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For much of Gen Z, the liminal space between childhood and adolescence is punctuated by the viral internet phenomena of the time: Think Nyan Cat, Charlie Bit My Finger, Double Rainbow,or that one time John Travolta introduced Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem.” But perhaps no internet sensation spread faster across our respective elementary and middle school recess yards than “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?),” a music video in which Norwegian sibling/comedy duo Ylvis sing about the potential sounds a fox could make, all while donning a vast array of animal costumes alongside a herd of background dancers.
Released in 2013, the video now boasts over 1 billion views on YouTube. At their peak, Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker grazed the upper echelon of the Billboard charts, won the runner-up slot on Time Magazine’s top ten viral videos list for 2013, earned invites onto comedy shows like “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” and even caught the attention of The Harvard Crimson. But watching the video a decade later, it’s hard not to wonder what it was that earned this viral video so much acclaim. What follows is our conjecture.
To psychologize the voice of another being is a lofty task, indeed. First of all, there’s the ethical question of psychologizing itself — who is licensed to assume the intent of another, and if so, under what circumstance? “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” makes quite a few conjectures about the fox’s voice, with increasingly energetic assumptions such as “Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!” and “Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!,” or the classic “A-oo-oo-oo-ooo!” However, the composition itself remains ambiguous on what these various messages mean or implicate for the fox, in its own right. Ylvis instead only seems bent on illustrating that their proposed question of what, exactly, the fox says is unanswered and perhaps unanswerable.
One could argue that these onomatopoetic ruminations are derogatory towards the fox. Despite the music video’s shockingly well-funded production, Ylvis did not work to portray the fox in a graceful manner. The fox instead dons a crass onesie in comparison to the lavish costumes and props seen throughout the number, and wears minimal face paint and an ear helmet that looks as though it was found behind your local Party City. From the song’s visual representation of the fox in question, it’s clear that its individual personhood (foxhood?) is below Ylvis’ interest.
Despite Ylvis’ underwhelming representation of the fox’s physicality, the overall work presents an energetic exploration of the fox within the wider animal kingdom. The fox’s voice is pensively considered alongside those of its easier-defined contemporaries, such as the dog, bird, cow, and elephant, among many other household names. Where the production skimps on the fox’s appearance, its lyricism gives it heart, and they offer the fox many voices of its own.
What do the creators say on the matter? In an introduction to a live performance of the piece, Vegard admitted, “It’s not like a story; it’s just a bunch of animal sounds.”
Artistry and musical intent aside, the cultural impact of this piece is undeniable — from the appalling view count on the video itself to the numerous gasps that echoed across the room when this retrospective was pitched. As the internet of 2023 grows fractured and universally viral YouTube videos become a thing of the past, there’s something especially heartwarming about remembering the time that fictional animal noises occupied our generation’s collective consciousness.
So what does the fox actually say? Perhaps the fox says thank you, Ylvis. Thank you for defining our childhoods.
— Staff writer Stella A. Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com.
— Staff writer Dylan R. Ragas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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