How high are the stakes for the four featured songwriters on this week’s episode of Songland? They’re competing for a shot at landing a tune on the soundtrack for Universal’s upcoming The Fast and the Furious spin-off flick Hobbs & Shaw. Aloe Blacc is the artist lending his pipes to the track, and the film’s director, David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2), tags along to watch panelists Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally in action.
Key to their search: Aloe and David need “something anthemic with swagger.” It’s a tall order, so let’s see who brought it.
First up is Kyle Williams, who’s hoping to strike up a fast and furious bond (I’m here all season, folks) with fellow Oklahomans Ester and Ryan. His tune “I’m Just Getting Started” is a slow-burner with some soul, and feels tailor-made for, say, radio mainstays Imagine Dragons. But the panel collectively feels it needs a bit more oomph to be a Hobbs & Shaw contender. Still, Aloe’s initial reaction is “That’s energy!” So all is not lost for Kyle just yet.
We next meet Afika, whose parents emigrated from Swaziland. Now living in Brooklyn, Afika explains that his song “Chosen” is about facing a mountain of hardship but having the faith to end up on the other side. He’s got the right theme, but the track leans hip hop, and “Wake Me Up” crooner Aloe Blacc is, well, a crooner. Ryan suggests stripping the song back from its noisy instrumentation a bit, while Aloe states that he’d rather sing the lyrics than rap them. The panel members proceed to do their usual deconstruction of the song with a real-time jam session.
Next up is TATE. Only she spells it TVTE with a V, “just because I wanted to switch it up and separate myself.” Totvlly understvndvble. Wilmington, Delaware native TVTE presents her cut “Call For a Hero,” which ticks all the right boxes in the anthemic category and has a lyric — “the edge always has the best view” — that impresses Aloe. Naturally, Ryan states that he wants to make some arrangement changes. After Aloe sings a line from the song, Ester tells him to stay in his lower register because “your bottom is nuts.” This prompts Shane to quip, “That seems personal.” Oh, Shane.
The last songwriter on the docket is Steve Fee from Franklin, Tennessee. He brings in a number called “Same Blood” that he says has “a brotherhood kinda theme.” The song is more barebones than the other three showcased tonight, but Shane feels there are ways to improve upon it.
Aloe’s got some thinking to do before cutting one of the four contestants. “In these particular scenes of Hobbs & Shaw, we have the conflict of coming home and working with your family against the odds of an adversary,” he says. On top of that, the lyrics have to reflect Aloe himself as an artist. Ultimately, it’s Afika who gets cut loose, as “Chosen” didn’t feel stylistically right for the singer.
Shane McAnally and Steve Fee wind up in the studio together, where Shane says that the lyrics to “Same Blood” need to get a bit deeper. In a “hold my drink” moment, Steve explains that there was a young boy at his church who eventually passed away after struggling with cancer. Steve and the rest of the church rallied behind the boy’s single mother, and all this time later, the songwriter is celebrating five years of marriage with her. Bingo! When Steve brings the completely reworked version of “Same Blood” to Aloe and the panel, it’s got a church choir and a lot more urgency behind it.
Meanwhile, Kyle Williams heads into the studio with Ryan, who notes that it’s really hard to do anthems “that aren’t cheesy.” Ryan’s main solution to this is a simple one: Add some electric guitar to “I’m Just Getting Started.” He also coaxes Kyle to dive into his falsetto on the chorus, a la OneRepubic’s “Apologize” and Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” — two worldwide smashes Tedder has had his hand in.
This brings us to TVTE’s “Call For a Hero,” which Ester feels has a lot of different pieces that could use some rearranging. And as a writer who’s contributed songs to Rio and Ice Age: Continental Drift, and appeared in two Pitch Perfect movies, the woman knows a few things about soundtracks material. That said, when TVTE finally brings “Call For a Hero” back to the panel, the lyrics are on-point but the instrumentation comes off a bit too busy.
For a bit of last-minute encouragement, Dwayne Johnson FaceTimes in to tell the three hopefuls, “Our music for Hobbs & Shaw is our soul, and it’s the lifeline of the movie.” So no pressure, guys.
Sadly, there can only be one anthem in a big studio, smash-’em-up summer blockbuster, and Aloe chooses Kyle Williams’ “I’m Just Getting Started.” For those of you keeping score, this gives master tunesmith Ryan Tedder his third Songland production win of the season (following Kelsea Ballerini’s “Better Luck Next Time” and Meghan Trainor’s “Hurt Me”).
“Getting Started,” as it’s been shortened to, is up now on iTunes and Spotify.