When Ryan Tedder wrote the song “Apologize,” he knew that it would be a hit. He just wasn’t prepared for how big. And that’s sort of freaking him out.
“I knew instantly, when I came up with the chorus,” the lead singer of alt-rockers OneRepublic. “I didn’t know it would be as big as it was, but I had a very strong feeling that it was going to be big. I remember calling my girlfriend at the time — who became my wife — and I said, ’I just wrote this song that I think is the defining sound of what we’re going for, and I’m convinced it’s a hit.’ But I have written songs for other artists that I really thought were going to blow up, and they didn’t. Sometimes, you can have a hit song with the wrong artist, or the wrong climate. Writing a hit song … it’s like lightning in a bottle.”
Of course, you may still not know OneRepublic by name, but you definitely know their song “Apologize,” from the band’s debut LP, Dreaming Out Loud. After all, the track has smashed records, becoming the biggest radio airplay hit in the history of North American Top 40 radio, according to Billboard. But Tedder is aware that its popularity may soon become a problem.
“A song can become too big,” Tedder said. “If, in the next six months, you bring up this band’s name and people still can’t connect who we are, and you have to bring up ’Apologize’ every time to reference us, I would say the song got a little too big — that it’s bigger than the band. I know certain bands that have literally called radio stations and asked them to stop playing their songs, because it could burn out fans. A year from now, we’ll be able to tell if it was too big. And I think we could have a hit that big again. We’re constantly running this race, and your goal should always be beating your previous record. Lightning can strike twice; we just want people to connect with another song, other than ’Apologize.’
“As wonderful as ’Apologize’ has been for us, I think any band is kind of afraid of their first single,” he continued. “If it blows up enormously, it’s a lot to live up to. Plus, you’re also trying to solidify the fact that you’re not a one-hit wonder. We want to move past that phase, to where people are like, ’OK, it’s a legitimate band.'”
Tedder is something of an expert on hits. He has written songs for artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Natasha Bedingfield, Ashley Tisdale, Leona Lewis, Chris Cornell, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, Hilary Duff, Timbaland, Christina Milian, Bubba Sparxxx, T.A.T.U., Jennifer Hudson and Ashanti. He’s currently working with Kelly Clarkson, the Pussycat Dolls and James Morrison on songs for their next LPs.
Tedder said the rapid rise of “Apologize” took on all the charts that matter took OneRepublic by surprise, but both the band and the new audience the song attracted are finally adjusting to each other. At gigs six months ago, Tedder said OneRepublic would watch the crowd snooze through their set, waiting for them to play “Apologize.”
“Late last year, we could do a 45-minute set and it wouldn’t matter — the crowd would sing along to one song, and the rest of the songs, you can see they’re kind of deciding, ’How much do we like this band?’ or ’Are we here for one song?’ ” he said. “You see that from the stage. They’re just kind of staring at you. But we played Philadelphia recently, and 1,500 people or so sang every single song we played. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how we measure success — it’s a weird question. What makes us feel more validated is people coming to see us. Because, think about it, to go out on a Friday night, and pay parking … all the nonsense you go through just to see a live show — when someone shows up, it’s like, ’Thank you for showing up.’ ”
With any luck, OneRepublic will be able to evolve — in the public eye — beyond this one mega-hit, to a point where they’re bigger than the songs they’ve crafted. And the band’s third single, “Say,” may just be the ticket.
“It came about 100 percent organically,” Tedder said. “It was just us making music that inspired us, and we all love it way more than ’Apologize.’ It remains to be seen how it will do, but for us, we’re constantly trying to write a better song that connects with us and the audience.”
The band recently shot a video for “Say” while on tour in Paris. But the boys wouldn’t dish on the treatment, which they came up with themselves. All they would reveal is that “it will have a lot of movement, and it’s going to be beautiful,” with the city’s opulence and scenery serving as the clip’s chief stars. And if “Say” does get the same response as “Apologize,” don’t worry about OneRepublic letting it go to their collective head.
“I think the single most important asset anybody could have in the entertainment business is objectivity,” said Tedder. “If you lose that, you lose perspective of who you are in this world, in relation to everybody else. And then you start to buy into all the crap. ’I was in Us Weekly this week for doing this,’ or, ’I was hanging out with this person,’ or, ’Paris hosted my birthday party’ — all of that. It’s absolutely meaningless, and if you don’t hold onto that perspective, you end up buying into it and you lose your brain.”