Imagine Dragons’ ode to the underdog, “Zero,” served as the perfect soundtrack to Disney’s latest animated film, Ralph Breaks the Internet, a sequel that follows the adventures of outcast Ralph and his friend Vanellope after they discover a WiFi router at their arcade.
The tune’s music video honors a similar kind of misfit, those who find comfort in front of a video game screen. The clip’s characters bust high scores and cash in strings of raffle tickets at their local arcade–ironically heroes in their own electronic world–as lyrics like “Let me tell you what it’s like to be a zero, zero,” play overhead.
Ben McKee, who serves as the bassist for the now chart-topping band Imagine Dragons, wasn’t always playing arenas. He knows all too well the feeling of not belonging and remembers the pre-smash hit days of being “those four guys struggling to make it, eating lima beans, sleeping on the floor of a shared house in Las Vegas and playing the bar scene there.” He also connects with the music video on a personal level, as he says there are several arcades in Denver, Colorado, with McKee atop the Donkey Kong high score and he even has pinball machines in his house in Las Vegas.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is out now on Digital and coming to 4K and Blu-ray Feb. 26. Before the release, McKee chatted with Billboard about working with Disney, arcade culture, the band’s cameo in the Wreck It Ralph sequel and more.
What made you want to work with Disney?
I think we all grew up with the culture of Walt Disney in our homes, in our lives. Everybody always wanted to go to Disneyland as a child and we all had our own favorite Disney movies. As musicians, the music of Walt Disney movies is something that is with you all the time. My first project that I ever did for college, we had to write an arrangement of a song for a five horn band and rhythm section. I chose “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. I wrote and recorded an arrangement for my little sister for Christmas because that song had so much meaning for both of us. To be a part of something that could be that significant to an entire generation of kids…it was an honor to be asked to participate in it and it’s not a hard thing to find inspiration and fun in the whole process. Everybody at Disney is so great to work with.
The music video is all about arcade culture. Did you go to arcades growing up?
Yes, actually I never really evolved past that phase of my video gaming. I’m not really someone who was good at computer games or playing on the Xbox, but the original Donkey Kong in the arcade is my video game. I would go and try to set the high score at any arcade I would go to. There’s a couple arcades in Denver actually where I do right now hold the high score in Donkey Kong.
The song and video are interesting, because it’s about being a zero but getting a high score is the opposite of being a zero in its own way.
I think that’s something we can all really identify with. I don’t think any of us were the stereotypical “cool kid” growing up in our school and I think that a lot of us spent time isolated, working on our craft in our bedroom, playing scales or learning riffs and all trying to work toward the one moment where you get to step out on stage and finally someone recognizes the thing you’ve been secretly working at.
The song is featured on your recent album Origins, which singer Dan Reynolds described as “seeking new ground but also appreciating your root.” Do you think “Zero” fits that description?
Absolutely. We really did look back at where we came from but, still being a product of everything that we’ve been through, there is a current spin on everything. With “Zero,” I think you can hear a lot of early Imagine Dragons on there. It almost sounds like something from our old EPs with that traditional driving rock beat. It’s an element that we really used to lean into harder than we have on the past couple of albums. To get into that feel but also bring it to a current place, it doesn’t feel like it’s from 10 years ago but it reminds us of the songs we were writing together 10 years ago.
If you could be a Disney character, who would you be?
Maybe I’d be the freed genie at the end of Aladdin. That’s the beginning of what could have been a real party sequel for the genie. Making up for lost time. We actually have a very, very brief cameo in Ralph Breaks the Internet. You’ll notice that the audio is a bit quieter for us because we actually recorded it on set for the music video, like into a cell phone right there. We just recorded our laughs and they animated us into the movie. We’re the last four acting credits.