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The state of FIFA music

Image courtesy of @lsubarstool on Instagram
Image courtesy of @lsubarstool on Instagram

The FIFA franchise is one of the most successful in gaming history, making over $20 billion in revenue since the series’ first release in 1993. Soccer’s premier video game is so well known that you’d likely have a harder time finding someone who isn’t privy to its existence than someone who is. With football undeniably being the most popular sport in the world, it makes sense that its main video game is extremely popular too. Since the release of FIFA International Soccer 30 years ago, the franchise has become more of a cultural touchstone to football fans than a video game series. Yearly improvements — in graphics, gameplay, features, music, etc. — have seen the game come a long way from its first iteration, and in 1997, fans got the first ever FIFA soundtrack.

Music has since become an increasingly important part of the franchise’s DNA and is now widely remarked as one of its defining characteristics. People have come to consider “FIFA music” as its own genre entirely, with the term “FIFA song” becoming a musical descriptor for the specific type of upbeat indie music the game has become synonymous with. But recently, fans across the globe have been taking issue with the newer soundtracks as the game enters an important new chapter.

For the first time in the game’s history, it will not be called FIFA, as Electronic Arts or EA (the game developer), and FIFA (football’s international governing body) have failed to reach an agreement over licensing. Now called EA Sports FC (which I’ll still be referring to as FIFA), I think it’s as good a time as any to look at the anatomy and evolution of FIFA soundtracks, along with the factors that have been causing fans to question the direction that the series’ musical identity is headed in. 

Image courtesy of u/kabob7 on Reddit
Image courtesy of FIFPlay.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background

For some context, there are three consistent foundational aspects that go into making a FIFA soundtrack to help cultivate that widely regarded signature sound. 

Fun: The backing music for a video game about one of humanity’s most globally shared passions should remain lively and uplifting. The fast-paced nature of the songs also help reflect the excitement and intensity of the sport depicted.

Diversity: The music included must be diverse. With football being the world’s sport, the soundtrack for its number one video game demands representation from all cultures and backgrounds.

Exposure: FIFA soundtracks always provide a platform for up-and-coming artists, which is one big reason each year’s score is so highly anticipated. A staple in the FIFA experience is finding a new favorite song as you navigate the in-game menus, and that song being by someone you’ve never heard of. I’ve personally become a fan of countless artists after being exposed to their music through FIFA, including some of my literal all-time favorites (Vampire Weekend, Little Simz, Catfish and the Bottlemen, and Raury being just a few).  

While these loose guardrails help the franchise maintain its beloved sound, the game’s musical landscape is constantly in some state of flux and has seen its fair share of change over the years en route to what we know it as today. 

History 

Early Soundtracks:

FIFA: Road to World Cup 98” produced the series’ first ever soundtrack and opened with Blur’s “Song 2,” signifying a tone that would stay consistent in the pioneering soundtracks. The early FIFA titles included a distinct mix of EDM and heavier Britpop, with more variety being added around 2003. Songs that reflect the sound of the early titles include “The Rockafeller Skank” by Fatboy Slim (“FIFA 99”), and “Bodyrock” by Moby (FIFA 2001). 

The 2000s:

FIFA 2004 kicked off the trend of much longer playlists, seeing more genres used as a result. FIFA soundtracks in the mid to late 2000s kept a similar DNA to their previous counterparts, but deliberately began to rely less heavily on EDM and Britpop. While still including many songs from those genres, these titles started to lean much more into lively international and indie rock music, doing so expeditiously toward the end of the decade. This period gave us some of the most iconic FIFA songs of all time, and would prove an essential steppingstone for what was to come. Some songs that best embody this period are “Jerk It Out” by Caesars (FIFA 2004), “Já Sei Namorar” by Tribalistas (FIFA 2004), and “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John (FIFA 08). 

FIFA 09 introduced the most popular game mode in franchise history with FIFA Ultimate Team, or FUT for short. FUT essentially acts as a digital version of a sports trading card game, except you can actually play matches with the cards you acquire. FUT involved many new features like squad building, club customization, and a transfer market which all prompted more time spent in the game menus than previous titles. FIFA has commentators that speak over each match but outside of those virtual 90 minutes, music occupies players’ ears. More time spent in the menus meant that consumers were further exposed to the game’s music, making it even more popular than before. The particular shift in musical aura toward the end of the 2000s, paired with the introduction of FUT made for some divine timing. EA had finally found its winning formula, and over the next decade nearly perfected it. 

The 2010s:

Image courtesy of u/Sensitive_Swimming29 on Reddit

The 2010s produced the undisputed golden age of FIFA music, as it was a period that would shape the music taste of a generation and change what the broader footballing world would consider the sport’s characterizing music to be. The nostalgia factor and its role in what makes the FIFA soundtracks (and this period in particular) so important to many must be acknowledged though. The formative years of tens of millions — me included — were entwined with the series, which helped strengthen their love for the sport itself. This is why a FIFA song can evoke a similar nostalgic feeling to the scent of your favorite home cooked meal. But just the same, millions who have little to no affiliation with the game know what a “FIFA song” is, and can enjoy it at that. Picking just a few songs to recap this era is like choosing between my own “Kids” (by MGMT (FIFA09)). But if I had to, some other quintessential ones would beWe Come Running” by Youngblood Hawke (FIFA 13), and “Love Me Again” by John Newman (FIFA 14).

