With their second album, American band Fun expanded on their indie sound by collaborating with producer Jeff Bhasker, responsible for hits for Beyonce, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys among others. Apparently, it was exactly We Are Young that made Bhasker take interest in the band, when lead singer Nate Ruess played a demo version to him. Bhasker recalled the event: “I was kind of blown away. He sings me the song, and I immediately booked a studio for the next day.”
We Are Young has been praised by the critics for its combination of the anthemic and the introspective. The transition from the “vulnerable verbal tumbling in the song’s sonically sparse intro” to the “grandiose declaration in the massive chorus” was noted by Billboard. Allmusic stated that We Are Young is one of the two songs on the album where the band provides “a very human core that grounds things even as the music builds to ornate crescendos”. Spin characterized the song as a marriage between first-pump stadium rock and prim indie-pop.
In an interview with Music Radar, Ruess admitted that the thing he is the most proud of is “having made such an unconventional song that’s being embraced by so many people”. He recalled being dropped from a label when he was 21 years old, then starting concentrating strictly on live shows without the hope of ever having a hit single. Ruess also detailed on how the song came to be: “I sang into my phone what is essentially the chorus. And then I remember asking the other two guys for chord progressions. Andrew sent me this beat and a chord progression, and it had a little drop in it with, like, this note. I ended up using some of those chords for writing the verses, and I used that drop part – suddenly, I had a song.” Janelle Monae is featured, though many felt she was underused for providing only backing vocals.
We Are Young spent 6 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know (featuring Kimbra).