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Music / Ben Folds

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He's rockin' the suburbs!note 

Benjamin Scott Folds (born September 12, 1966) is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and amateur photographer from North Carolina.

In the mid-to-late '90s, he was the frontman for the Alternative Rock band Ben Folds Five, alongside bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee, who released three full albums to moderate critical success before amicably breaking up in 2000. Beginning with Rockin' The Suburbs a year later, he began a reasonably successful solo career.

Ben has also participated in a number of critically successful collaborations: he produced Has Been, a surprisingly well-regarded album by William Shatner, was a Pop-Star Composer for the Dreamworks Animation film Over the Hedge, wrote the album Lonely Avenue with novelist Nick Hornby providing lyrics, and recorded a chamber pop album, So There, with yMusic.

In 2009, Folds began judging on The Sing-Off, an NBC a capella contest. He's frequently cited as the most competent judge on the panel.

After recording a couple of new songs for his retrospective album, The Best Imitation of Myself, Ben Folds Five announced their reunion in early 2012, followed by the release of a crowd-funded new album later that year. The band made enough money from the donations to fund at least three more albums, though no further albums have been announced yet.

His output slowed considerably after the release of 2015's So There, a collaboration with the chamber orchestra yMusic, save a couple of live albums and a one-off singles "Mister Peepers" and "2020." Since then, he's largely busied himself online, appearing in videos with Pomplamoose and starting his own Patreon page. In 2019, he published a memoir, A Dream About Lightning: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons.


Ben Folds Five
  • Ben Folds Five (1995)
  • Whatever and Ever Amen (1997)
  • Naked Baby Photos (1998) (b-sides collection)
  • The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999)
  • The Sound of the Life of the Mind (2012)

Ben Folds

  • Rockin' the Suburbs (2001)
  • Songs for Silverman (2005)
  • Way to Normal (2008)
  • Lonely Avenue (2010)note 
  • So There (2015)note 
  • What Matters Most (2023)


  • Abortion Fallout Drama: "Brick" tells of a young couple who have an abortion. The bridge seems to indicate the fallout is about to start:
    As weeks went by, it showed that she was not fine.
    They told me "Son, it's time to tell the truth."
    She broke down and I broke down.
    'Cause I was tired of lying.
  • A Cappella: After hearing a collegiate a cappella group cover his song "Brick", he subsequently got the idea to release a compilation album of his songs covered by collegiate a cappella groups. This also sparked his interest in a cappella music and the reason he's a judge on The Sing Off.
  • Album Title Drop: Rockin' the Suburbs had a single of the same name.
    • Lonely Avenue is also title dropped in the chorus in "Doc Pomus".
    • And Way to Normal's title is dropped in "Effington".
    • "Whatever and Ever Amen" is quoted in "The Battle of Who Could Care Less".
    • The compilation album The Best Imitation of Myself includes the song of the same name.
    • The Sound of the Life of the Mind includes a song with the same name.
    • So There and What Matters Most again each include a song with the same name.
  • Anti-Christmas Song:
    • "Bizarre Christmas Incident" is about Santa dying while stuck in the chimney naked.
    • "Lonely Christmas Eve," written and recorded for the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! soundtrack and sung from The Grinch's POV.
  • Artificial Limbs: According to the narrator of "Dr. Yang", he has plastic knees.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: From "Rockin the Suburbs,"
    It gets me real pissed off, makes me wanna say,
    It gets me real pissed off, makes me wanna say,
    It gets me real pissed off, makes me wanna say,
  • Audience Participation Song: He has a lot:
    • Whether solo or with Ben Folds Five, he encourages the audience to perform the horn solo in "Army".
      • "Not The Same" seems to be a Spiritual Successor to this practice, in which Ben splits the audience into three sections to sing the harmonic "Ahhh"s.
    • In "Song For The Dumped," he typically insists that the audience sings lines such as "fuck you too!"
    • "Rock This Bitch," which, if requested enough by the crowd (and if he's in the mood), he'll improvise a song on the spot around the titular lyrics.
    • "Underground" has a spoken opening, wherein the first line is said by Darren: "I was never cool in school, I'm sure you don't remember me." In live shows, this line gets a crowd response of, "Who the fuck are you?!"
      • Taken from the live version off of Naked Baby Photos. It was recorded in their hometown, and a friend of theirs yelled it, and the mics picked it up. Now it's a staple of the song live.
    • The audience usually hollers the afore-mentioned Atomic F-Bomb during "Rockin' The Suburbs."
  • Beardness Protection Program: Referenced in "Effington"
    I could change my name, grow a beard, start a family.
  • Bowdlerise: Ben rewrote the lyrics to "Rockin' The Suburbs" to be more family-friendly for the Over The Hedge soundtrack.
    • The cover of Ben Folds Live kind of loses its humor when the clean version blurs out the middle fingers that take up about 70% of the image.
  • Break-Up Song: A few - "The Last Polka" is probably the first, and "Song For The Dumped" is probably the most well-known.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Parodied in Rockin' the Suburbs.
    You better look out, 'cause I'm gonna say "fuck"
    You better look out, 'cause I'm gonna say "fuck"
    You better look out, 'cause I'm gonna say "fuck"
    You better look out, 'cause I'm gonna say "fuck"
    You better look out, 'cause I'm gonna say "fuck"
    • Played straight, if slightly downplayed, in the chorus of Levi Johnston's Blues To quote:
      I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys,
      Play some hockey, do some fishin', and kill some moose.
      I like to shoot the shit, do some chillin' I guess.
      You fuck with me and I kick your ass.
      • The chorus is actually taken from an infamous MySpace posting from Johnston.
    • Also parodied in "Effington" where every instance of what you's expect is replaced with "effing".
  • Country Matters: Near the start of "The Bitch Went Nuts".
  • Cover Version: A few, most of which drastically change the genre.
  • Creator Cameo: In Ben's music video for "Rockin' The Suburbs" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, who directed the video.
    • Al would later sing background vocals on "Time." Now try listening to that song again without laughing.
    • Ben turned the favor around and played piano on Al's "Why Does This Always Happen To Me?" (which was, appropriately, a style parody of Ben's music).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Judging by his lyrics, Ben must have his tongue surgically implanted into his cheek.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: As its opening line states, "Brick" takes place on December 26.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: In "From Above". Not only that, they basically never knew each other existed.
    • Also on "Annie Waits". The titular Annie always waits on her unnamed signficant other to come back from work/wherever, and she's getting tired of waiting. The singer, meanwhile, pines for her and hopes that when Annie finally leaves her significant other, she'll be with him instead. But at the end of the song he sings:
      Headlights crest the hill
      Who will be the one for evermore?
      (ooh ooh) Annie, I could be
      If we're both still lonely when we're old
      Annie waits for the last time
      Just the same as the last time
      Annie waits
      But not for me
  • Doing It for the Art: invoked Discussed in "One Down," which is how he was contractually obligated to write some songs for a music publishing company early in his career. When asked why he doesn't just crap out something to get it over with, he retorts that he hates wasting time on "music that won't make me proud." The last verse concludes that, at the end of the day, being an artist is still a job, and he could be doing a lot worse.
    "I'm really not complaining, I realize it's just a job
    And I hate hearin' bellyaching rock stars whine and sob
    'Cause I could be bussin' tables, I could well be pumpin' gas
    But I get paid much finer for playin' p'yano and kissin' ass."
  • Domestic Abuse: The narrator from "Landed" has one who belittles him and keeps him from his friends.
    She liked to push me
    And talk me back down
    'Till I believed I was the crazy one
    And, in a way, I guess I was
  • Emotional Regression: The narrator of "Kristine from the 7th Grade" laments this after discovering how unhinged she has become through her e-mails and social media posts.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: One of his side projects is a group called The Bens, which consists of him and two other guys named Ben.
  • Forced Creativity: "One Down" was written about Folds' own frustrations with a songwriting contract that forced him to turn over a specific number of songs down to the decimal point. Hence, this finished song is "one down" and the narrator (Folds) still has "three-point-six to go."
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Inverted. In the "Song for the Dumped" music video, Folds sings an entire verse and refrain in Japanese until he gets to "You bitch," which he sings in English.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The music video for "Rockin' the Suburbs" features a frame in the ending sequence that briefly appears for a split second. It reads "Korn sucks".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Rockin' the Suburbs" includes multiple uses of the word "fuck", starting low, quiet, and garbled, but each subsequent line is higher, louder, and more clear. The music video version doesn't start bleeping the word "fuck" until the last couple of repeats, so some slightly-garbled-but-unmistakeable uses of "fuck" are left uncensored.
  • Granola Girl: The "leaked" version of "The Bitch Went Nuts" is about an ultra-conservative accountant picking up one of these on his way to a Christmas party, only for her to utterly humiliate him in front of his bosses when she does a line of cocaine with them and goes on a hardcore liberal tirade.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Ben sings an entire verse and a refrain in the "Song for the Dumped" music video, save for the last two words (you bitch!).
    • There's a version of the song that's fully in Japanese (except the words "Fuck you too" and, again, "you bitch"); It was originally a bonus track to the Japanese edition of Whatever And Ever Amen, so it's a bit less gratuitous in that context.
  • Grief Song: "Carrying Cathy"
  • Happy Marriage Charade: What "You To Thank" is about.
  • Hidden Track: Parodied, of all things, on Whatever And Ever Amen: "I've got your hidden track... Ben Folds is a fucking asshole!"
  • "How I Wrote This Article" Article: "One Down" is about the fact that he's contractually obliged to write 3.6 more songs and feels conflicted about "turning in a bunch of shit."
  • Hypocritical Humor: "Uncle Walter". Uncle Walter warns the singer not to smoke pot, with "tobacco juice rolling down his chin".
  • Insistent Terminology: "Zak and Sara" has Sara-with-no-H and Zak-without-a-C.
  • In the Style of: Two of his songs ape two different Elton John songs.
    • "Hiroshima (B-B-B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head)" is, as the title suggests, is composed and produced to sound like "Bennie And The Jets," both in the beat and the dubbed-in live audience.
    • When his record label approached Ben about writing a potential single for Songs For Silverman, he asked them sincerely "Be honest: what Elton John song do you want?" to which they replied "Tiny Dancer." The result was "Landed". Both songs even share an orchestral arranger in Paul Buckmaster.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the sublimely silly "Draw a Crowd."
    Now when pretty phrases don't mean nothing
    And I wanna sell 'em, I sing the line again
    So smooth, you can hear the beard
    So smooth, you can hear the beard
    Three times is poetry
    So smooth, you can hear the beard
    • The end of the final verse of "Army" has Ben remarking that "my redneck past is nipping at my heels". Sure enough, the next track on the album is "Your Redneck Past".
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Since the piano is Ben's primary instrument, these naturally come up.
  • Loony Fan: "Saskia Hamilton" shows shades of this.
    I've only ever seen her name on a spine,
    But that's enough, I want to make her mine!
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Oh, he is a master at this.
    • "Carrying Cathy" is a fairly upbeat, light song about a mentally ill girl committing suicide.
    • "Still Fighting It" is a very melancholy song celebrating the birth of Ben's twins.
    • "You Don't Know Me" is a cheery song about a couple who barely know each other and can't figure out why they stay together.
    • "All U Can Eat" is a upbeat, bubbly song about the deterioration of society.
