Pinar Toprak, whose billion-dollar status in films (“Captain Marvel”) and video games (“Fortnite”) has made her one of the world’s most sought-after women composers, has shattered another glass ceiling: She has written the theme for Amazon Prime’s “Thursday Night Football,” launching with a preseason game Aug. 25.
The L.A.-based composer recorded the theme and multiple variations on July 8, conducting a 70-piece orchestra at Nashville’s Ocean Way studios. Variety was present to preview the theme when she mixed it alongside Grammy-winning engineer Alan Meyerson last week in Los Angeles.
According to Amazon officials, this is the first new theme music for the rights holder of an NFL package since John Williams penned “Wide Receiver” for NBC Sports in 2006. Toprak is also the first woman to compose an original theme for an NFL media package.
“The theme needed to be both current and timeless,” Toprak said. “It needed to convey the power and energy and hard work that goes into a game, hopefully with a memorable and hummable theme. It’s always tricky to make sure you’re writing something that sounds like today but, in another 20 years, will still sound contemporary.”
Toprak’s anthem is a triumphal, brass- and drum-heavy earworm that builds in intensity and power over its full three-minute duration. Variations include a more string-dominated but still rhythmically powerful version; an alt-rock arrangement featuring electric guitars; and a fun “late night” edition with saxophone and piano solos and a decidedly funky rhythm section. All are elaborately produced with electronic elements created in Toprak’s studio.
Jared Stacy, Amazon’s director of global live sports production, told Variety that the right theme is “such an integral part of the overall presentation. It was really important for us to find something that was epic and timeless but modern and upbeat, and we found that with Pinar.”
He said his team “cast a very wide net” to find the right composer. Asked about the fact that he and his colleagues hired a woman to write music for the most macho of American sports, Stacy explained: “We have a really diverse roster in front of, and behind, the camera. We have senior leaders in our organization who are women. But Pinar’s work speaks for itself. When you hear ‘Captain Marvel’ you know she is at the top of her profession.”
Although “football” meant soccer while growing up in her native Turkey, Toprak learned to appreciate American football when she arrived here in America over 20 years ago. “I’ve learned the rules, and my brother and my boyfriend are huge football fans. Now, the more I know about the game, the choreography that goes into it, the more I respect and admire it.”
Meyerson, who mixed NBC Sports music many years ago, termed the theme “muscular. It will brand the show. No matter what people are doing, I want them to go, ‘it’s game time,’ grab your popcorn, sit down and enjoy the game.”
The technical requirements amounted to much more than simply writing and recording a few themes and variations. In addition to the “extended” version that’s three minutes long, she has 60-second and 90-second versions and approximately 65 “cutdowns” of edited tracks as short as six seconds to fulfill a variety of practical scoring needs.
Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of “Thursday Night Football,” said in a statement: “I’ve been lucky to be involved with multiple NFL theme-music projects, and this was the most intelligent and collaborative approach that I’ve ever been a part of. Pinar was outstanding from the start, gave thoughtful consideration to our feedback along the way, and composed a score that features intensity, drama and a ‘hummable hook’ that gets inside and stays with you.”
“You want the music to go a lot of different places,” Stacy added. “We might need something high-energy, something a little more dramatic, a little jazzy… things that sting, or that play out longer. The music goes in a lot of different directions. We think it’s a really modular theme.
“We wanted something that stood out from the crowd, so that when people hear it, that know it’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ on Prime Video — that’s not ‘NFL on Fox,’ that’s not ‘Monday Night Football,’ that’s clearly the ‘Thursday Night Football’ theme song. This theme is amplifying the action that they see on the field, part of a premium broadcast, high-quality coverage. And we want it to last for generations.”
The Aug. 25 debut of the Toprak theme will be for Prime Video’s inaugural preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans. The regular season begins Sept. 15 featuring the Los Angeles Chargers at the Kansas City Chiefs. This marks the first time a streaming service has aired a season-long exclusive national broadcast package with the NFL.