This ecstatic slice of electro-pop is the first single to be released by Bleachers, a side project of fun's Jack Antonoff. The project grew from various song ideas that the guitarist had whilst on an international tour supporting fun's Some Nights album. Often he would wake up in the middle of the night in his tour bus with something, "I don't really take pictures or write in a journal," Antonoff told Billboard magazine, "so the past two years of being on the road and seeing the entire world is documented in the Bleachers album, more than anything else."
Taylor Swift and Hayley Williams both gave Antonoff feedback on Bleachers' music, and may have had a hand in selecting this as the first single. "I sent Taylor and Hayley the song a couple weeks ago, and was like 'What do you think of the mix?'" he told MTV News. "I want to hear it through other people's ears. Something as broad as song structure or picking a single, or as small as 'Does this master have too much low end?' I want honest opinions from my friends and people I respect."
Antonoff co-produced the song with John Hill (M.I.A., Shakira). He also sang lead vocals and played all the instruments. The fun. guitarist recorded some of the vocals in a hotel room in Malaysia, shouting out the chorus in an empty room while his bandmate Nate Ruess prepared for their upcoming concert and continued to work on the tune as he toured the world. Antonoff told MTV News: "I did the vocals in my hotel room in Malaysia, with a laptop and a mic, and then the next day I was in South Korea, and I started mixing, and then I flew home from South Korea and John and I met in New York and we went though it there. And that's the vibe of all of it; do a guitar part here, a vocal part there, build this thing all over the world."
American photographer and video director Autumn de Wilde shot her daughter for the single's cover.
Girls creator and star Lena Dunham also happens to be Antonoff's girlfriend. She tweeted when the single was released: "I would be in love with this song even if I wasn't in love with its singer."
Lena Dunham directed the song's music video, which finds Antonoff playing a therapist. We see him listening to a mixed bag of patients complaining about their problems, with the twist being he's worse off than any of them. You might recognize Mary Kay Place, who is best known for portraying Loretta Haggers on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman as a troubled housewife, and Parks And Recreation comic actress, Retta, as a woman annoyed by her husband.
Antonoff told Rolling Stone that he sees this song as "the story of my existence so far and a lot of the things I struggled with."
Antonoff 's struggles include a damaging acid trip and the death of his younger sister in 2001. "A lot of things on the album, including this song, are about loss," he added. "It feels joyous, but for me it's very desperate."
This was the hardest song to finish on the Strange Desire album. Antonoff explained to MTV UK: "I did that first, and the track was really exciting. The track stood on its own as its own thing. I thought maybe I'd give it to a rapper because it kinda felt a little bit in that world. But I had the concept, and I wanted to put that in that track."
"Then it got really stressful because I knew I wanted to tell my whole life story condensed into three verses to give weight to the idea of 'I Wanna Get Better,'" he continued. "And you have to say something beyond that to make it feel real. It had to be perfect because I was condensing all of me into one song."
"Lyrically it was really hard, but also the melody," Antonoff added. "The way I wanted the lyrics delivered. How it's kinda jerky and spoken and sang at the same time. I feel like when you hear 'I Wanna Get Better' it feels very off the cuff. It feels like I'm sorta talking and singing and then singing the hook and chorus. But sometimes those things that feel really natural feel the longest."
On September 28, 2015 Bleachers released Terrible Thrills Vol. 2
, a re-imagining of the Strange Desire
tracks featuring a selection of female vocalists. The record acted as a follow-up to Terrible Thrills Vol. 1
, which saw Scarlett Johansson, Charlotte Caffey
, Amanda Palmer
and Tegan and Sara among others covering tracks by Antonoff's previous band Steel Train's self-titled 2010 album.
This song was re-worked by R&B singer Tinashe. Antonoff commented to Billboard
magazine: "It's a really personal song, and it was hard for me to imagine anyone else doing it, but stylistically her and I are so incredibly different that I was fascinated to hear what she'd do with it, and I completely loved it. It just felt like the different expression of a song that, to me, was so stamped in one way."