Delilah is Delilah DiCrescenzo, a steeplechase runner Plain White T's lead singer Tom Higgenson met through a friend. He thought she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.
"I was like, 'Well, all right, I've got to write a song for this girl,'" he told Songfacts
. "I literally started playing it. The first verse just poured out exactly as it is, all the way through to the chorus. I didn't really know the girl, you know? So, it was like, 'What's it like in New York City? Tonight, you look so pretty'"
Higgenson didn't get the girl - Delilah was dating somebody and wasn't interested - but he did get a hit song out of the encounter.
The song tells the story of a girl and a boy in a long distance relationship who talk about their future plans - she'll finish and he'll be a rock star. Higgenson hashed out the song over a six-month period after meeting Delilah. "I just had to make up the rest of it," he said. "If I was in this long-distance relationship with somebody, what would I want to say? What would those emotions be?"
This ballad was a huge hit for Plain White T's, but it is not indicative of their sound, which leans into the louder pop-punk realm. They didn't start playing it live until it was featured on Myspace, which was huge at the time; after seeing the band on the 2005 Warped Tour, Myspace owner Tom Anderson featured them on the site. Droves of Myspacers made "Hey There Delilah" their profile song, which is when the band started performing it in concert. They were surprised when crowds loved it and sang the words back to them.
The song took two years to catch on. It was first released on their 2005 album All That We Needed
and issued as a single in 2006 on the independent label Fearless. The single didn't catch on, but the album sold about 80,000 copies, enough to get the attention of Hollywood Records, a major label. Hollywood signed the band and released "Hate (I Really Don't Like You)
" - an angry song about a conflicted breakup - as the first single in 2006. That song did well, charting at #68 in the US in November 2006. When the head of Hollywood Records came to see the band in concert, he saw the crowd reaction to "Hey There Delilah" and coveted it. Hollywood convinced the band to include it on their 2007 album Every Second Counts
, and re-released it as a single. This time, it took off, rising to #1 in July 2007.
The original version of this song, found on the 2005 All That We Needed album, is just voice and acoustic guitar. When they decided to make a video for the song, they produced a new version with Sean O'Keefe, who had worked with Fall Out Boy. This version, which was issued as a single in 2006 and is the one familiar to most listeners, added strings, an organ (in the chorus) and some other musical embellishments.
The video was directed by Jay Martin, who went on to work with Shawn Mendes ("Stitches
") and Cole Swindell ("Break Up In The End
"). The model Melissa McNelis plays Delilah.
Tom Higgenson told Clickmusic that he felt this was possibly the most well-crafted song on the album: "I think I definitely spent the most time on the lyrics with that song. It's a lyric-driven song, so every line was important. It's very exposed and vulnerable, but it's very simple."
After leaping from #16 to #6 on the US chart, this song moved up one place each week until it reached #1. This 6-5-4-3-2-1 pattern was the most positions a song climbed step-by-step to #1 since Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)
" edged 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 in 1977.
"Hey There Delilah" was also a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart, and in Canada. It was also a hit throughout Europe, reaching #2 in the UK.
This became the first Hot 100 chart-topper for the Hollywood label, home to Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers.
This was nominated for Grammy Awards for Song Of The Year and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group. Delilah DiCrescenzo attended the ceremony as Tom Higgenson's date on February 10, 2008. The song didn't win, and while it was technically their first date, Delilah made it clear that it was strictly platonic and was still seeing her boyfriend.
Plain White T's had a few more minor hits, including "1,2,3,4
" and "Rhythm Of Love
." They stayed active, releasing new music every few years and continuing to perform.
According to Tom Higgenson, who is the only songwriter on the track and thus gets all the publishing royalties, he could live on what he makes from the song. "Even if I had all the money in the world, I'd still be doing exactly what I'm doing," he told Songfacts. "I think that's a part of why we had the success, too. When you do something you love, that joy for it really comes through."
Plain White T's guitarist Dave Tirio gave his take on the real Delilah and how this song came about: "She is a nice girl and I remember when we met her back in the day Tom just was smitten with her and he was just kind of flirting with her and he was talking about writing a songs about her and she responded by kind of goofing around and saying, 'Oh, where is my song? I want to hear this thing. And he kind of had to put his money where his mouth is and he started writing the thing. He got about four lines into it and just writing about how she had gone off to school and how much he missed her and whatnot. Then he kind of spun that into what would you want to say to any girl in your life that you were totally head over heels for, what were all the things you would want to cram into one little conversations then he kind of channeled that into the song."
Tom Higginson explained to Absolute Punk the meaning behind the band's name: "Plain White T's was the best name out of a bunch of really bad names that we thought of. We thought that in a way it stood for something classic, timeless, and always cool; which is also the kind of music we've always tried to make."
The band recorded a new version of this song for Sesame Street
with the lyrics changed to teach the letter "T" (get it?). For example:Hey there that's Timmy
He's a T wearing a T-shirt
And he has a little teacup
On August 7, 2018, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the band was pitching "Hey There Delilah" as a TV series, "a contemporary fairy tale that expands the story within the song."
This song shows up in these TV shows:
Family Guy ("Stewie Is Enceinte" - 2015)
Orange Is the New Black ("You Also Have a Pizza" - 2014)
Journeyman ("Perfidia" - 2007)