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(Credit: Lindsey Turner)

Music

Why Karen O doesn't understand the success of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' biggest song

@josephtaysom

Yeah Yeah Yeahs were an integral part of defining the early 2000s, and ‘Maps’ has taken on a life of its own since being released in 2003 as part of their debut album, Fever To Tell, much to the bemusement of Karen O herself.

The group were at the epicentre of the Meet Me In The Bathroom era of New York after forming in 2000, and there was no place better to be for an emerging band than the Big Apple. It didn’t take them long to start building a reputation and become one of the most fashionable acts in NYC.

Long before they released their debut album, Yeah Yeah Yeahs had started supporting the likes of The Strokes and The White Stripes before sharing their self-titled EP in 2001.

Following the light on the city, labels were desperate to discover the next big thing from New York, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs lived up to the mighty expectations rested on their shoulders from the industry. 

Interestingly, they turned down offers from major labels and instead chose to self-finance their debut rather than accepting a lucrative contract. This brave decision meant Yeah Yeah Yeahs couldn’t be dictated to, and their first offering would be on their own terms.

A 105-track playlist chronicling the career of Karen O

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‘Maps’ was elected as the third single from Fever To Tell and quickly became a hit on alternative radio. As the years have gone on, the track’s magic has only grown, and their opus has proved to be a love song for the ages.

The effort has been covered by esteemed artists such as Arcade Fire, The White Stripes, and Anderson .Paak, but Karen O can’t comprehend why people have taken ‘Maps’ so strongly to their hearts. Speaking on BBC Radio 6’s The First Time with Matt Everitt in 2019, O explained: “I’m fascinated by it, I really am.”

The frontwomen continued: “I’m endlessly curious about that song because it’s just strange to me. It was one of the earliest songs that we wrote for the [first] record. I remember it was like a daydream making that song; it just happened so kinda effortlessly and so incidentally.”

In the same interview, O also revealed how ‘Maps’ was born out of a sample made by guitarist Nick Zinner which quickly morphed into the full track. “I was walking past his door, I heard the sample and came in and I was like, ‘What is that?’ And then five minutes later I was singing basically the lyrics to it and then it was there. It was like one of those songs that wrote itself in like five minutes.”

She added: “And then yeah, it’s done pretty well for itself since then [Laughs]. It’s a love song, and there’s just not a lot of bands that have one of their biggest songs as a love song. So I’m pretty stoked about that, too.”

Five minutes of inspiration was all Karen O needed to write her masterpiece, and the track will remain synonymous with her forever. The raw emotion she poured from her heart into the song is authentic, which you feel as a listener, and that alone explains the unlikely mass appeal of Yeah Yeahs’ finest hour.

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