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."


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Gangnam Style breaks YouTube record

Psy's song poking fun at South Korea's bourgeouisie leapfrogs Justin Bieber's Baby to become most-watched video ever

Staff and agencies

24, Nov, 2012 @4:45 PM

Article image
Gangnam Style passes 1bn views on YouTube
South Korean rapper Psy's song has broken a Guinness world record and is the most liked video in the history of YouTube. By Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur

21, Dec, 2012 @3:38 PM

How Psy taught me Gangnam Style

Gangnam style: Korean pop star Psy invented 'Gangnam style' to mock the pretensions of Seoul's wealthy citizens. Since then, thanks to 700m YouTube hits, David Cameron, Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon have learned the moves. But who is he, and can he teach Jay Rayner? Eh, sexy lady...

Jay Rayner

18, Nov, 2012 @12:04 AM

YouTube Comedy Week, day four: Crabstickz, the Gregory Brothers and Psy

YCW continues to struggle for belly laughs on day four, with the Gregory Brothers' DJ Play My Song the pick of a tepid bunch

Brian Logan

23, May, 2013 @12:09 PM

Article image
Psy's Gentleman reviewed: 'a fairly standard-issue pop-dance single'
Lacking Gangnam Style's parody of the super-rich (no, really), Gentleman's success depends on what is yet to be revealed

Alexis Petridis

12, Apr, 2013 @1:32 PM

K-pop stars: the lowdown on South Korean pop

Psy's hit, Gangnam Style, has taken the genre to the top of western charts – if it's new to you, here are the names to drop and videos to watch

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

28, Sep, 2012 @8:59 AM

Article image
PewDiePie still world's biggest YouTube star with 351m views in June
Gamer's channel still ahead of Shakira, Pitbull and Katy Perry, while Psy's Snoop Dogg Hangover returns him to top 10. By Stuart Dredge

Stuart Dredge

29, Jul, 2014 @12:19 PM

Article image
Thom Yorke: YouTube steals art 'like Nazis during second world war'
The Radiohead frontman hits out at video-sharing site’s supposed double standards over ad-blocking: ‘Artists don’t get paid, but if YouTube don’t get a profit out of it, it’s not fair’

Guardian music

01, Dec, 2015 @11:27 AM

Article image
Nikki Sixx launches campaign to get YouTube to ‘do the right thing’ over music royalties
Mötley Crüe and Sixx:AM co-founder wants to swell the chorus of criticism of Google service from musicians and persuade it to up its payouts

Stuart Dredge

25, Apr, 2016 @3:00 AM

Article image
YouTube changes restrictions on gay-themed content following outcry
Tegan and Sara are among protesters who complained about having had YouTube videos classified as restricted, seemingly for being LGBTQ-themed

Staff and agencies

21, Mar, 2017 @9:47 AM