing No 1 and going into those negative numbers. We don't know if it's possible but we'll try."

The brothers plan more songs for their TV show and already have some material recorded. But there is some relief for those sick of novelty dance routines. When asked if Ylvis will be going into pop music full-time, Vegard was unequivocal: "No. Definitely not."

Contributor

Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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