Everyone has a wish list, even Grammy-winning rock superstars.
Rihanna, and it almost happened.
"They said, 'who can we get? And I said, 'let's get Rihanna,'" explained the song's producer, Jeff Bhasker, who joined the trio's members on stage on Sunday to scoop up the Song of the Year honor. It might have seemed like a brash call for a band who, at that point, had put out one barely-noticed album and was not expected to set the world on fire with their second.
"We were shooting for the stars on everything and she was kind of a muse," said Bhasker, who has worked with everyone from Alicia Keys to Bruno Mars, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones after making his name writing songs and creating beats for Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak. Bhasker said Rih was their touchstone for the album, with pictures of her hanging all over the studio as they were recording.
"But everything works out for a reason and Janelle [Monáe] worked out to be the perfect choice," said Bhasker, who was still trying to figure out where he was going to put his third Grammy when MTV News caught up with him on Wednesday. "She brought the right element of a great soulful flavor that we wanted for the album."
But why didn't the Rihanna ask work out? "Someone tried to reach out and I know she heard the song and liked it," he said. "But I think some wires just got crossed."
Even before Rihanna came in, and out, of the picture, the song could have ended up way different.
Bhasker said the beat for "We Are Young" was "an inch" away from being on Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne album. "They were going to rap over the beat, but everything gets changed at the last minute," said Bhasker, who offered his pal 'Ye the beat before he began working with Fun.
"I was working with them on Watch the Throne when I met [Fun. singer] Nate [Ruess] and I said, 'maybe you guys want to mess with this' and [Ruess] really liked it a lot. In the end, it didn't quite fit on [Throne] because it's a big pop song on an album they wanted to have a undergroundness and counter culture sensibility."
At the time, though, Bhasker said he was "devastated" that a beat he really loved had not made it onto Jay and 'Ye's album. But like the Janelle-for-Rihanna swap it, of course, fell into place just right in the end. "Then, luckily, the song took off on its own and it worked out for everybody."