Antonoff—who rose to fame in 2012 on the back of fun.’s sweeping, exuberant pop hit “We Are Young“—talks openly about the death of his 13-year-old sister when he was 18, right before 9/11, and how the two tragedies shaped his psyche, his creative life, his germ-phobia (he wipes down airplane seats with anti-bacterial wipes before traveling), and his songwriting ethos. What emerges is a frank portrait of a sensitive, neurotic, likable thirty-going-on-sixty-year-old with a penchant for crazy socks and sweaters. Writes Jada Yuan:
Sarah lost her lifelong battle with brain cancer when she was 13 and Antonoff was a senior in high school, but his adolescence might have been marked even more profoundly by his family’s struggle than her dying, by those memories of hospitals and growing up in constant fear. “It’s not groundbreaking psychological stuff,” says Antonoff of his “germ issues.” “It’s coming from a very obvious place. You know, the scarring on the lung is not a big fucking deal. It’s just that in the context of my life, it just stresses me out. My real sickness is how I deal with it psychologically.” He’s seeing a psychopharmacologist and really needs to find a new therapist, but he gets stressed out thinking about starting over—not because he has a problem bringing up painful things but because of “the boredom of catching someone up.” He laughs. “Anyway, long answer to your question about why I drink tea. You realize that’s how this started, right?” We’ve been talking for only ten minutes.
We also learn that Antonoff can pull off “vaguely Nazi looks,” like a shaved head, because his face is “so Jewish.” His mom still buys him lunch, even though he’s a platinum-selling artist. And at his parents’ place in New Jersey he has a walk-in closet filled with Star Wars tchotchkes, which spill “out of three full bookcases and guarded by life-size cardboard cutouts of a Storm Trooper and Obi-Wan Kenobi.” His bar mitzvah, not surprisingly, was Star Wars-themed. It’s a credit to Antonoff that this detail is neither tragically nerdy nor annoyingly twee—it’s just endearing, like he is.