The Music of Monday Night Football

December 20, 2011

Hank Williams Jr. performed the MNF theme song, adapted from one of his own, for 23 years.  He is not sportsvssports favorite country singer, and while Williams had become a relatively polarizing figure over the years, the enduring popularity of MNF tempered any desire their might have been to make change.  It took a scandal to cause a change, and ESPN went with no song, rather than something new, or either of the two older musical introductions.

Since ESPN took over MNF from ABC, the focus on celebrities, particularly from the pop music pantheon, has taken on more focus.  The best example of this focus is this list published by ESPN, of all of the music which is to be featured on the show.  The list has some expected ‘artists’ and songs, and also Skrillex.  Of course, Skrillex did not actually replace Hank Williams Jr. as the performer of the opening song, but the question of how a broadcast gets from Williams to Skrillex is perplexing, because of MNF’s consistent reliance on the tried and true middle of the cultural road.  The video below illustrates the kind of reaction many an NFL fan has, will, or would have to Skrillex.  Fortunately for some, it is merely background music, like many of MNF’s choices of cuts.  Perhaps Nickelback is a beam in the bridge that connects Williams and Skrillex, or Panic at the Disco, or Korn.

Skrillex is huge, and the appearance of Justice and Slipknot certainly suggests that more than pop charts are mined for use on NFL broadcast.  Never the less, the trend of familiar, non-threatening country and rock is clearly bucked.  The Rolling Stones are the primary musical association MNF, if not the entire NFL, wants people to have.  For someone like Skrillex, who can probably tell you who called out ‘No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones!’ even a few seconds of background play represents a stark departure from the context his music is usually heard in.

If you can picture Skrillex, please spend the next few seconds imagining him trying to block Terrell Suggs.  You’re welcome.  Of course playing football is not necessary to enjoy watching it, and if you enjoyed the previous thought experiment, you may enjoy trying it with Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler, who along with Joe Perry appeared as guests in a version of Williams’ song early this season.  The point is not that they’re more natural choices because they’re more athletic, the point is that football fans who are not interested in music can grant that the Stones and Aerosmith are cool.  That this is not true makes no difference.  Whether Skrillex is cool is debated amongst hipsters, many of whom may even like the Stones and Aerosmith, but those latter are ‘classic,’ not ‘cool’ in a contemporary sense.  MNF music tends towards classic.  Maybe that’s changing.  Maybe next week we’ll hear Colin Stetson.  One can only hope.