Sports fans see their team play live because it’s fun and it’s enthralling — it makes them feel like they’re part of a bigger unit, down with a cause, part of a movement. Each venue has a different game day experience — some produce over-the-top spectacles, some consist of unadulterated action on field (or court) — but they all have music.
Stadium music may seem like background music, but it’s very calculated. DJs must cater to the mood of the crowd and understand how to lend their tone to the demeanor of the players. After all, the music isn’t the main event. It’s a subculture within one of the richest and most rabid cultures in this country, and proper execution is essential to the functioning of a ridiculously big undertaking. It’s exciting. And it has evolved.
There was a time, presumably, when pump up songs mid-game came not from actual songs, but from an organ. It’s still used to some extent in classic baseball settings like Chicago’s Wrigley Field, but this sound no longer satisfies the increasingly volatile nature of sports settings. The days of baseball games as graceful processions are gone. Fan tastes have become more, well, upstart.
At a certain point, this attitude shift caused a transition to more rhythmic, catchy hooks from pop songs that could masquerade as both unifying and motivational. Stadium DJs favor stuff that will get 40,000-80,000 people, intoxicated or not, chanting the same thing. The White Stripes’s “Seven Nation Army” and Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” are two of the more high profile tunes that have proven they can hype up a crowd. Call it an aggressive or even tribal movement, but this was a simple era of sports jams. That is, until Kanye West made it his scene.
In 2007, the iconic rapper released Graduation, arguably his most grandiose album, and for a reason — inspired by his year alongside U2 on their Vertigo Tour, West craved the ovations the band received each time they took the stage. He was captivated by such large-scale fervor for a large-scale act. Bold as he is, he wanted the same thing. He grew preoccupied with the idea of singularly anthemic rap songs, which resulted in an album simply chock-full of stadium-ready hits: “Champion,” “Stronger,” “Good Life,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Flashing Lights” and “Homecoming” are all more than suitable for walk-up music, timeout time-fillers, or crowd energizers.
Kanye started a movement toward more ambitious, atmospheric and even dynamic, stadium music. One realization changed the trajectory of this culture as a whole, and while there aren’t any definitive prerequisites for a “correct” or “effective” soundtrack, West seemed to hit on some keys.
Perhaps it was due to his self-cultivation, but he understood how to tailor production to the largest of stages. A balance between going hard and establishing flow, between something easy to shout but not with too much lyricism.
When he claimed “stadium status” and later that it was “hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron,” he meant it. Stadium status now means a mostly trap-influenced sound and chirpy quips. It’s about the boom factor. ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” have become Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps” and Kanye and Co.’s “Champions.” The core simplicity has endured, but the sound has ratcheted up in intensity, and deservedly so. Welcome to a new age of stadium anthems.