    • "From Above" is an energetic and extremely catchy song. It's also about people never knowing their soul-mates and (presumably) either dying alone or unhappy.
    • "Zak and Sara" is a 50's style rock and roll ballad about a schizophrenic and a drug dealer.
    • "Jesusland" is a rather upbeat tune about the Second Coming of Christ and Jesus becoming disgusted the people who believe in him.
    • His cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit". That is all.
    • "Hiroshima" is an energetic song about him attempting to dive into a crowd in, of course, Hiroshima, only for he crowd to not understand and let him fall. He got a concussion. And bled on the keyboard. This is based off a true story. Depending on how dark you like it, It could double as a Funny Moment.
    • "Password" is a crooning, mellow song about a jealous boyfriend hacking into his ex-girlfriend's email account, only to find out she's been cheating on him this whole time.
    • "Steven's Last Night In Town" is about a self-important asshole... done as a klezmer song.
    • "You to Thank" is probably the happiest song you'll ever hear about marrying too soon and being trapped in a loveless marriage.
    • "Fair" is a peppy tune about terrible things that happened to people in bad relationships, indcluding a man being hit and killed by his wife's car and another committing suicide in front of a huge crowd because his girlfriend broke up with him. But hey, all is fair in love!
    • "Hiro's Song" is another peppy song about an elderly, egocentric, and overall Jerkass man who left his family to date with his secretary, who's so young that she went to school with his daughter.
    • "The Secret Life of Morgan Davis" starts as a jazzy song about an older man's boring life as a stockbroker, but quickly turns into a jazzy song about his risque life as a drug-dealer.
      He wants the lights, the jazz
      A piece of ass,
      A toothless bitch who'll blow him for a vial of crack!
      He cooks his junk in some Gatorade,
      And scores a bag of chronic on the East MLK!
    • Both from Over the Hedge: "Family Of Me," an upbeat tune from the perspective of a lonely character who's attempting denial about how badly his life is going, and "Heist," a rocking number about the excesses of suburban life.
    • "F10-D-A" uses the titular chord progression to construct a chamber pop song about getting "Effed in the A".note 
  • Meet the New Boss: "The Ascent Of Stan," which is about a poor young man who revolts against his superiors, succeeds them and leaves his friends in the lurch once he gains power.
  • Mood Whiplash: Whatever and Ever Amen is just about evenly divided between uptempo, often goofy and irreverent piano rock and serious piano ballads. Ben takes note of this in his autobiography A Dream About Fireflies, saying that he considered breaking the album up into a fast side and a slow side but decided against it.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Cigarette," "Family Of Me."
  • Metaphorgotten: "Errant Dog" starts out as a song about someone who lost her dog, continues with dragging him to court and ends up with her wishing she could become a lesbian.
  • Muppet Cameo: The Fraggles show up in the video of "Do it Anyway."
  • Mythology Gag: The text on the cover of Ben Folds Live is the font for Ben Folds Five with the F in "Five" turned upside down to look like an L.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Ben Folds Five only had three members in it, an inversion of One Extra Member. The reason? "Ben Folds Three sounds stupid."
    • "Fred Jones, Part 2" in a weird example, as the character of Fred Jones first appeared in the lyrics to "Cigarette," which has never been referred to as "Fred Jones, Part 1."
  • Ode to Apathy: The character who's the subject of "Battle of Who Could Care Less" by is the model of the perfect apathetic man.
  • Older Than They Look: Until he started growing a beard and wearing a hat to cover his bald spot, Ben looked exactly the same in the 2010s as he did in the 90s.
  • Old Man Conversation Song: Parodied in "Uncle Walter". The named uncle is crazy and talks about riding through the sky in his magical armchair and cooking up a mail order scheme with his son, among other things.
  • "Pachelbel's Canon" Progression: The chorus of "The Luckiest" is a variation of this.
  • Parental Love Song: Two of the "parent to child" variety, one for each of his twins. "Still Fighting It" is for his song Louis and "Gracie" for his daughter of the same name.
  • Pop-Star Composer: He wrote four new songs, re-recorded an old one and covered another for the Over the Hedge soundtrack. His involvement is wildly regarded as one of the film's best aspects.
  • Punk Rock: Ben Folds Five described their music as "punk rock for pussies."
  • Precision F-Strike: "The Battle of Who Could Care Less", "Rockin' The Suburbs", among others
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Best Imitation of Myself" includes the following lyric:
    The "problem with you" speech you gave me was fine
    I liked the theories about my little stage
    And I swore I was listening but I started drifting
    Around the part about me acting my age
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The lyrics for "Cigarette" are taken verbatim a newspaper article about a woman who set her house on fire while smoking in bed.
    • The chorus for "Levi Johnson Blues" is similarly taken from the titular subject's MySpace page.
  • Rockers Throw Piano Benches
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: An instance of sorts occurs in "Effington" where the narrator very crudely scats the "theme song" to Effington by going da-da-da a couple times.
