Is Fall Out Boy’s Cover of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” the Worst Song of Summer?

"Trump gets impeached twice / Polar bears got no ice." It gets worse.

Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy during the 2023 NFL Draft Concert Series at Draft Theater on April 27, 2023 in Kansas City. The band recently covered Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" with updated lyrics.
Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy during the 2023 NFL Draft Concert Series in Kansas City
Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images

Pop-punk stalwarts Fall Out Boy have inexplicably released an updated version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” featuring post-1989 historical events including 9/11, Brexit, the death of Michael Jackson and Fyre Festival.

“More war in Afghanistan / Cubs go all the way again / Obama / Spielberg / Explosion Lebanon / Unabomber / Bobbit, John / Bombing Boston marathon / Balloon Boy / War on terror / Qanon,” is one of many, many cringe moments on the updated version, which seems to have no reason to exist other than trolling its audience.

You can listen below, if you must:

Was the 1989 original chart-topping single terrible? While some may defend Joel’s song — a co-worker here notes that “the original was a legit early history education for me…it was definitely played in elementary school social studies class at least once or twice,” — the consensus is that the pop culture listicle is truly irritating. Over at Stereogum, writer Tom Breihan (in his ongoing, must-read Numbers One series) describes the original perfectly:

“If there’s anything worthwhile about Billy Joel’s loathsome and maddening ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ — anything at all — it’s that the song captures a certain feeling of overwhelm. We all know that feeling. You’re looking at some timeline or other, and the sheer intensity of information gets to be enough that you want to curl up into a ball with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears. It’s too much, all the time.”

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Fall Out Boy has given little reason for doing an update. On the band’s Twitter, they (we’re guessing via bassist Pete Wentz) offer up a short explanation. “I thought about this song a lot when I was younger. All these important people and events- some that disappeared into the sands of time- others that changed the world forever. So much has happened in the span of the last 34 years- we felt like a little system update might be fun. Hope you like our take on it…”

As an unapologetic fan and champion of the band, I can safely say the answer is no, we don’t like your take on a terrible song — although Twitter reactions, for now, seem nearly 100% positive. While FOB’s covers have been hit (“So Sick,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” or miss (“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Beat It”) in the past, they at least showed a fearlessness to tackle genres and songs outside of the punk/emo sphere. This update, which foregoes the usual punk playbook move of speeding things up (usually in the name of sarcasm), sticks to its ’80s tempo and stilted production.

There’s no irony. Wentz is a clever lyricist, but this feels like a writing exercise that never should have been shared in public. There are a few Warped Tour-era shoutouts (Black Parade, Tom DeLonge and aliens) that I guess count as “fun.” But there’s also a sinking feeling the band did this simply for the attention that its new — and good — return-to-form album So Much (For) Stardust hasn’t quite reached, at least compared to previous records. Witness: the song is the lead story on the aforementioned Stereogum and on the front page of Pitchfork.

Fall Out Boy’s tour continues this summer. I’ll be there. And I’ll be the first to leave if I hear “Elon Musk / Kaepernick / Texas failed electric grid.”

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