HIVEWIRE #05: How Emerging Music Scenes are Interacting with Sports

HIVEWIRE #05: How Emerging Music Scenes are Interacting with Sports
Colin + Meg

A Football x Music Case Study

One of my earliest memories of loving a song through my love of sports was getting into electronica-pop duo Moloko’s "The Time Is Now" circa 2005. I’d sing “Let's make this moment last” at the top of my lungs every time it played as the soundtrack to Sky Sports' Saturday night Premier League highlight show Football First. I might have gotten in a bit late, but the relationship between English football and music stretches back to the 90s when bands like Kasabian and Oasis gained prominence through their affiliation with the league. Oasis’ “Wonderwall” still blurs out of the speakers of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium on match days, incidentally. For its part, Kasabian’s Fire was the Premier League theme song, and since those early days of the league’s formation, the market has opened up to different genres and styles. As the EPL started to become more diverse and talented from other regions, social classes, and different backgrounds entered its hallowed corridors, different sounds accompanied that change. In 2023, Grime seems to be taking centre stage as the soundtrack to ‘the world’s most entertaining football league’.

Grime and the English Premier League

Long considered the sound of England’s inner cities and what colours the lived experiences of the lower-income population, Grime music is an authentic reflection of the environment inhabited by its practitioners. Its punchy lyricism holds the secrets to what’s hot in pop culture, fashion, food and sports. The genre's rise perhaps offered the ‘cool factor’ required when younger players started emerging as EPL superstars, and the relationship's symbiotic nature hasn’t waned since. From artists constantly name-dropping footballers’ and club’s names to rocking their favourite club’s jerseys in music videos, the bond has only been strengthened over the years. This is most visible in “Thiago Silva”, one of Dave’s biggest songs and a festival favourite. It’s also perfectly epitomised by the relationship created by Manchester United, where the former Manchester United player Paul Pogba and rapper Stormzy often played FIFA together, which was streamed on different social media platforms.

The Role of FIFA and Gaming

Speaking of FIFA - 3 (out of about 3451) of my favourite tracks are all from FIFA Soundtracks. The 1998 edition featured Blur's "Song 2", while in 2010, BLK JKS's “Lakeside” and The Whitest Boy Alive's "1517" were life-changing listens for me. The music found me where I was - as an avid gamer then - and hasn’t left me since. An extension of this is the role of FIFA’s Official World Cup Anthems play. 2006 saw K’Naan shot to global stardom with “Wavin’ Flag” and Shakira and Freshlyground’s “Waka Waka” in 2010’s is still undeniably etched in everyone’s memory. Both tracks are, at least, instantly recognisable by anyone who experienced those two events decades ago to this day. I couldn’t tell you which, out of the many versions released, of the 2023 World Cup songs I still remember. The point is, however, that, unlike the FIFA videogame soundtracks, an Official World Cup song that captures the imagination can also capture a broad base of audience - from gamers and sports fans to culture appreciators and even casual onlookers who are just caught up in the spirit of the moment.

The Rise of TikTok & Instagram and the Role Of Social Media

With an even bigger audience waiting (mostly) idly with devices at their fingertips, an even bigger audience exists than that of a videogame or a primarily televised event like the World Cup. The explosion of short-form social media platforms has helped fuel how easily audiences of music and football are reachable. Millions of people get an insight into the lives of athletes and artists, so when rappers and athletes hang out, players use specific songs on their posts/stories or participate in dance challenges, there’s an immediately accessible viewer on the other end. This has made for a significant, low cost and non-traditional promotional tool. Another former Manchester United player, Jesse Lingard, was famously popular for posting dancing videos from the club’s dressing room, and even his goal celebration was The Milly Rock - a move derived from drill music. Such organic and unscripted synergies between sportspeople and the music they consume are often perceived as more authentic than sponsored or branded collaborations by digital consumers.

What Can We Learn? - These Synergies Are Partnership Opportunities

So how can emerging markets tap into this perceived authenticity and leverage these increasingly ubiquitous engagements between sports stars and musicians? A huge Amapiano hit in 2019, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa’s “Lorch” may provide the perfect case study. The log drum-laden song was dedicated to a rising star in one of the country’s biggest and most well-supported teams - Orlando Pirates’ Thembinkosi Lorch. The explosion of the song provided an opportunity for the South African Premier Soccer League to tap into the growing popularity of Amapiano and use music to attract new fans and entice supporters to live games. Although the COVID Lockdown paid for any of this materialising, it’s an opportunity the main league sponsor of Orlando Pirates Black Label didn’t pass up, as the music video prominently features the brand. Of course, the flipside is always true - Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa had the chance to push for their song and Amapiano, by extension, to be the League’s preferred vehicle for entertainment through pre- or half-time shows. Such an arrangement would likely result in more listeners for the artists and more viewers or supporters at the stadium.

A more recent example is Nigerian artist Odomudublvck’s infectious Afrobeats song “Declan Rice”, dedicated to its namesake - a former West Ham United football star who made a transfer to Arsenal from the 2023/24 season. The announcement video for the footballer’s signing was an official rework of Odomudublvck’s original song, a win for him and the Afrobeats scene. The song was embraced by the player himself (on TikTok), and the resultant sync placement introduced Odomudu and Afrobeats to a broader audience. In these symbiotic tie-ins, there is an opportunity for every rising artist, emerging genre and forward-thinking league worldwide to combine their USPs for their mutual benefit. The win-win-win is more people becoming fans of artists, growing the footprint of genres and embracing a sport or specific team.

The Barcelona and Spotifiy’s collaboration is a statement of this and done at a much broader scale. The established footballing brand offers the streaming platform more eyes and ears while the club gets to build its digital presence (an ongoing undertaking by Spain’s La Liga) and perhaps entice support from a worldwide base of music lovers. This partnership also highlights that, in all likelihood, people are often fans of music and sports and just need their two interests to be synced in more personalised ways. An avid football fan getting access to the songs their favourite player listens to before games strengthens the bond with their idol, and a music fan seeing their favourite artform in new, exciting contexts will increase their pride in it.

Music and Sports both Embracing Technology

This overlap is expressed in my journey with sports and music and highlights how I and the sports content I consume have navigated new technological developments. From getting exposed to Moloko - who were doing a genre I was previously not exposed to - through a television set, and having 1917’s majestic guitar riff as a subliminal soundtrack to sunny Saturday mornings from playing FIFA on PlayStation, to now being exposed to moments like Declan Rice’s unveiling through an app on my phone - this relationship between music and sports is happening in more complex contexts than first meets the eye. What is ultimately at stake for emerging artists, the scenes they occupy, and a sport facing evolving demographics and viewing habits is how well they navigate the challenge of finding fans wherever they are, engaging them however they’d prefer, and entertaining them through constantly innovating along their fandom journey.