When Imagine Dragons take to the stage at Madrid's Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 to perform at the opening ceremony for the UEFA Champions League final it will be the biggest show of the band's career to date, says frontman Dan Reynolds.
Last year's opening ceremony performance by British pop singer Dua Lipa was viewed by a global TV audience of nearly 80 million, according to Pepsi/UEFA, and this year's final -- an all-British clash between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur -- will air in over 200 countries and territories around the world.
"We really want to pull out all the stops to bring the energy the Champions League deserves," Reynolds tells Billboard ahead of the pre-final show. The full interview, including his thoughts on Woodstock 50, living with an autoimmune illness and tackling prejudice and hatred, can be read below.
Billboard: What can we expect from your Champions League opening ceremony performance?
Dan Reynolds: We're obviously putting together the best possible show we can as far as production, as far as music, as far as just bringing the energy to the stage that the UEFA Pepsi Champions League final opening deserves. This is the biggest stage we'll have been on in our 10-year career and we plan to make it the best show we have put on.
Are you or anyone in the group big soccer fans?
Yeah, especially our drummer Daniel Platzman. He's a pretty die-hard fan. I grew up playing soccer. I played for ten years. I don't know if I have any specific stand on [the final]. Our label president is a huge Tottenham fan, so I don't know whether than makes me want to root for them or watch them burn in flames.
Do you approach shows like these differently to, say, a music awards performance or traditional TV spot?
You have to. When Pepsi asked us to perform we really had to put our heads together and say, 'Okay, are we going to do this or not? Right now we are kind of in a blackout period and we have said no to everything. But this was such a huge event and really the biggest show we would ever take part in so we would be regretful to not. With that being said, we have to do it right. We really want to pull out all the stops to bring the energy the Champions League deserves. And frankly that is a lot because the amount of energy that people bring to those games is insurmountable. I never understood it until I attended a football game oversees. It was mind blowing.
As part of your preparation, will you be looking back on what other artists have done when they've played pre or half-time shows at major sporting events to see what worked and what didn't?
Not really. We just bring whoever we are to the stage, whatever that is. Because then we can sleep at night, whether people love or hate us. If we were to try and do something that worked in the past that somebody else did I think it would be shit, to be frank. We're just going to get onstage and authentically try to zone into what Imagine Dragons is and bring that energy into this incredible experience.
The opening ceremony is sponsored by Pepsi. How important are brand partnerships to both new and established artists today?
It's part of how artists break today. If it's something that is real and authentic, that's important to both sides then it can be a really synergistic and wonderful association. And then there are times when it's done in poor taste and doesn't really serve either side. [Imagine Dragons] seem to find a place that we really enjoy within the worlds of music, film and sport and that's just based on the fact that our music is very passionate. I'm typically singing about things like overcoming depression and that happens to be a theme that really correlates well with anything that's high emotion. We just hope to lock in on that and bring it to the stage and give the fans the emotion and feeling of celebration that this event deserves.
Imagine Dragons is one of the bands booked to play Woodstock 50. What's your take on all the stories, claims and counter claims surrounding the festival in recent weeks?
To be honest with you, I don't know. We haven't been told anything. All I can say is that we were excited to perform and we're [still] excited to perform if it takes place. As far as I know, it still is [taking place]. I haven't received a phone call telling us it's been cancelled. I've seen articles telling both ways. Long story short, you probably know more than me. I have no idea.
In recent years you've talked candidly about how having the autoimmune condition ankylosing spondylitis (AS) impacts on your life. How important is it to raise awareness of hidden conditions like AS?
That's my goal. My main focus right now as a human being is to take the platform I've been given and to focus it on two things. One is mental and physical health –talking about depression and anxiety and destigmatizing it. Physically, I have two autoimmune diseases and I want to destigmatize that and raise awareness so that other people don't go through the whole process I did of a million different doctors giving them wrong diagnosis. The second thing that I'm focused on is helping our LGBT communities, especially within the walls of religion, find acceptance and love and celebration. Because our religious and political leaders are setting them up for failure when they tell them that the most innate and normal part of life, which is to love, is flawed. They need to stop telling our children that.
Are you optimistic for the future in that regard?
I wish the answer was it's all good, but we have a long, long way to go. We have made some steps forward, but there are still countries stoning LGBT people, killing them just for existing. There are also religions around the world that are still punishing and putting horrible, hurtful rhetoric into the minds of young children about them being sinful or flawed. That's responsible for raising suicide, depression and anxiety rates among LGBT communities and frankly that's just blood on people's hands. It needs to stop. I wish I had a more hopeful answer. There's a lot of people doing a lot of good, but there's a lot to be done.
When your struggles with AS were at their worst, did you ever fear you wouldn't be able to continue performing with Imagine Dragons?
Absolutely. I can think of a show in Arizona where I was stiff as a board onstage. I could not move and I really thought that was the end of the band. It was back when we were looking to get signed. We had at least three different labels in the room [checking us out] and the entire show I just stood exactly still. I did not move and I didn't tell any of the labels that I was in pain, as I was afraid of talking about it at the time. I didn't want them to think that I was going to be some non-performer so somehow we got through the show. None of those labels signed us.
What did you do next?
That's when I finally went and saw a rheumatologist after a year of seeing a million different doctors and misdiagnosis. That changed everything. They put me on treatment plan. I changed my diet. I changed my workout regime. It took a lot of work, but [before that] there was definitely a time period where I thought, 'Okay, I've worked all this time to make this band happen and now it's going to fall apart... It was a very scary time period for me.