The band's lead singer, Damian Kulash, met bassist Tim Nordwind at Interlochen Arts Camp in Traverse City, Michigan when they were 11. Kulash was in for graphic design, Nordwind for music. The band name comes from an art teacher of the band members saying, "OK... Go!" while they were drawing. They kept in touch after camp, often exchanging mixtapes which influenced each other's musical taste and the band's future sound. They met the band's future guitarist and keyboardist Andy Duncan in high school. Nordwind and Duncan moved to Chicago for college, where they formed the band Stanley's Joyful Noise with drummer Dan Konopka. The name OK Go was adopted in 1998, when Kulash moved to Chicago to join the band.
The band self-released two EPs, titled Brown EP (2000) and Pink EP (2001), which were culled from an album's worth of songs recorded in February 2000 with producer Dave Trumfio, to serve as demos. The early music had electronic influences, as Kulash told the Chicago Reader in 2001, "We were trying to figure out how we could get a sampler and beats to work in rock songs that didn't sound like rip-offs of Portishead." The demos did not land the band a label deal, but got them the attention of booking agent Frank Riley, who offered them shows with They Might Be Giants, a relationship that has endured as OK Go opened for the band numerous times during this period, and was introduced to the band's manager by them.
Though the members of OK Go eventually left for Los Angeles and New York, they consider themselves a Chicago band. In a 2011 interview, Kulash described the band's formative years: “As far as the band is concerned, we only have one home town. We all live in L.A. now but there’s only one period of your life as a band where you’re playing the same clubs every week or every month, and you know everybody in every other band; and it’s all your friends, all the people that work at the clubs, and it’s such a community. Chicago had such a close-knit and intense community five years ago when we were here. It’s amazing. The Empty Bottle was where it all started for us. We played at the Metro and the Double Door as well."
Though the band had offers from bigger labels, the band signed to Capitol Records in April 2001 believing that, as the first signing by newly hired label president Andy Slater, they would get more attention and support.
The band released its debut album, OK Go, on September 17, 2002, after it was pushed back by the label from its original June release date. The album was recorded at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and, though the original plan was to do minor tweaks to the original demos, the band ended up rerecording everything and adding five new songs, including the first single "Get Over It," which later appeared in Triple Play Baseball and Madden NFL 2003 video games. To promote the release, the label sent out miniature ping pong tables to press outlets, a reference to the "Get Over It" video directed by Francis Lawrence. In support of the album, the band toured with a diverse group of acts including the Vines, Phantom Planet, Superdrag, the Donnas, Fountains of Wayne, and Mew, and played a number of festival shows including Leeds in 2002 and 2003, and NoisePop, Reading, Witnness, and T in the Park in 2003.
The band's second album, Oh No, was recorded in Malmö, Sweden in the fall of 2004 and was produced by Tore Johansson (the Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand) and mixed by Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Jet, System of a Down). After recording, in February 2005, Andy Duncan left the band citing creative differences, major label pressures, and the band's rigorous touring schedule. Duncan was replaced by Andy Ross, who won the job over thirty-four other guitarists who auditioned for the role, in a process that ended with each candidate being asked about his or her willingness to do a choreographed dance on stage. Ross introduced himself to the band's fans by writing a blog entitled "The Will To Rock," in which he detailed life on the road beginning with his first show with the band on February 18, 2005.
The album was released in August 2005. Oh No gained popularity for its first single, "A Million Ways". Guitarist Andy Ross invented, designed and programmed a web application hosted at a1000000ways.com which allowed people to hear the single and to share it with their friends in exchange for free downloads from the iTunes music store. The video for "A Million Ways" featured the band in a backyard performing a dance choreographed by lead singer Kulash's sister, Trish Sie. By August 2006, the video had become the most downloaded music video ever with over 9 million downloads. The band performed the dance live on British TV show Soccer AM, as well as on the late-night American comedy show Mad TV. The US version of the album includes "9027 km", a 35-minute track of lead singer Damian Kulash's girlfriend sleeping that is not listed on the album art. Fans speculated that the track's name is derived from the distance between Los Angeles, California and Malmö, Sweden where the album was recorded and that the track was included to prevent the band's label from using the extra space for digital rights management (DRM) software. On December 6, 2005, Kulash published an op-ed piece in The New York Times advocating against record labels' use of DRM software.
In support of Oh No, the band toured extensively, sharing dates with bands such as Death Cab For Cutie, Panic! at the Disco, Kaiser Chiefs, and Snow Patrol, as well as a slew of special performances including free shows on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square and in the parking lot before the University of Michigan vs Michigan State University football game, and festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Bennicassim in Spain, Formoz Festival in Taiwan, Summer Sonic in Japan, and Incheon Pentaport in South Korea.
