So what does the fox say? Ker-ching, ker-ching. . .
The novelty song has got 220 million YouTube hits, writes Harry Wallop
Clever fox: The Norwegian brothers' song has racked up 220 million hits and counting on YouTube
If you have never heard of Ylvis, that will soon change. They are responsible for the ludicrous 'What Does the Fox Say?' song, which has 220 million YouTube hits, increasing daily – that's 44 times the population of Norway, the home country of these two brothers.
The song is already on course to become this year's 'Gangnam Style', the South Korean nonsense that racked up 1.8 billion hits to become the most watched video of all time.
It lacks Gangnam's immediately imitable dance move, but in its place are the world's silliest lyrics, sung with faux intensity by Bård, the younger of the two Ylvisåker brothers: "Dog goes woof, cat goes meow, bird goes tweet and mouse goes squeak. But there's one sound that no one knows ... what does the fox say?"
At this point the 'Birdy Song' pastiche morphs into some nightmare dance track sung by crazed adults in onesies screeching: "Ring-ding-ding-ding-der-ding", "hatee-hatee-hatee-ho" and "wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow". The brothers insist no drugs were involved.
Indeed, meeting them in a swanky hotel room, they are disarmingly baffled by the success of the song, which was intended as a joke, but is already number one in Cambodia and Lebanon, and has been a top 10 hit in the US – the first time Norwegians have achieved this since a-ha, nearly 30 years ago.
Bård (31) and Vegard (34) wrote the "anti-hit", as they describe it, to promote their chat show in Norway, which often features their comedy songs, some of which, they say, are inspired by Monty Python.
Their 'Stonehenge' is laugh-out-loud funny. Track it down. Their show, however, is watched by just 300,0000 people in Norway and is regularly beaten in the ratings by a farming programme.
Indeed a five-hour live knitting marathon on the Norwegian national broadcaster garnered a million more viewers than Tonight With Ylvis.
Undeterred, for this latest project, the duo teamed up with Stargate, LA-based (but Norwegian) pop producers who have worked with Rihanna.
"We thought that if we did a brilliant and really clever idea, it would seem pretentious and that we were trying to be pop stars, not comedians," says Bård. So they intended to make a stupid song with high production values that bombed. They failed.
But the "Oh gosh, we never meant to have a hit on our hands" does not quite ring true. A record deal with Warner had already been signed before 'What Does the Fox Say?' and they have a children's book, featuring the lyrics, out in time for Christmas.
It is charmingly illustrated (and less disturbing than the song). "I promise you there is no master plan to get rich, but it's all fun," says Vegard.
Bård chips in: "Look, I can tell you how to make a video that gets one or two million hits on YouTube – the recipe is to have a chat show watched by 300,000. But to have a hit with 220 million – that's luck."
Vegard claims they have yet to see any financial benefit from the phenomenon.
Psy, the podgy Gangnam puppet-master, reportedly earned £3.6m (€4.3m) from his 1.8 billion YouTube hits, which would suggest the brothers could have earned about £400,000 (€477,556) or so. Vegard squirms when quizzed about how famous he has become. "That idea makes me uncomfortable. We don't do fame in Norway."
For now, they are happy to ride the wave of popularity. An album of their songs is likely. But they insist they will be comedy tracks, not pop hits.
"It's like The Matrix," says Vegard. "When you enter the world of showbiz, you have to choose the red pill or the blue pill. It's comedy or not comedy, you can't transfer."
They are very good-humoured – even agreeing to teach me how to do the fox sound ("You don't need to ding on all the ringer-dings," Bård advises me) – but they are still coming to terms with their improbable success.
More people will have heard of you than Ibsen, I point out. "That's sad. I hope that's not true," says Bård.
"But he didn't do music videos," says Vegard.
Bård asks the assembled crowd of showbiz aides if anyone minds if he has some of the food that room service has brought in. "Do you think Psy asks?" I say.
"Hmm. This is a good point." And he gingerly takes a smoked salmon sandwich.