Carpool Karaoke pretty much does what it says on the tin. Celebs get into a car, drive along with host James Corden and sing karaoke. A simple idea, true, but one that’s taken off in a major way. In fact, it’s now one of the most popular late-night segments on American TV. And a whole host of famous people have participated and sung their hearts out. It sounds like fun, and it’s fun to watch… but the Foo Fighters didn’t have fun filming it.
Carpool Karaoke is the brainchild of Corden himself, although it took a few years for it to evolve into the format that we know today. The earliest version, in fact, was a sketch done for the British TV charity fundraising event Red Nose Day 2011. It featured Corden – in character as Smithy from his show Gavin and Stacy – singing along with George Michael in a car.
As Corden rose to become one of the most popular entertainers on British TV, another segment of what would later become Carpool Karaoke was commissioned. This one was part of a 2014 documentary called When Corden Met Barlow, and it was basically six minutes’ worth of Corden singing along with Take That frontman Gary Barlow.
“I always thought there was something very joyful about someone very, very famous singing their songs in an ordinary situation,” Corden told the New York Post in 2015. “We just had this idea: Los Angeles, traffic, the carpool lane – maybe this is something we could pull off.” And it was. In 2015 Carpool Karaoke became a recurring segment on Corden’s new TV program, The Late Late Show with James Corden.
And before long, Carpool Karaoke had attracted a great deal of talent. Big names and big bands were practically queuing up to appear on the show, in fact. Mariah Carey, Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga and One Direction are just some of the famous faces who featured. And a January 2016 segment featuring the singer Adele reached 42 million views on YouTube in less than a week.
As a result, even celebrities from the world of politics wanted to get involved. So in July 2016 the then-FLOTUS Michelle Obama appeared on the show, which only served to further increase its popularity. She, Corden and hip-hop star Missy Elliot performed the track “This Song Is For My Girls;” and then, almost immediately, the song’s digital sales jumped by a spectacular 1,562 percent.
The Foo Fighters made their appearance on the show in September 2017. And at first they looked like they were having just as much fun as every other guest has had. After all six of them piled into the car with Corden, they sang some of their greatest hits – “Best Of You” and “All My Life” among them – and then performed their latest single, “The Sky is a Neighborhood.”
As they went along, Corden asked the band some questions, and the atmosphere seemed to be friendly enough. Then, after a little more karaoke, he took them to the famous Los Angeles Guitar Center and had a drum-off with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. And much to the amusement of everyone, there was a massive photograph of Hawkins hanging inside the store.
Unsurprisingly, given the fact that Grohl and Hawkins are arguably two of the most accomplished mainstream rock drummers in the world, Corden lost the drum-off and graciously conceded defeat. And after that, the band and Corden performed Rick Astley’s famous hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” for the patrons of the store before the group then departed, seemingly on amicable terms. “I’ve loved it, it’s incredible,” Corden gushed.
Unfortunately, though, it later turned out that those sentiments may not have been reciprocated by the Foo Fighters. They rated the experience far below “incredible,” in fact, and they subsequently said as much to NME. “By hour three in the dude’s car it got less fun,” guitarist Pat Smear told the magazine. “It kinda went on. When we stopped at Guitar Centre, that felt like we were done, but it was like, ‘This is halfway.’”
Dave Grohl, the frontman and founder of the Foo Fighters, added that he found the whole thing “a little uncomfortable.” What’s more, he stated that he didn’t like having to sing the band’s own tracks. “Y’know, I don’t mind singing my own songs at Glastonbury or The O2,” he said. “But if I had to sing you a song right now, I’d be too embarrassed.”
And while that might seem like an odd position for a rock star to take, Grohl has some firm ideas about the circumstances under which rock music is at its best. “The greatest thing about making music is standing on stage in front of a crowd of 100,000 and they are all singing along,” he told the The Daily Telegraph in 2015. “There’s nothing more rock ’n’ roll than that.”
Grohl is so devoted to giving good live performances, in fact, that he famously once returned to the stage with a broken leg after falling over. Yes, while performing in Gothenburg in 2015 he fell 12 feet and snapped his fibula – but nonetheless carried on. “I may not be able to walk or run,” he announced to the crowd after on-site paramedics put his leg in a cast. “But I can still play guitar and scream.”
But Grohl and Smear told NME that they would have preferred it if the whole Carpool Karaoke experience had been about singing other people’s songs rather than the band’s own. “I could do that all day,” Grohl said. “We did The Ramones, and Rick Astley, but they didn’t use it. I don’t know why.”
The Rick Astley moment was in the segment, however; yes, it was there in the section where the band performed at the Guitar Center – although admittedly it was only a short snippet. But there was no Ramones track in the video, so it was seemingly left on the cutting room floor. And Grohl and his fellow Foo Fighters are far from the first performers to have been annoyed that their work was edited down.
It is worth pointing out, though, that almost all performers on Carpool Karaoke do their own songs, with one or two cover versions mixed in. In Adele’s episode, for example, she sang her own tracks “Hello,” “Someone like You,” “All I Ask” and “Rolling in the Deep” along with “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls and “Monster” by Kanye West.
Grohl did make it clear that his problem wasn’t actually with Corden, though. He told the magazine that Corden is obviously a music lover in addition to being “a very nice guy.” It seems that the rockstar’s main complaint, then, was the editing. Meanwhile, Corden himself hasn’t said anything about the Foo Fighters’ comments.
But the Foo Fighters aren’t actually the first celebs to publically state their unease with appearing on Carpool Karaoke. Britney Spears, who appeared on the show in 2016, subsequently told 103.5 WKTU that she’d found the experience “a little awkward.” And she added that she hadn’t even wanted to perform some of the songs she did.
Spears was also full of praise for Corden, however, even though she didn’t seem to remember his name. “The guy was just so incredibly sweet,” she said. “I had no idea he has kids, he’s a teddy bear. I was like, ‘I just want to hug you right now.’” Still, on the whole she didn’t seem to have enjoyed it too much.
Yet despite the fact that it’s obviously not for everyone, Carpool Karaoke isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Indeed, Apple bought the worldwide rights to the series in 2016 and now show their own version on Apple Music. And plenty of local adaptations have sprung up around the world. Let’s face it, though, the Foo Fighters will almost certainly never appear on any version of the show again.