On November 7, 2006, after the success of the "Here It Goes Again" video, the band released a deluxe DVD version of the album. The DVD contains a documentary on the making of the album, the four official Capitol Records videos, a video of the band's appearance on Chic-a-Go-Go, a 'super cut' of the hundreds of fan versions of the "A Million Ways" dance, a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the "Here It Goes Again", rehearsals for the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, an acoustic performance of "What to Do," a video for "There's A Fire" featuring video game characters, a dance booth version of "Don't Ask Me," and live versions of "Do What You Want" and "You're So Damn Hot."
After visiting New Orleans in 2007, the band returned to record an EP with New Orleans funk rock band Bonerama and producer Mark Nevers, to raise money for musicians who were still displaced by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. The EP, entitled You're Not Alone, was released on Mardi Gras, February 5, 2008. The title is taken from a line in David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," a cover of which appears on the EP, along with renditions of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and three songs from "Oh No." The EP was sold exclusively through iTunes and raised over $40,000, which helped buy a new home for New Orleans musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson in the Musicians Village. Johnson, who sings on "I Will Be Released," the final song on the EP, moved into his new home in December 2008. In support of the EP, OK Go and Bonearama played two benefit shows, one on January 11, 2008, at Tipitina's in New Orleans, and the other on February 2, 2008, at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC, which was streamed live by NPR and featured on a subsequent NPR podcast.
On October 12, 2008, OK Go announced that the members had finished writing new songs for its third album and were in the studios in upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, MGMT). The band previewed its third album, titled Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, on a short sling of dates on the East Coast of the United States that March, starting in Philadelphia on March 6, 2009 at the TLA Theatre. The name of the album comes from a pseudo-scientific book written by Augustus Pleasonton in 1876 entitled The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky. The members of the band have stated that these songs are the "danciest, most anthemic, most heartbroken, and honest songs" of their career, and the album itself takes a much more funky, dance-prone, yet melancholy sound to it, drawing influence from Prince. On May 7, 2009, a song from the album, titled "Skyscrapers," was released for streaming online. The first single, "WTF?", was released on November 10. On January 8, 2010, OK Go appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and performed a song from the album, "This Too Shall Pass". Of the Blue Colour of the Sky was released on January 12, 2010.
After the first two videos for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky were posted to YouTube in 2009, the band was quickly met with complaints from fans who were only able to view them on YouTube. In response, Kulash posted a long letter on the band's website explaining the record label's policies. The letter itself went viral, after being reprinted in Gizmodo, cited as "required reading" on BoingBoing, and excerpted on many other websites. At the end of the letter, Kulash included embed codes for the band's most recent video in direct opposition to the desires of the label. On Feb 20, 2010, the New York Times printed an Op-Ed in which Kulash furthered the arguments he made in his open letter.
On March 9, 2010, the band uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "OK Go Announces new label," in which Kulash, accompanied by two dogs in neckties, announces the creation of Paracadute. On March 10, 2010, the band announced it had cut ties with EMI and Capitol and formed the independent labelParacadute. The split became official on April 1, 2010. Paracadute then assumed ownership of the album, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky", though the band's first two albums, "OK Go" and "Oh No" remained catalog items of EMI. That night OK Go performed a single from its newly independent record on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel. Now charting its own destiny as an independent entity, the band has attempted to plot a new course for itself, as Kulash puts it: "We're trying to be a DIY [do-it-yourself] band in a post-major label world."
The first wholly new release on the band's label Paracadute Recordings was 180/365, a live album recorded over several shows in 2010, mixed by producer David Fridmann, and released on June 21, 2011. The album title refers to the number of concerts the band played in the course of one year. A stream of the album premiered on the technology website Mashable before its official street date. To celebrate the release, the band printed and sold two hundred signed copies of 180/365: The Book, a limited edition book of tour photographs by Nathaniel Wood which was made available only to purchasers of the album. The album was sold digitally and on CD in six-panel eco-friendly "Tron Pack" packaging from Norway.
Following Twelve Days of OK Go, in January 2013 the band announced Twelve Months of OK Go, a free long form release of new and rare recordings, B-sides, and covers distributed one song per month through the band's email list and free mp3 web store. The collection includes covers of songs by the Breeders, the Specials, and Nelly. In March 2013, OK Go released a new single "I'm Not Through" through "Twelve Months of OK Go" and in partnership with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for The Saatchi & Saatchi Music Video Challenge.