Despite this period’s many positives, it yielded one glaring negative. The game’s increasing use of indie music resulted in less overall diversity among the artists and genres being used on the soundtracks. While characteristically continuing to work from a unique and global musical basis, the soundtracks started to disproportionately favor the predominantly white genre. EA looked to change this, and there was a noticeable shift toward a more consciously inclusive approach to the soundtrack with FIFA 19.

This more deliberate approach to diversify continued through FIFA 22 which resulted in some very positive and needed change, implementing much greater usage of hip-hop, R&B, afrobeats, and grime to accompany the expected indie bangers. While these years certainly changed the game’s overall sound, they never lost the DNA of your archetypal FIFA soundtrack, seamlessly broadening the scope for what a “FIFA song” could be. Songs that encapsulate this period of expansion are “Tribe” by Bas and J. Cole (FIFA 19), “Good to Be Home” by Barney Artist, Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and Rebel Kleff (FIFA 19), and “Fear No Man” by Little Simz (FIFA 22). 

This period achieved EA’s goal to re-globalize but the company has naturally continued its efforts to make the soundtracks even more inclusive, though lately with adverse results. While FIFA 19 – FIFA 22 variegated the music in a way that players enjoyed, the soundtracks from the newest titles (FIFA 23 and EA FC 24) have been an abrupt and significant departure from what fans have come to love and expect, leaving consumers confused and unhappy.

Recent Disappointment

FIFA 23 unexpectedly returned to the series’ origins with a large chunk of the soundtrack being production heavy dance music, which the company has intentionally tried to distance from since the early musical iterations. The shift to prioritizing genres like EDM and even hyperpop, made for an almost unrecognizable soundtrack with only a handful of songs that sounded like they belonged on the game. 

FC 24 doubled down on this robust approach, with an even bigger majority of this year’s songs being EDM adjacent. This, paired with its’ divergence from the series’ roots in another key area, has many fans considering it to be the worst soundtrack in the franchise’s history. 

With its split from the FIFA moniker being the start of a new chapter for the series, it seems like EA felt a heightened need to promote and differentiate from past editions with its most recent. In efforts to do this, more high-profile artists were brought onto the soundtrack than in years prior. While there is nothing inherently wrong with using big name artists on the soundtrack, the way it was done this year is the upsetting part.

Many large artists have featured on past soundtracks, but appearances would typically be limited to only a few big names each year; and when featured, the songs would fit nicely into that respective game’s soundtrack. This year there’s an abundance of big names, but almost all of the songs chosen from these large artists don’t sound like FIFA songs. Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem, Karol G, Jack Harlow, 070 Shake, Skrillex and Fred Again are just some of the big artists who evoke my claim. While I’m even a fan of some big-name artists included this year, the fact that I can firmly say their chosen music shouldn’t have made the cut is telling.

Using a big artist chiefly for their notoriety, rather than for meaningful contribution to the larger musical mosaic, just leaves less room for smaller artists to have a platform and adds one more song for many devout FIFA fans to click skip on. Each song from those larger artists fails to feel associable to the series regardless of the genre, making it hard to believe that notoriety didn’t play a part in their selection, and prompting you to further question what the goal was for this year’s score.

EA has essentially regressed in its effort to vary the types of music used in the soundtracks and fallen back into favoring a particular genre, only now the genre that is seemingly prioritized is one that the fans aren’t even enjoying. While EDM can of course warrant inclusion too, I don’t believe that it should hold this much precedence over other underrepresented genres. 

On top of this, making more room for notable names even though they don’t fit the game goes against what a FIFA soundtrack is all about in the first place. 

Going Forward

While I don’t know a perfect fix for these issues, a good one seems pretty clear. I think operating in a manner comparable to the FIFA 19 – 22 period would be ideal. It’s always been known that a FIFA soundtrack doesn’t need to be exceedingly indie to feel like one, and this period gave all parties a good reminder of that. Continuing to use and introduce all types of music from a wide array of genres and artists, while being sure to nurture the qualities that fans care so much about seems like an obvious practice to maintain, right? EA is notoriously known to neglect its consumers so unfortunately it isn’t so straightforward.

I understand that trying to expand or do something new requires trial and error, but it’s interesting just how off the mark EA has been with the last two soundtracks. There was enough discourse around the FIFA 23 soundtrack to expect at least some sort of improvement, but the issues it had were only made worse with FC 24. With more fans voicing disapproval around the music than ever before, you’d hope the developer would make a change. Sadly, this isn’t as guaranteed as it should be so let’s all hope that for once EA will lend an ear so ours can rejoice.

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    Ale M.May 31, 2024 at 12:59 pm

    I totally agree. Although I stopped playing after FIFA 23, I started sharing the sentiment too that the soundtrack had been deviating from what a ‘FIFA’ song should be.

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