In November, while the Michigan football team willed its way to a monumental drubbing of Ohio State, the Michigan Stadium crowd swelled. Bleachers rattled, 111,156 delirious fans ushering a football game into one colossal party.
Every party needs a soundtrack. And on that Saturday, as the faithful pulsed and swayed, one tune filled the frigid air, latching onto their collective conscience.
You got to pump it up. Don’t you know? Pump it up.
It was inescapable. In the unlikely event that you’ve forgotten, look back at the highlights — the song beckons a sea of maize pom poms and bopping heads, the game and ballad intertwined as one.
“There were a lot of people who probably never heard of that song walking into that game,” DJ Skee, whom Michigan hired as a guest DJ for The Game, said. “And by the end of the night, the whole crowd is singing along to it. It was magical.”
That ever-catchy, “magical” song is “Pump It Up,” released in 2019 by British pop artist Endor. It’s a remix of the original rendition, unveiled by Danzel and Dirty Little Jam back in 2004.
How exactly did a little-known song become Michigan’s rollicking, irresistible anthem in this remarkable championship season?
It all started with a series of summer workouts at 6:30 in the morning.
See, Joel Honigford laughs about the backstory now, amidst this time of “Pump It Up” hysteria. Around Ann Arbor, people recognize Honigford as the “Pump It Up” guy and frequently holler those three words at him, the fifth-year tight end says.
Honigford first heard “Pump It Up” in a rather innocuous fashion back in 2019, shortly after Endor’s remix dropped. A self-proclaimed music buff, Honigford discovered the song alongside a group of friends. They enjoyed it, so it stuck for a bit. But, in time, the fad faded into the abyss, lost amidst long-winded playlists and endless shuffles.
This past summer summoned a revival. Honigford’s internship had standard hours, forcing his workouts to take place in the wee hours of the morning.
“I don’t always have the most energy that early,” Honigford told The Daily this week. “Because our group was so small, our strength coaches would let me DJ the weight room. That was the first song I put on and it would get us all going in the morning.”
When Honigford introduced the song to his teammates later in the summer, it drew rave reviews. “Pump It Up” blasted during teamwide stretches and roared during the infamous “Beat Ohio” drill as a way to turn the intensity up a notch. The coaching staff embraced it, too — one time after practice, the defensive staff ambushed the players’ cold pool while the song blared in the background.
Ahead of the season opener against Western Michigan, Honigford made a request: Play “Pump It Up” at least once.
The plea eventually reached Ryan Gardner, aka DJ Array, one of the DJs employed by Michigan.
“I had no idea what it was,” Gardner said. “I never heard of it before, had no idea who the artist that created it was. Being a DJ, I know a lot of music, but this ‘Pump It Up’ song, I had no clue what it was.”
Curious, Gardner listened to it the first time while in his car, and his reaction was spontaneous. He “automatically started bopping” and quickly obliged to Honigford’s request.
And, beginning with the Sept. 11 matchup with Washington, “Pump It Up” played after Michigan’s first touchdown of the game.
It stayed that way throughout the season. Players remained infatuated with it, hoisting chairs and waving towels along the sideline. Some fans jumped along, but nothing extraordinary.
At least, not until Ohio State came to town.
It wasn’t a formality that “Pump It Up” would play after each touchdown during The Game, as opposed to just the initial one. There were internal discussions beforehand, but not everyone involved was convinced. Perhaps it would fizzle out. Maybe fans would grow sick of the repetition.
But as Michigan continued to find the endzone and the pandemonium commenced, the decision was an easy one.
“We were like, just lay it on,” Gardner remembered. “ ‘Pump it Up’ after every touchdown. And it was bananas.”
Bananas in the stands. Bananas on the sideline.
“After each score, the energy was stacking and stacking,” Honigford said. “It’s kinda like a video game, Mortal Kombat, where you keep building that energy until you get the game breaker. It just kept building and building and we just couldn’t be stopped.”
Nothing could stop the fans, either. Not tired legs, not strained voices, not goosebumps or frozen faces.
“It’s one of those records that just works well in stadiums,” DJ Skee said. “It’s short, simple and sweet. It’s to the point. It gives you a motion that everybody can do and everybody can sing along to it.”
After the game, once fans plunged from the stands and flooded the field, Gardner queued “Pump It Up” again. The scene that transpired captures the emotions of that day and the essence of the song. The tune crescendos in, fans perking their ears before erupting into a ripple of maize and blue waves.
“It says pump it up, so you can’t help but try to get hype and get the energy to a higher level,” Gardner said. “It’s literally the name of the song.”
“Pump It Up” pandemonium was in full force. In the weeks leading up to the Ohio State game, Honigford worked alongside the hosts of Blue By Ninety, a podcast on the Maize n Brew network, to design “Pump It Up” merchandise. They released the gear on the Sunday after The Game, splitting their profits with Honigford on an NIL deal. Within an hour, a couple hundred orders had already been placed.
“It was really cool to see this fanbase cling onto something,” Justin Roh, one of three Blue By Ninety hosts, said. “This was the first thing they’ve really clung onto since ‘Mr. Brightside.’ For a university and a fanbase that is so about tradition, it was cool to be a part of something that is brand new and innovative.”
It hasn’t faded, either. At the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, the Michigan student section sang it a cappella. At bars and clubs around Ann Arbor, spanning Scorekeepers to LIVE, Gardner receives requests to play the song. DJs across the country — from San Francisco to Detroit — have told Gardner they’re beginning to add the song to their playlists.
And for Honigford, “Pump It Up” won’t disappear again any time soon.
“It’s pretty much stuck on loop,” he laughed. “If I ever were to forget that song, somebody would always remind me of it. It’s always tied to me, tied to our team. And I love it.”