How The Weeknd, Travis Scott, SZA and Rosalía Ended Up on the ‘Game of Thrones’ Soundtrack
Games of Thrones is a product. No matter how omnipresent the book-series-turned-TV-gets, it’s still just something that, by design, appeals to many millions of people. With that comes opportunities to sell some Game of Thrones stuff.
Right now, if one was so inclined, they could dunk their Game of Thrones Oreos in a Game of Thrones mug while sitting on a Game of Thrones Iron Throne, wearing Game of Thrones sneakers over their Game of Thrones socks, then run to the kitchen to put on a Game of Thrones apron and oven mitts to cook a Game of Thrones meal (probably, like, a turkey leg?).
Jeff Peters, HBO’s Vice President of Licensing and Retail, admits that 95 to 100% of his recent days are taken over by the juggernaut series. Yet his department has a “rule of thumb” concerning the products that are worthy enough for the fantasy property. “The product needs to feel like it is an organic match with the show and makes sense with the brand,” he says. “That the fans don’t feel like we’re just sticking the Game of Thrones logo on a random thing.”
“The craziest pitch we ever got was somebody that asked if they could do licensed Game of Thrones pet vaccines,” Peters continues. “We said, ‘That’s too much.’ And we did not cross that line.”
A line HBO wasn’t afraid to cross was a Game of Thrones soundtrack, For the Throne (Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones). The 14-track album is inspired by the show and features artists as varied as Maren Morris, Lil Peep and Rosalía.
“Proof of concept” ideas like the Catch the Throne mixtape series in 2014, featuring artists like Big Boi, Wale and Ty Dolla $ign had come before, but For the Throne was intended to be more ambitious. By Peter’s estimate, the idea for the soundtrack was four or five years in the making and started to coalesce a year and a half ago. Season eight’s marketing campaign was centered around a central question: “What would people and what would brands and what would artists do ‘for the throne?’”
“We knew Abel was a fan of the show. It was something that we sort of always danced around.”
The answer, if you’re a major label vying for some residual GoT cachet, is a lot. Imran Majid, head of A&R at Columbia Records, first heard about the opportunity from Tom Mackay, Sony’s President of Music Film and Television A&R. From there, he beat out various labels by pitching GoT‘s music supervisor, Evyen Klean, on two guiding principles.
“Strategically, it was all about going after artists that we knew would be fans. It was arguably the most important thing in the process, because we wanted to make sure that artist, one, had the ability to be as direct as they wanted to be or interpret in any way that they felt the songs represented the show, but it only makes sense when an artist watches the show.”
The second part of the plan hinged on what Majid calls “multi-genre diversity.” At times, For The Throne might seem scattershot — it incorporates elements of rap, R&B, rock, pop and neo-flamenco across its 46-minute runtime. That was by design.
“For us, sometimes naturally the instinct is [to] be a little more indie and alternative leaning, but we knew the audience itself was very diverse,” Majid says. “We knew the fans of the show, in terms of the artist community, were gonna be diverse. So it was critical from the beginning that we represented that.”
The lead single, “Power is Power” — which features The Weeknd, SZA and Travis Scott — tested the limits of this approach. The last time GoT involved a Billboard behemoth in the show (Ed Sheeran) it was critically maligned. Thankfully, The Weeknd were never considered for an in-show cameo, but he was the group’s white whale for the soundtrack.
“We knew Abel was a fan of the show. It was something that we sort of always danced around,” Majid explains. “We knew that he was in the studio making a new album. With his schedule, it could’ve been a long shot. Our chairman Ron Perry, who has a pre-existing relationship with Abel from running Songs Publishing… We were at dinner one night. It was like, ‘Why don’t we just hit him up?’ So he texted Abel being like, ‘Dude, are you into doing this song for this inspired by soundtrack?’ And he immediately responded and said he was down.”
What resulted is a song where The Weeknd sings about Jon Snow, SZA channels Daenerys and Travis Scott confusingly raps about guns as the Night King. It’s a lot, but so is Game of Thrones. Luckily, the HBO brass are beside themselves with the swing.
“I put it on a loop for like an hour and listened to it over and over again,” Peter says.
“I loved it.”
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