On April 3, 2013, OK Go announced on its YouTube channel that the band was in the process of recording its fourth album.
On May 6, 2014, OK Go announced that its fourth studio album, Hungry Ghosts, would be released in October 2014. The album was made available for pre-order on the direct-to-fan platform, PledgeMusic. The first single, "The Writing's on the Wall" was released on June 17, 2014, along with a music video that had reached over one million views within a day.
On October 14, 2014, Hungry Ghosts was released. Since then, the Pledge Music campaign has stopped. A music video for "I Won't Let You Down" was released on October 27, 2014. In its first two weeks, the video hit 12 million views on YouTube. The video features a cameo from the J-pop band Perfume (see Other appearances)
On July 20, 2016, OK Go released "I Don't Understand You", a song that was a collaboration with the group Perfume.
On November 24, 2016, OK Go released the music video for "The One Moment", featuring multiple seemingly unconnected events filmed in the span of a few seconds. The video is then slowed down to reveal each action being played in synchronization with the song.
On November 23, 2017, OK Go released the music video for "Obsession." 567 printers were used to create a multicolored backdrop in the video.
OK Go has earned considerable fame for the band's creative and often low-budget music videos, most of which have been promoted through Internet video sharing sites like YouTube. Many of these have become viral videos; the 2006 video for "Here It Goes Again", in which the band performed a complex routine with the aid of motorized treadmills, received over 50 million views on YouTube within four years. The band's video for "Needing/Getting", released February 5, 2012 in partnership with Chevrolet, debuted during Super Bowl XLVI and has over 47 million views on YouTube.Samuel Bayer, who produced many music videos in the 1990s, asserted that OK Go's promotion of music videos on the Internet was akin to Nirvana's ushering in the grunge movement. Many of the videos also use long or single-shot takes, which Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz claims "restore[s] a sense of wonder to the musical number by letting the performers' humanity shine through and allowing them to do their thing with a minimum of filmmaking interference". The success of OK Go's music first won the band the 14th Annual Webby Special Achievement Award for Film and Video Artist of the Year. The video for "This Too Shall Pass" was named both "Video of the Year" and "Best Rock Video" at the 3rd annual UK Music Video Awards. "This Too Shall Pass" won the LA Film Fest's Audience Award for Best Music Video, UK MVA Awards – Music Video of the Year Winner 2010, among others.
In 2008, Damian Kulash said that the band had not produced the music videos as part of any overt "Machiavellian" marketing campaign. "In neither case did we think, 'A-ha, this will get people to buy our records.' It has always been our position that the reason you wind up in a rock band is you want to make stuff. You want to do creative things for a living." On the release of the band's video for "The Writing's on the Wall" in 2014, Kulash explained to Rolling Stone that the band continued to make such quirky videos following their success after "Here It Goes Again" because the band worried about being considered a one-hit wonder: "We could go in two directions: We could either try to out-cool it – try to out-run it like Radiohead did with 'Creep' – or just embrace it and go, OK, what really worked here."
In April 2010, OK Go collaborated with Brett Doar of Syyn Labs to build a speciality Rube Goldberg Machine called "The Colbert Machine" for the band's appearance on The Colbert Report. At the end of the episode, the band performed "This Too Shall Pass" with host Stephen Colbert singing lead vocals. Later that year, the OK Go song "Here It Goes Again" was included in the soundtrack for the children's film Ramona and Beezus.
On May 9, 2013, the band, through its label Paracadute, released Say The Same Thing, a collaborative word guessing game app for iOS and Android in which two players attempt to guess the same word, by finding common points between two random starting words. The app, which was created by guitarist Andy Ross during the band's down time, is based on an improv game which the band plays together while on tour. The band advertised the app by releasing a comedic video that introduces and explains the game. On May 15, 2013, "Say The Same Thing" became the 50 billionth download in Apple's App Store.
In February 2015, the band was featured in a segment created to help children learn colors in a premiere for "The Cookie Thief", a Sesame Street movie special.
In March, 2015, OK Go made a cameo appearance in the music video for "Pick Me Up" by Japanese electropop group Perfume, following Perfume's cameo appearance at the beginning of OK Go's "I Won't Let You Down".
In June 2019, the band was featured in the Ripley's Believe It or Not television program on the Travel Channel, showing the making of the music video for their song "The One Moment."
