On Evolve, the band even took the step of calling on outside producers, like Swedish super-duo Mattman & Robin, former Lorde co-pilot Joel Little, and John Hill -- the writer/producer behind the only non-Dragons rock crossover smash of 2017, Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.” Imagine Dragons say this wasn’t as much a pop play as an attempt to get out of their own heads. “We have a really hard time self-producing… because it's hard to know when to say no as an artist,” Reynolds explains. “Because you can say, 'It's incomplete, it's incomplete, it's incomplete,' until somebody finally says, 'No, it's done.'”
Reynolds is also clear to emphasize that while the band may handed the reins over in the studio in the little, the songs are still theirs. “As far as songwriting and creating our songs -- I've written every single lyric that's ever appeared on any record, and [about] 95 percent of the melodies,” he notes. “So we're definitely proud of ourselves as a songwriting band. It's not a pop machine.”
That doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to play the game a little, though. The band’s omnipresence has undoubtedly been aided by a variety of high-profile commercial synchs, including the use of “Believer” in a Super Bowl-aired ad for Nintendo Switch, and a Microsoft placement of “Thunder” in a spot for their Surface Laptop. (Both songs hit No. 1 on Billboard & Clio”s Top TV Commercials chart as a result.) “You're trying to get your music in as many places as possible that make sense, that organically fit,” notes Kelly. “In many respects, synch placement is really no different than a radio station or frankly, a big playlist. It's just another way to get your music exposed.”
The Interscope EVP credits the band for staying in the content cycle even in between albums, both with ad and film synchs, as well as soundtrack contributions like Suicide Squad All-Star team-up “Sucker for Pain,” a Hot 100 top 20 hit. “They weren't just putting out a record, going on tour for two years, then coming back two years later without having actually released content,” he says. “So they were really smart and strategic.”
He also explains that the band’s streaming success isn’t entirely by accident. “We met with all three partners [Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon] separately on a single day, with the band in fact playing music, talking about the long term strategy,” he recalls of the band’s pre-Evolve promo. “It's been a great collaboration [between creative and marketing]. That's how you win."
But both inside and outside of Imagine Dragons, ask people what about the band makes them special, and it’s not the band’s genre-splicing or their business acumen they’ll focus on. “Their songs are really good,” stresses K.Flay. “Even the songs that haven’t been singles… There’s just really, really great songwriting. There aren’t moments in the [live] set where you think, ‘Well, now I’m gonna go pee...”
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Indeed, while their music can be a little blunt at times -- Reynolds himself admits subtlety is an attribute he’s long struggled with as the group’s primary songwriter -- Imagine Dragons songs are reliably powerful and highly accessible concoctions. “Thunder” creates a triumphant, brain-burrowing singalong refrain mostly out of a single word, “Believer” frantically overstuffs its verses before exploding into possibly the year’s most cathartic chorus, and third Evolve single “Whatever It Takes” packs enough lyrical adrenaline to soundtrack ESPN montages for the rest of the decade. Like the best grunge bands and dubstep DJs alike, the Dragons have a brilliant understanding of tension and release, tiptoeing along wire-taut verses with gymnastic dexterity, before trampolining with both feet into gigantic hooks.