The story of this hit single makes “The Fox” seem positively old-school.
While the viral video origins of “The Fox,” much like “Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style” before it, were pretty straightforward and at least bore some linearity between the release of the single and its subsequent viral-ity, “Gone” is an eight-year-old track from Kanye’s second album and was never intended to be a single, much less a top 20 pop hit.
“Gone” was used in a viral video as a kiss-off to an employer from a disgruntled employee who apparently never heard “Take This Job and Shove It.” Once the video went viral, the song became a hit. No agency on Kanye’s part whatsoever. Completely random.
The song itself is widely regarded as one of the unheralded highlights of Late Registration, one of Kanye’s best-received projects. The track bears a strong structural similarity to the much-better-known “Gold Digger,” complete with a looped old-school soul sound byte (an authentic one from Otis Redding, not the fake one voiced by Jamie Foxx). Given Kanye’s strong use of motifs within his projects, this isn’t surprising. The verses are highly narrative and sing-songy, with strings providing punctuation in a clever and engaging call-and-response structure (again, like “Gold Digger”).
It’s a standout track, but it feels hopelessly retro. Kanye has hashed through about six different musical styles since 2005, so it comes across as clean, but not fresh.
“The Fox” sounds like what would happen if Bjork sold out and got a lobotomy. It’s a wondrously wide-eyed, full-blown EDM version of the See ‘N Say, except there’s a wildcard animal in the henhouse: “What does the fox say?”
What follows that hook… is hilarity: a wide array of guesses about what noise we could assign to the fox, each more absurd than the one before, all set to propulsive dance breakdown synths.
Ylvis is a Norwegian comedy duo, heretofore unknown to Americans, who were innocently shopping around for a silly song for their TV show. In an absolute coup, they enlisted fellow countrymen, production team Stargate (as in Rihanna, Beyonce, and Ne-Yo–yes, THAT Stargate) to produce the parody ditty.
The result: a comedy record cloaked in such a convincingly deadpan earnestness and pristine production values that it actually is more musically satisfying than the “real” songs it’s parodying. Remember how Weird Al Yankovic’s backing tracks always sounded like a cheap karaoke version of the original? None of that here.
“The Fox” is a testament to a remarkable development in music: the democratization of the pop charts, now that YouTube tallies are included in the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s also a tribute to the power of music. Although the parody here is dead-on, it teeters on the verge of imploding; half of me was doubled over in laughter, yet the other half was becoming quite absorbed in Ylvis’s quest for the fox’s voice, sheerly on the strength of the excellent arrangement.