Phoenix: From Nobodies to Superstars in One Year
If I had to pick one band that might not have been particularly excited to ring in the new year, it would be French electro-rockers Phoenix. When you have a year like they did in 2009, you want to ride it as long as possible. To say that 2009 was a "good" year for Phoenix would be an epic understatement. Phoenix didn't just have a "good" year, they had the sort of breakout that most bands spend their entire careers trying to have. Phoenix went from unknowns to stars.
So what was the key to the band's success? Well, it made some really good music.
The childhood friends from Versailles (Laurent Brancowitz, Thomas Mars, Christian Mazzalai and Deck D'Arcy) have been playing music together since the '90s and even have connections to some other notable French acts. Guitarist Brancowitz, for example, played in a band called Darlin' with Guy Manuel de Homme-Christo and Thomas Bangalter who would go on to form Daft Punk. Thomas Mars sang vocals on Air's "Playground Love," one of the highlights on the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola's film The Virgin Suicides. Mars would eventually start dating Coppola. The couple now has a child.
Phoenix has released five albums since 2000, most of which have not had commercial success in the States but all of which have been well received by the press. The band showed a lot of promise with the 2006 album It's Never Been Like That, which contained hit singles "Long Distance Call" and "Courtesy Laughs." While the album managed to make some headway for the band, it would be nothing compared to what was about to come.
When the band released Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix on May 26, 2009, it was regarded as an instant classic. Thanks in large part to the undeniable catchiness of its two lead singles, "1901" and "Lisztomania," just about everybody raved about it. And, why not? Any band that can write such a catchy tune about 19th-century Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt deserves all the praise it gets. Even though Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix clocks in at just 37 minutes, each of the album's 10 tracks is a masterfully crafted gem.
The band was catapulted from indie darlings to breakout stars overnight. They made appearances on Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. The song "1901" has been featured on commercials for Cadillac, in movie trailers, and on network TV shows. The album topped critics' best-of-the-year lists in Rolling Stone and on Pitchfork. Eventually, an entire album of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix remixes became available. To top it off, they were nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Alternative Album" category.
Not too shabby a year, I'd say.
Now the trick is to see whether Phoenix can carry over the success they experienced in 2009 to beyond. While we probably won't see a new album from the band in the near future, Phoenix will continue to tour in support of Wolfgang Phoenix Amadeus and continue to win over audiences for a long time to come.
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