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A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It was supposed to be a joke, a prank for their Norwegian talk show, Tonight With Ylvis. When Bard and Vegard Ylvisaker (better known as Ylvis) recorded the now-ubiquitous “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” with renowned producers Stargate, the brothers hoped the song would fail so they could go on air and say they blew their chance to make a hit.
The Norwegian comedy duo even started working on a book for the stunt. “We thought it would be funny if we had, like, a tanked song project and merchandise that was really well made,” explains Bard, 31. But the video of their song quickly went viral on YouTube, racking up 20 million views in a week. As of early December, the video had more than 275 million views and was named YouTube’s top trending video of 2013.
Over the past few months, Ylvis has performed at the star-studded iHeartRadio Festival, signed with a major label, appeared on U.S. talk shows and landed a Simon & Schuster deal brokered by CAA for the “joke” book. What Does the Fox Say?, featuring the song’s lyrics, was released Dec. 10 and has made Amazon’s top 50 sales ranking. But the brothers cite receiving an award for international favorite artist at Hong Kong’s Mnet Asian Music Awards as their most memorable event. “The whole thing was so big, so for us, that was really crazy,” says Vegard, 34.
Although Ylvis is amazed at the success they’ve had — and they did have to rewrite their talk-show script after their prank plan went awry — they’re thrilled by what’s happened. “This is like our big dream coming true,” says Bard. “This is what we have been working for for years.”
The brothers say they wouldn’t be upset if their stateside success is short-lived, noting they still have a career in Norway to fall back on. “If you guys like what we do in the future, that’s a good thing. If you don’t, we’ll return to our office in Norway and still be happy,” says Bard. “Everything’s a bonus. And we won’t be disappointed if we’re kicked out of the country.
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