The History Behind Smash Mouth's All Star

If you lived in the Anglosphere and were old enough to comprehend music and lyrics in 1999, you almost certainly came across Smash Mouth's "All Star," either that year or soon after. It's one of those songs that's hard to escape even if you try. If it wasn't on the radio during its initial release, it was in the soundtracks to movie after movie. If it's not being trumpeted at sporting events these days, it's been absorbed into online culture as meme fodder. Some music and cultural critics with a pronounced disdain for all things '90s turn their noses up at the song and its band, but "All Star" has been the kind of perpetual hit for Smash Mouth that many bands would truly envy.

In an interview with Songfacts, Smash Mouth guitarist-songwriter Greg Camp said that it was such cynical, bullying attitudes toward the band's fans that inspired the song in the first place. "We would get these big bags of fan mail...[a]nd about 85-90 percent of the mail was from these kids who were being bullied," said Camp, "or their brothers or older siblings were giving them s*** for liking Smash Mouth or liking whatever they're doing or the way they dressed and stuff. So we were like, 'We should write a song for fans.'" The song's never-ending popularity has been frustrating at times for Camp; his songwriting career has ever since been plagued by demands for more of the same. But he remains proud of the tune.

It's on the soundtrack for five films

"All Star's" fame was helped by its inclusion in the runaway hit film "Shrek." After featuring in the film itself and on its soundtrack, the song became tightly bound to the series, even getting a brief marching band reprise in "Shrek the Third." But "All Star" wasn't the first choice of anyone involved in the first "Shrek's" production. Per The Ringer, the original plan was to have songwriter Matthew Mahaffey write a soundalike tune, with "All Star" serving as a temp track until the new song could be finished. It would have been the only song written specifically for "Shrek," but after Mahaffey was done and his new track was cut into the film, DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg insisted on using "All Star."

Part of the reluctance to commit to using "All Star" earlier in production came from the fact that it had already featured in more than one film. It was in 1999's superhero spoof "Mystery Men," and the music video for "All Star" even featured clips from that film. By the time "Shrek" was being animated, "All Star" had also popped up in the soundtrack for "Inspector Gadget" and was due to feature in "Rat Race." And "Shrek" wouldn't be the only animated film to use it either. When Fox and Saban cobbled together "Digimon" shorts to make a movie, they also used American pop tunes to fill out the soundtrack, and "All Star" was on the list (per Fanbyte).

It's been repurposed for memes, sports, and climate change

The afterlife of "All Star" after its initial release has been multifaceted. It's been driven in large part by the plethora of remixes, parodies, and memes all over the worldwide web. GQ tracked the online parodies back as far as the "Mario, You're a Plumber" cover of 2009, but there have been many more since. All the online buzz has helped keep "All Star" and Smash Mouth alive in the public consciousness (per Entertainment Weekly), and members of the band have generally enjoyed the covers and spoofs, with some reservations. "Sometimes I feel like it's a little disrespectful," Steve Harwell, who died on September 4, 2023, told Rolling Stone, "and at the same time I feel like it's an honor to have people go out of their way to do this...[t]hey wouldn't do it if they didn't love it."

Sports fans have also kept the torch burning for the song. Smash Mouth is named for a sports term, and the title has led many to assume "All Star" had something to do with sports. Greg Camp, who wrote the song, denied this, but that hasn't stopped fans from breaking it out at stadiums. "I guess it got co-opted," bassist Paul De Lisle told WBUR.

It's been similarly co-opted by climate change activists in recent years. Per The New York Times, a brief mention in the lyrics of melting ice has led to the song being taken as an anthem for climate advocacy.