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There are many, many YouTube videos of Smash Mouth performing their hit single "All Star," but one that stands out is a live performance from June 1999, a month after the song's release. During a show at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., the crowd looks subdued and lead singer Steve Harwell even messes up the lyrics at one point, urging attendees to trust that it's worth sticking with him.
Many of the top comments on the video are now tributes to Harwell, who died Monday from liver failure at the age of 56, but one older entry stands out: "Guess you guys aren't ready for that yet … but your kids are gonna love it," a reference to 1985's Back to the Future, when a 1955 crowd doesn't quite know how to process Marty McFly's performance of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Good."
To say kids today love "All Star," which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1999, would be an understatement, as it has been streamed nearly a billion times on Spotify and is one of the most memed songs in history.
The Shrek Effect
Although "All Star" was one of the last songs written for the band's second album, Astro Lounge, it was Smash Mouth's first single and immediately became prevalent in pop culture following its May 1999 release. The track was used in the July 1999 film Inspector Gadget, which made $134 million worldwide. It was also featured on the soundtrack and in the trailer for the superhero spoof Mystery Men and used its themes as part of the song's music video plot. The band also performed the song live at that summer's Home Run Derby in Boston over baseball's All-Star Weekend, a performance that some Red Sox fans cite as helping to save Fenway Park.
Following a Grammy nomination and chart success, another ascension would come two years later when "All Star" was used in the opening credit sequence of Shrek after the team at DreamWorks persuaded the band to sign off on its inclusion. The animated film — for which Smash Mouth also recorded a cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" — was a box office smash, earning $484 million worldwide and spawning multiple sequels and spinoffs that have accumulated more than $3.5 billion over the past two decades.
Shrek wasn't the only movie in 2001 that helped make "All Star" ubiquitous. A performance of the song was also featured over the credits of Rat Race, which came out in August of that year, just three months after the animated film.
Memes stemming from Shrek are all over the internet and continue to this day.
In 2022, a series of Shrek-themed raves were held, with people showing up in costume and green face paint. The New York Times reported on one in Brooklyn, N.Y., and noted that a previously cleared-out main room filled again as soon as the DJ put on "All Star," the playing of which had also kicked off the festivities.
"I'm just excited to meet people who share the same love for Shrek as we do," one 22-year-old raver told the Times. "It's just a stupid, nonsensical thing that we can all embrace."
The memes and the band's reaction
One of the key components of Shrek's internet popularity was "All Star," which has been mashed up, parodied, remixed and covered an incalculable amount of times. KnowYourMeme dates the start of the spread to 2009, when a Nintendo-themed parody titled "Mario, You're a Plumber" hit YouTube. The loving (and occasionally mocking) variations only proliferated from there.
"I'm sure that some people genuinely like the song," Greg Camp, the Smash Mouth guitarist who penned "All Star," told Rolling Stone in 2019. "But for the most part, it's kind of a dorky thing. It's fun. It's funny. We're a band that you can make fun of, but we're OK with that."
Over the years, various internet archivists attempted to catalog the extensive collection of Smash Mouth tributes and parodies while getting the band's take on it. In an interview with Polygon in 2017, Harwell said, "At first it was weird, and we were a bit guarded and resistant. But as we dove into it more and focused on it, we started getting it. Plus, to be honest, it has really spiked the sales [of the song]."
Harwell gave much of the credit to the animated ogre, saying, "Shrek is a daily occurrence for us. Obviously, the first Shrek is the best because that's the only one with our songs featured in it. DreamWorks requested one for the second Shrek, and we recorded an awesome song, but they decided not to use it."
In the Rolling Stone oral history, Harwell had mixed emotions about the song.
"Sometimes I feel like it's a little disrespectful, and at the same time I feel like it's an honor to have people go out of their way to do [parodies and memes]. I get more enjoyment out of seeing other artists cover it at concerts. I think that’s a really cool thank-you to us. But I think any time anybody goes out of their way to make their own version of it, that's also a thank-you because they go out of their way to do that. They wouldn't do it if they didn’t love it," he says, adding: "The song just won't go away because it's just one of those songs. It's like f***ing Led Zeppelin 'Stairway to Heaven.' It's like f***in' Lynyrd Skynyrd. You have certain songs that bands make that just don’t go away. We were blessed with that, and it was 'All Star.'"