The Ever-Evolving Anatomy of a FIFA Soundtrack
By Aditya Padinjat, UG '24
It is April 16th. It’s 8 in the evening, the sun has set and the football field is lit by passion (and of course floodlights), diminished only by a swarm of friendly mosquitos. Onlooking spectators are dotted around the edges of the field. Some lie lazily on the grass, some filled with nervous energy, and some, of course, have no clue where they are at all. Of course, they’re here for the final day of the Ashoka Premier League (APL). Soon, Clever Name 1 will fiercely contest with Amusing Name 2 in gladiatorial battle where the winner takes all, and the loser must spend a year knowing that their ability to kick a ball is inadequate. But such is sport; those who love it realize that the stakes are far higher than they should be, their feelings far more passionate than logic dictates. With epic battle imminent, a suitably epic soundtrack is needed. A speaker is sourced, cables plugged in, volume turned to maximum. One click of a button and the first war cry of the evening is now reverberating through the field:
“IIIIII NEED TO KNOW NOW, KNOW NOW, CAN YOU LOVE ME AGAIN?”
Now, the uninitiated may look at me with some confusion. Does Love Me Again by John Newman really sit in the pantheon of great sporting chants? Does it condense the cutthroat competition, the eye-of-the-needle precision and the desperation to win? After all, it’s about drive, it’s about power and all those things. But the crowd love the song. And they all know it from one place: the soundtrack of the FIFA 14 video game.
At this point, I must come clean. I can count the number of games I have played on one hand. I like football, not FIFA particularly. The metronomic consistency of the FIFA team to pick artists out of obscurity has led me to hunt across the internet to try and find the secrets behind their success.
There is a sort of template to the perfect FIFA song. It’s a high-tempo track with a furiously fast beat designed to mimic the pulsating adrenaline of the sport where the brain is making decisions on instinct rather than careful consideration. A good example of this is the song Jerk It Out by Caesars, which was taken from FIFA and used in the background of a training sequence in the show Ted Lasso to excellent effect. It tends also to have some easily identifiable motif or pattern in it. This could be absolutely anything. It could be a guitar line, a sample used on repeat; in Newman’s case, it is the long drawn-out “IIIIIII” that kicks off the chorus. There are no rules, it just needs to be identifiable. Artists tend to be predominantly from Europe given that it is the hub of interest in the game, although there are artists from across the world on the soundtrack now. It’s also important to note that artists very rarely become famous because of FIFA, they appear on FIFA well before hitting the mainstream.
There is a reason for this. The first FIFA game came out in 1998, and the soundtracks from that time period reflect the state of the music industry at the time. At the time, music was stuck in the groove of decades prior, trying to emulate the anthemic music of the 80s. Most mainstream music was trying to recreate bands like Queen, AC/DC, or Guns ‘n’ Roses, whose music naturally lent itself to being chanted by thousands in unison in stadiums. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that music, it didn’t capture the dynamism of the game it was meant for. FIFA actively went against conventional logic by looking for something different. They abandoned the search for the next artist who you would see in a stadium, and instead focused on finding the artists you remembered seeing in a club so tiny that you could make eye contact with the singer. It was fast, it was energetic, but it was also deeply personal to the listener. Their searches helped them find artists Bastille, Kings of Leon, The Kooks, The 1975, Empire of the Sun, Caesars, Franz Ferdinand, LCD Soundsystem, Two Door Cinema Club, Foster the People, Walk the Moon and of course, John Newman. They were the masters of finding “that artist you liked before they were mainstream”.
But after a while, the FIFA brain pool began to realize that they were falling into exactly the same trap they had initially set out to subvert. The soundtracks were becoming overwhelmingly dependent on a specific type of musician; predominantly guitar bands, predominantly white, and predominantly male. So, they set out to remedy this, drawing on a far more wide-ranging spectrum of musical influences. The skeleton of guitar-based indie bands was still there but it was now coming with influences from house, hip-hop, jazz, and funk metal. Artists like Dua Lipa, Loyle Carner, Arlo Parks, Aitch, Skepta, Childish Gambino, Tom Misch, Billie Eilish, Declan McKenna, Tash Sultana, Glass Animals and Vampire Weekend were all found in the background while scrolling through gameplay menus well before they had hit the mainstream. The template for song choices remained the same, but the ways it could be interpreted were expanded.
Music has an incredible ability to define moments in people’s lives. The right song has the ability to rescue us from life by transforming it into a music video for just a few minutes. That evening at APL captured this magic. As John Newman’s dulcet tones came over the speakers, the emotions that swept over the listeners were never for a videogame. It has nothing to do with football. They were transported back to a different time in their lives, some good, some bad, but all joined by that one song. Those songs are a connective tissue for people, from different places and backgrounds, perhaps with nothing else in common, just songs that no one has heard before.
I have compiled some of my favourite songs from FIFA soundtracks into a playlist here. Enjoy :)