The song first attracted notice on websites such as Myspace and YouTube, and was used in a number of European commercials and television shows. Since mid-2007, the song has earned extensive airplay on American radio, most notably on dance radio outlets like KNHC/Seattle, KNGY/San Francisco and Sirius Satellite's The Beat. It is notable for being a popular song with whistling (the whistling was originally added in as a placeholder for another instrument). The whistling and part of the song have a tune reminiscent of the "oriental riff".
The song was ranked #5 on Pitchfork Media's Top 100 Tracks of 2006 list. Pitchfork reviewed the song on 19 July 2006, giving it three out of five stars. The song was also voted #2 in the 2006 NME Track of the Year poll.Planet Sound named this their #2 single of 2006. The song was named the number one song of 2007 according to the iTunes Store. Y-Rock On XPN also named the song #1 of 2007. In October 2011, NME placed it at number 92 on its list 150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years. It was included in Spinner's 10 Best Whistling Parts in Songs.Rolling Stone put the song also on its list of the 15 Best Whistling Songs of All Time.
The single was re-released on 17 September 2007, when it reached number 13 in the UK, beating the original chart position of number 33 in 2006.
The video was directed by Ted Malmros with animation by Graham Samuels. It is featured in the video game SingStar Pop 2, as well as in Lips.
The video starts off with Peter and Victoria sitting in a park, on a bench. Peter teaches Victoria how to whistle. Then the video switches over to them both sitting in a bus where the song starts. Throughout the video, scenes of the band playing the song can be seen and eventually the video ends with a big party where everybody "seems to disappear".
German singer Nena covered "Young Folks" together with Oliver Pocher and Stephan Remmler in German as "Ich kann nix dafür" (German for "I'm not responsible for it.") for the movie Vollidiot. This version was the 78th best-selling single of 2007 in Germany.
Japanese singer Shugo Tokumaru covered the song in 2006. It was released as a single in Japan and received considerable airplay.