If anyone can provide insight into the massive success of the music behind the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, it’s Mike Knobloch, president of global film music and publishing at Universal Pictures.
Highlights from the Grammy-nominated music supervisor and producer’s career includes four of the top nine highest-grossing films of all time, including “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7.” The latter featured “See You Again,” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, and continues to break records. Just this past May, the song reached over 5 billion streaming views on YouTube.
On Friday, “F9” will be released. Ahead of that, Knobloch talks with Variety about the formula behind the franchise’s music and its soundtracks, as well as how he navigated “F9’s” delay due to the pandemic. He also talks about the new soundtrack featuring Ty Dollar $ign and Annita.
Ever since the first soundtrack, the music of the franchise has become such a staple of pop culture, like “See You Again” from “Furious 7.” What’s the secret to the perfect franchise song?
“See You Again” became one of only five music videos to ever surpass 5 billion views online. And that one will always be bittersweet because it was born out of tragic circumstances. As for the secret, first and foremost, it starts with what’s on the screen. We would never presume to know how to make the soundtrack for the next installment without working on the movie itself. Even though there’s a framework for what makes a “Fast and Furious” movie, we don’t take anything for granted. We don’t ever presume to copy and paste or do the same thing again. There is a very particular DNA about the music and the artists making the music for the soundtrack. Those artists become the fiber of the film and the brand. Putting an artist on a song and putting that song in the movie, it’s almost like the auxiliary casting of a cast member. It’s very nuanced, but I do think there is something that we know instinctively. There is no template, there is no formula. It is a constantly evolving journey and we are never complacent. We’ve set the bar very high for ourselves, but we’re constantly trying to raise the bar and beat what we’ve done before.
This soundtrack has Ty Dollar $ign and A$AP Rocky. What do you say to a popular artist to get them on board?
A big part of it is being able to keep up with and even try to predict trends. That can be a tricky thing to do from movie to movie, just the timeframe that it takes to go from one installment of the franchise to the next. And in the world of rap and hip hop, there are rapidly changing trends with stocks that are constantly rising and falling. A lot of it is instinct and gut checking. This movie has been particularly challenging because it was impacted by the pandemic. The date was pushed and in limbo for an extended period. We had to factor in the shelf life of the songs. We had a concert in Miami last year at the Superbowl to launch the trailer, and that was the run-up to the film. And a lot has changed. Ty Dolla $ign, Jack Harlow and 24kGoldn. The video that’s out, I don’t know how we knew or how we architected that a certain way. But I think it’s really cool that those three guys showed up to do a track together.
Some themes are broadly applicable to all the “Fast and Furious” movies. But there’s always a specific subset of instructions where we need a song to do X, Y and Z in this sequence for which it’s intended in the film. Story-wise, here’s what’s going on, and we try to make the creative brief as big a target to hit for the songwriters, producers and artists that we’re engaging. Thematically, it’s a pretty safe bet that anything to do with the kind of the ride or die, teamwork, family vibe and the adjectives and themes that you would use to describe “Fast and Furious” overall, go into all the songs. We do try to stay away from popular themes in rap music. There might be things in the movies that are romantic but not overtly sexual. There are drugs and bad guys, but it’s not gratuitously violent. So, there are definite boundaries when it comes to the lyrics.
I’m going to be evil and ask you, what’s your favorite song on the new soundtrack?
I don’t think there’s any difference between the songs. We love all our children equally. I’m excited about the “I Won” music video by Ty Dolla $ign, Jack Harlow and 24kGoldn. You’ll see weight thrown behind “Fast Lane” by Don Toliver, Lil Durk and Latto which has a big play at the end of the movie. There’s a piece out there, “Furiosa” by Anitta, that highlights the amazing and strong women of the film. That song scores that piece and rounds it out in a holistic way.
Listen to the “F9” soundtrack below: