THE POP-EMO BAND will have bookended its comeback with performances at both the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston and the halftime show of the 2014 Pro Bowl. Lyricist and bassist Pete Wentz, a former all-state high school soccer player at New Trier (Ill.) High School who says the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle "was probably the first song I ever knew all the words to" explains how integrating its songs into sports -- especially during the Stanley Cup run of the Blackhawks, the band's hometown team -- helped transform "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up)" into the year's biggest arena anthem. It was a particular thrill for Wentz.
We had a sense that "Light 'Em Up" could be a kind of sports song when we were writing it. We've tried to do that before, but those songs never even make it on the album. It has to be way more organic because people can smell a fake. You're always trying to write those big songs regardless, and they just become sports anthems on their own.
Ten years ago, genre in music was so built up that people would say, "You can't do a remix with 2 Chainz at an NBA event." But sports is now unique in that music genre matters less. The players and crowds like rock, hip-hop, pop, a little bit of everything. We knew we had something with "Light 'Em Up" because our rock friends said it sounded like hip-hop and our hip-hop friends said it sounded real heavy.
A lot of people think music is done. The old model of how to do things is done. But music is more present now than ever in people's lives. They associate moments of their life with specific songs. So integrating your music into the texture of a larger experience, like a sporting event, is important. "Empire State of Mind" and Jay Z and the Yankees are a thing. Forever. The music and the experience become interwoven. That's powerful.
So when we reached out to the NBA for our first big televised appearance for "Light 'Em Up" and they agreed, it was a big deal. The song hadn't yet become something that high school marching bands would cover or people sang to me at 3 a.m. at Walmart. And here I am looking out at the crowd and seeing Drake and Kobe. Later, I sat next to one of Bill Russell's family members and had a sweet, fun interaction. I'm not sure any of them knew who we were, but it was cool and humbling to be a part of it.
After the All-Star Game, the song started getting played in stadiums, especially here in Chicago during the playoffs. There's nothing like hearing your song in a stadium, especially during a rally moment. It's different from hearing it on the radio for the first time. You get this whole different kind of shiver. People are singing the whoa-ohh part and it's so much more primal, so much more fanatical, so loud and so big. You hold your head up high when they put your song on the Jumbotron and people in your hometown get behind it.
It all culminated for us at Riot Fest in September. A hometown show with 40,000 people and the Stanley Cup shows up on our stage? And we helped a little with this? Insane. We're in the middle of a new model of mixing sports and music, and a lot of it is still uncharted territory. When it works, it takes both sides to a whole other plane.
It always comes back to doing interesting things that are new. Like, the next NBA dunk contest? I want to be on someone's shoulders playing guitar while they're dunking.