Black Panther to 'This Is America': Composer Ludwig Göransson reflects on his prolific 2018
The last 12 months were a blur for composer-producer Ludwig Göransson, who had quite the prolific year with the release of Black Panther, Venom, and Creed II, all of which he scored. He also reunited with Donald Glover to produce Childish Gambino’s powerful “This Is America,” as well as the mid-summer drops “Summertime Magic” and “Feels like Summer.”
“It was all a very dreamlike state,” Göransson recently told EW while looking back at his 2018. “It’s hard to recall exactly how busy it was, but it was busy.”
And his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In December, the 34-year-old Swedish musician received multiple Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “This Is America,” Best R&B Song for “Feels like Summer,” and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther.
Before the 2019 Grammy nominations were announced, EW had a chance to hop on the phone with Göransson and discuss everything he worked on this year.
One of the standout musical moments in Ryan Coogler’s Afro-futuristic superhero film is the South Korea-set car chase, where the music seamlessly moves from Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, and Yugen Blakrok’s aggressive “Opps” into the official film score, almost without viewers noticing the change. According to Göransson, they knew from the beginning that they wanted Lamar to write something for that thrilling sequence. However, the composer also realized that they would need something more since the scene was so long.
“I went into the studio with Kendrick’s producer Sounwave and we worked on a beat that had a good energy and a good tempo to it. Then, a week later, they [sent] back the song to me with Kendrick, Vince Staples, and Yugen Blakrok from South Africa,” says Göransson. “In today’s movies, you can’t just have a song play through a whole five-minute scene. People don’t really have that patience today. So something that I worked on a lot is, how do you take this song and keep the core and energy, but then make it into more of a score moment where you hit specific moments of the action?”
He continues, “There’s so much happening in this car chase. There’s so many turns and twists and characters, so it’s extremely difficult because it’s a fine balance where it goes from score to song, but I also really love to do that. It’s kind of the perfect example of blending both the production world and the scoring world, which I both love.”
“This Is America” by Childish Gambino
Göransson, who has worked with Glover since his 2010 album Culdesac, says it took him and the actor/writer/rapper two to three years to finish “This Is America,” which dropped in May.
“We started out with the beat and then I think within an hour [we had] the main hook,” says Göransson. “We made like 80 percent of the song within two hours, and then to finish the rest, it took like two more years.”
What’s interesting about the track, which mashes up gospel and trap, is that it is very much tied to its visceral, Hiro Murai-directed music video. However, Göransson wasn’t aware of what Glover had planned for the visuals when they started working on it. “I had no idea what the music video was going to look like, but I’m sure Donald did. When we work together, he’s a very visual person, and I can tell when we’re creating that there’s a story going on in his head already and he’s already thinking about the visuals,” he says. “When I saw the video a couple days before it dropped, I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I already loved the song, but it was like, ‘Now I know fully what this is.'”
Scoring Venom was a new experience for Göransson because this was the first time he had to write music for a character who is essentially two different people: the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-like Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who shares a body with a powerful, alien-symbiote named Venom. Of course, Göransson tried his best to capture this dynamic musically.
“I wanted them to have two completely different voices in the beginning, but there’s something that connects them musically,” he says. “For Eddie Brock, there’s organic guitars and a more romantic sound, and for Venom, it’s an extremely aggressive soundscape. Then, you blend them together and they get even more powerful with the storyline.”
As he did with Black Panther‘s car-chase, Göransson used a six-minute long sequence in Steven Cagle Jr.’s follow-up to 2015’s Creed — this time a training montage — as an opportunity to blend his score with a rap song, which resulted in the above “Runnin.”
“It’s a six-minute scene, but it also has to feel a little like a song,” says Göransson, explaining the difficulty of creating a piece of music that was dynamic enough to keep the audience’s attention during the entire sequence. “That’s the perfect scene for where you hear all of the new themes in the movie — the Drago theme, Creed’s theme — and it just builds up and then you have Jacob Banks and A$AP Rocky coming in with incredible raps…. It was awesome to work with A$AP Rocky and have him come in with such a unique written piece for that scene, and to weave the whole theme into his rap was something.”
Having also scored the music for the first film, Göransson initially had trouble finding a way to top himself on the sequel. But he says having a new director in Cagle, who took over for Coogler, helped him push through that creative block. Ultimately, they decided that they wanted Creed II‘s music to capture how much Michael B. Jordan’s had grown since the original. “Michael B. Jordan is just struggling in a different way and struggling with what to do when you’re at the top, so a lot of the music is just more connected with him,” he says. “The way his theme is playing in this movie is just more softer and kind of emotional as he’s going through his depression. But then in the fight spots, it’s bigger and more explosive. I think we wanted the music to have a bigger contrast.”