Barenaked Ladies Reflect on the 25th Anniversary of "One Week": "I Believed It Would Be a B-Side"

Ed Robertson says, "We don't need to prove anything to anybody. We already did!"

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 13, 2023

It's been... 25 years since Barenaked Ladies conquered the charts with their 1998 smash "One Week" — a song that spat out a string of pop culture references and, appropriately enough, became a milestone pop culture moment in itself.

While Barenaked Ladies were already stars here in Canada, thanks to their 1992 breakthrough album Gordon (and its singles "If I Had $1000000," "Brian Wilson" and "Be My Yoko Ono), it was "One Week" that made them household names south of the border, propelled by placements in era-defining teen comedies American Pie and 10 Things I Hate About You.

While the song could loosely be defined as "rap rock," it bore absolutely no resemblance to the genre's other stars of the era, altogether abandoning the anger of Rage Against the Machine and the machismo of Limp Bizkit is favour of pure silliness. It's a comedy song, yet with a chorus hook that transcends mere novelty, and a story of a fighting couple that's sweet and self-deprecating enough to take seriously.

The single came out on September 15, 1998, and BNL are marking the anniversary by releasing their latest album, In Flight, 25 years to the day that their career-defining hit first dropped. To mark the occasion, we spoke with singer (and "One Week" songwriter) Ed Robertson about initially thinking the song would be a B-side, his pride in using Swiss Chalet's French name, and his goal of making another No. 1 hit 25 years later.

What are your memories from writing and recording "One Week"?
I had the basic outline for "One Week" for about a month, and I kept trying to write the verses with little to no success. Eventually, I stopped trying to be so clever and I just rolled tape and freestyled for five minutes. Afterward, I culled all the most ridiculous improvised moments and stitched them together into the song. We included a bunch of the extra verses on the lyric sheet 'cause we thought they were funny. 

When you wrote the song, did you know it would be a big moment for the band?
I really and truly believed it would be a B-Side or bonus track on the record. So much so, that when Sue Drew, our A&R lead on the project, told me it would be the first single, I actually thought she was making fun of me, and the song!

Listening back to "One Week" now, what stands out?
I think what stands out is how adventurous it is. It's really fun, and it still holds up. I still love playing that song live. It's always a challenge, and the audience still seems to challenge themselves to sing all the lyrics. 
Why do you think this song connected with listeners in the way it did?
The energy was huge. The lyrics were timely. The challenge of catching them all became a thing. The song became ubiquitous with that time period. I think it just really captured a strange band in a wild moment. People were up for it!

Of the many quotable lines in the song, which one are you most proud of?

I'm pretty proud of "Like Kurosawa I make mad films / Okay, I don't make films." Also, "I summon fish to the dish, although I like the Chalet Suisse / I like the sushi cause it's never touched a frying pan." A ridiculous reference to the French name of a Canadian national Chicken restaurant. In your face, "Men at Work"! I see your "Vegemite sandwich" and raise you one "Chalet Suisse"!

The song became a major pop culture moment itself, appearing in lots of films, ads, video games and more. Of all the places this song popped up, which one was the most memorable for you?
I always say yes when there is a request to clear this song for film and television. I don't care if it's celebrating the song, or poking fun at it. It's all hilarious to me. My favourite would have to be the appearance in What We Do in the Shadows — bonkers. 

Given how fast the delivery is, what has it been like recreating this song on stage for 25 years?
I've never had trouble delivering this song. Ever. It's the ballads that trip me up. When there's enough time to think between lyrics, my mind wanders and I sometimes forget what verse I'm in! "One Week" is relentless. They're barely time to breathe, so I never forget where I am!
In Flight is being released on the 25th anniversary of the "One Week" single. What's the connection between the album and the song, that made you decide to link the two in this way? 
Well, I thought the symmetry of two international No. 1 songs separated by a quarter of a century was poetic and lovely. Now I just need the second No. 1! Honestly, I think "One Week" inspired us to be brave and bold with our choices. It confirmed that being unique and tough to categorize is a good thing. 

What's it like to make music with Barenaked Ladies in 2023, compared to 1998?
1998 was amazing, but it was filled with enormous pressure. Expectations were extremely high, and that can be quite nerve-racking. Now we make music with a pretty high level of confidence and experience. We write songs we want to sing. We do shows to entertain our audience. We're not striving for chart success or record sales. We're just doing what we love the best we can. We don't need to prove anything to anybody. We already did!

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