This send-up of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle was originally the lead track on MGMT's 2005 debut release, an EP released by an Indie label, Cantora Records. A new version of this was recorded for the Oracular Spectacular album.
MGMT member Andrew VanWyngarden told Inside Bay Area that the keyboard melody on "Time to Pretend" was "inspired by the dance of our pet praying mantis Kuivila, who was named after our Experimental Music professor who advised us on our senior project."
Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann produced the album. In an interview with Crossfire
, MGMT member Ben Goldwasser discussed working with Fridmann: "When we started writing we didn't know that he was going to produce us. I mean, we had randomly put him on this list of dream producers who we would like to work with and we ended up talking to him on the phone and we hit it off really well. We love his production work. I mean, we didn't want to work with him because we wanted to sound like the Flaming Lips, it was more that we felt like he understood us on a personal level and he really got out music. We were pretty sure after talking to him that he would make it the album we wanted it to be."
MGMT were formed in 2002, during Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden's freshman year as art students at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. After graduating and releasing the Time To Pretend EP on Cantora Records, the duo signed a four-album deal with Columbia Records in 2006. "Time To Pretend" and the accompanying album was their debut Columbia release.
When MGMT performed this on the Late Show with David Letterman, they were clad in full-length capes. VanWyngarden told the Manchester Evening News : "He didn't even come over afterwards and shake our hands. I think everyone was a little weirded out by it."
asked Andrew VanWyngarden if he was concerned that some people take the lyric "shoot some heroin and f--k with the stars" to be autobiographical. He replied: "I think that's cool. I think it's great that some people can listen to the song and get offended. Some will think it's serious and think we're actually druggies, while others will see the tongue-in-cheek element to it. That's all I can hope for as a lyricist - confusion!"
Goldwasser told The Independent November 21, 2008 that this satire of the rock-star aspiration, "refers to this fantasy, this joke of us being sell-out rock stars. It's not like we ever set out to have that lifestyle – we didn't really want that, but it's definitely different now we're playing big festival shows and touring all the time. Some of it is true. It's pretty weird. I don't think the fame is really the ultimate part of the fantasy. We wanted to get to the point where we could do really ridiculous things. We want to have some really crazy stage production."
The song was originally titled "The Mantis Sailing Home."
One of Abba's hit tunes was the unlikely inspiration for this track. "We wanted it to be the exact tempo of 'Dancing Queen
' by Abba, which it is," Goldwasser explained to Song Exploder
before adding that as a tribute to the Swedish pop group, MGMT ripped off the piano riff for the song's outro.
The song soundtracked the North American trailer in the 2017 movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. The song plays out in two scenes; one where the titular superhero has a blast beating up some robbers robbers, and in another part of the film where Peter Parker (Spider Man) is chatting in the back of a limo with Tony Stark (alias Iron Man).
The video was directed by Ray Tintori, introducing the primitive composited look that became their visual signature.