  • Serial Spouse: Ben has been married and divorced four times.
  • Self-Deprecation: Present in "Army," which was based on a conversation Ben had with his dad (quoted at the beginning of the song) and parodying his early years.
    • "Rockin The Suburbs" - He lists his producer in the liner notes as "Shitty Track Fixer," a reference to a line from the song.
    • Ben Folds Five originally marketed themselves as "punk rock for pussies."
    • The cover of Ben Folds Live is a picture of and exasperated Ben with his back to an entire audience giving him the finger.
  • Shameless Self-Promoter: In Rocking the Suburbs:
    Y'all don't know what it's like
    Being male, middle class, and white.
    It's a bitch if you don't believe.
    Listen up to my new CD!
  • Shout-Out: Ode to Merton
    • Several in Rocking the Suburbs, including Michael Jackson, Quiet Riot, and Jon Bon Jovi.
    • "Not The Same" mentions Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge.
      • As does "Rubber Sled" by Ben Folds' side project Fear Of Pop, sort of: The song initially sounds like it's based around a repeated sample of Ben Folds yelling "rubber sled!", but just once he lets the voice clip go on long enough to reveal that it's actually "Robert Sledge on the bass guitar!" - this presumably being Ben introducing Robert at a concert.
    • From "The Battle Of Who Could Care Less": "See, I got your old ID, and you're all dressed up like The Cure."
    • Songs for Silverman was supposed to be named for Ben Folds' A&R representative Ben Goldman, because Ben Folds was frequently sending him his demos for the album. The record label nixed the title, so "Goldman" became "Silverman". Related is the online-only Silverman bonus album Songs for Goldfish.
  • Silly Love Songs: Parodied in the middle-eight of "One Down," where he sings the blandest, most contrived declaration of love ("I love you more than all the stars up in the sky") to represent the kind of junk he was once contractualy obligated to write. Played straight, however, with "The Luckiest," which has since become a staple wedding song.
  • Singing Simlish: He very briefly scats in "Effington". See Saying Sound Effects Out Loud above. A couple of Ben Folds Five songs also have this - "Steven's Last Night In Town" has a scatted bridge, while the chorus of "Fair" consists entirely of "Ba ba ba".
  • Single Stanza Song: "Cigarette" and "Hospital Song".
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The basis for There's Always Someone Cooler Than You
  • Soapbox Sadie: The eponymous woman in the "leaked" (see: re-written) version of "Bitch Went Nuts."
    "She called us bigots with her first in the air
    And when she did, we all could see all her armpit hair"
  • The Something Song: "The Frown Song"
  • Spell My Name with an S: "Zak and Sara" (The song constantly insists it's spelled without a "C" or an "H," respectively)
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Your Most Valuable Possession" from ''The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner" is an instrumental Folds, Sledge, and Jessee worked up around a long message Ben's father Dean left on his answering machine.
  • Studio Chatter: Prevalent throughout Whatever And Ever Amen - the album was recorded in a house instead of a conventional studio, so they decided to include the chatter to give the album more of a raw, "personal" feel and make the listener more accepting of the less than optimal recording quality. The Speed Graphic EP version of "Dog" (not to be confused with "Errant Dog") ends with Ben taking a cellphone call from his then-wife during the instrumental outro, eventually telling her "We're doin' a vocal track. Um, you're all over it now".
  • Take That!: Ben wrote "Rockin' the Suburbs" in response to a Spin Magazine interview with Korn where the members called him a lame opening act who only rocked as hard as the theme song to Cheers. It's also directed at the "angry white boy" culture that the Nu Metal genre had spawned.
    "I'm rockin' the suburbs!
    Just like Michael Jackson did!
    I'm rockin' the suburbs!
    Except that he was talented!
    I'm rockin' the suburbs!
    I take the checks and face the facts
    That some producer with computers
    Fixes all my shitty tracks!"
    • From his album Lonely Avenue, the song A Working Day is a highly sarcastic Take That! to an internet critic.
      Some guy on the 'net thinks I suck, and he should know-
      He's got his own blog!
      I'm a loser, and a poser!
      It's over, it's over!
      I mean it and I quit!
      Everything I write is shit!
    • "One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces" is one to all of the kids who picked on him in school who made him feel worthless.
      • Plus a dash of Self-Deprecation, poking fun at himself for still harboring a grudge after all these years.
    • "Brainwascht" is directed at an old friend who had written a rather hurtful song about Ben note : "If you had to say it all in a pop song/ couldn't you at least have written me a good one?". Again there's a little Take That Me involved in that he points out how silly it is to trade barbs in song, suggesting "maybe next time we should just have a dance off".
  • This Is For Emphasis, You Bitch: "Song For The Dumped."
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: There's Always Someone Cooler Than You Well, it's more of a "The Guy the Song is Directed to is an Asshole" Song, but the feeling's still there.
  • You Don't Look Like You: "The Best Imitation Of Myself."

Alternative Title(s): Ben Folds Five