In 2007, the band released You're Not Alone, a charity EP whose proceeds raised money for musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The successful EP, which helped purchase a home for New Orleans musician Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, was the most public example of the band's increasing interest in politics and social issues, as the campaign included promotional appearances on Late Night with David Letterman as well as charity concerts. Earlier examples of the band's activism include a ten-page How Your Band Can Fire Bush," which was written by Kulash and distributed on the band's website. Other efforts have included direct appeals to fans of the band via the band's email newsletter, auctioning themselves off on behalf of Sweet Relief Musician's Fund, and the Burrito Project in which the group enlisted fans to join them in handing out Inspiration Corporation, a local provider of services to the homeless. The band has played several high-profile political and charity events, including a Super Tuesday Voter Awareness show hosted by Stella in 2008, and a star-studded benefit in Los Angeles led by Frank Black, and including Weird Al, Tenacious D, and others. Lead singer Damian Kulash has written Op-eds in the New York Times on digital rights management and net neutrality, an issue he also testified about in front of the House Judiciary Antitrust Task Force about in March 2008, and also discussed with the FCC commissioner. The day after that meeting, it was announced that the Internet would be reclassified under Title 2 of the telecommunications act — one of the band's short-term goals, which the band members nodded to in their five-word Webby acceptance speech: "Fight for Net Neutrality now."
The band has also used the massive popularity of its videos to further its favored causes. Downloads of the "White Knuckles" video went to ASPCA and were earmarked for rural animal shelters, and the video itself ends with a call to support animal rescue. A marching band costume from "This Too Shall Pass" was auctioned off to feed the homeless and eleven of the signed Gretsch guitars and amplifiers used in "Needing/Getting" were sold to benefit the Fender Music Foundation, which provides instruments to music education programs.
OK Go has also allowed its music on benefit albums, most notably Dear New Orleans, a 31-song online compilation that benefits a variety of New Orleans organizations. Lyrics from the band's contribution, "Louisiana Land", reference a number of New Orleans personalities and institutions, which the New Orleans Times-Picayune called "indicative of just how deeply the members of OK Go waded into the local gestalt." and the Future Soundtrack for America, a compilation released by Barsuk Records that benefited MoveOn.org and Music for America, which included OK Go's cover of "This Will Be Our Year" by The Zombies.
On January 18, 2017, two days before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, OK Go released a cover of the politically-charged Morrissey song "music video includes images of Trump and other prominent political figures as bad people and ends with a list of organizations the band recommends viewers support. Fans of the band had mixed reactions prompting this status update on OK GO's Facebook page: "Morrissey Official wrote this song almost 30 years ago but it seems truer to us now than ever. The comments we’ve gotten over the past day are fascinating. We especially applaud those who disagree with us without abandoning civility or respect. You give us hope."
In recent years, OK Go has worked with Sanbox to create music videos and educational tools with the Playful Learning Lab (a partnership with the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota).
From 2009-2011, OK Go headlined an extensive tour across North America, Europe, South America, and Asia in support of Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, including festival appearances at Kanrocksas Music Festival (Kansas City, U.S.A.), Festival Cultura Quente (Caldas de Reis, Spain), and Positivus Festival (Salacgrīva, Latvia).
OK Go at 2010 WWDC Bash wearing conference jackets
On May 23, 2010, the band performed live underwater on stage at Maker Faire in San Mateo California. The band members' heads were each submerged in water bubbles attached to breathing apparatuses for the duration of the performance, with lead singer Damian Kulash completely submerged in a tank of water.
In October 2010, OK Go performed acoustic versions of "White Knuckles", "Here It Goes Again", and "This Too Shall Pass", along with a handbell version of "Return", at the Poptech! Conference in Camden, ME.
On June 23, 2011, the band gave a free concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the Millennium Stage. During the show, the band performed "Return" on handbells. In advance of the performance, the Kennedy Center invited 15 Twitter followers and guests to film the show, in order to produce the organization's first crowd-sourced concert video.
On January 31, 2012, OK Go appeared on the children's television show Sesame Street in a video called "3 Primary Colors" meant to teach the young audience about red, yellow, blue, and the colors made when you mix them. "3 Primary Colors" was simultaneously released as a game on the Sesame Street website.
On May 10, 2012, OK Go was the featured band on This American Life Live!, a special performance of the show telecast live to movie theaters across the US and Canada. By downloading a smartphone app coded by guitarist Andy Ross, viewers were able to play along with the band's handbell performance of "Needing/Getting".
^Wood, Mikael (April 3, 2010). "Go Your Own Way: Groundbreaking YouTube Auteurs OK Go Part Ways with Their Longtime Record Label, EMI, and Set Sail in Uncharted Waters". Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment. 122 (13): 21–23.