WandaVision theme songwriters break down their decade-hopping tributes to classic TV
Every sitcom needs a good theme song. The most memorable TV melodies set the tone for the entire show, whether it's the tinkling piano of Cheers' "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" or the rhythmic hand-claps of Friends' "I'll Be There For You."
So when Marvel set out to make WandaVision, its experimental love letter to TV sitcoms through the decades, director Matt Shakman knew he needed not one, not two, but multiple theme songs, paying tribute to each episode's vintage DNA. He recruited Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the award-winning married musical masterminds best known for writing earworm hits for Disney like Frozen's "Let It Go" and Coco's "Remember Me."
Each WandaVision episode has its own theme, true to the decade it's set in: The first episode has a jazzy number straight out of the late '50s/early '60s, while the second is a mostly instrumental piece set to a Bewitched-like animated sequence. For the third episode, the two composers moved to the '70s, taking inspiration from classic family sitcom themes — kitschy lyrics and all.
Here, Lopez and Anderson-Lopez break down their decade-hopping musical numbers — and a few secret Easter eggs they've hidden within. [WARNING: Contains mild spoilers for the third episode of WandaVision.]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you both become involved with this? It was director Matt Shakman who first reached out to you, right?
ROBERT LOPEZ: Yeah, Matt was a friend of mine from college and we kept up after school. He's one of our favorite TV directors: He directed our favorite episodes of It's Always Sunny and Game of Thrones.
KRISTEN ANDERSON-LOPEZ: He's like, "From college." They went to Yale together! [Laughs] Matt directed a version of The Tempest, for which he asked Bobby to write songs. It all happened in the Yale swimming pool, which I hear was very echo-y, so you couldn't hear the lyrics. Bobby's still upset about it, apparently.
LOPEZ: It was a disaster, but we had a lot of fun. [Laughs] But we both always wanted to write something with Marvel and hoped it would one day happen but couldn't imagine how. And then Matt called a year and a half ago and pitched us this crazy idea that just seemed like an absolute dream. We couldn't believe our luck. It was not such a hard job: a number of short songs that all set the tone [and paid] homage to different TV decades. We were just like, yes, yes, and yes.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: The lovely thing is that we didn't really have to do any research because we are Gen X-ers, so we grew up watching these sitcoms from every single generation. I grew up in the suburbs of New York, and if you were sick, you got to stay home from school. The TV would go on, you'd sit on the couch, and you'd take a deep dive through American sitcom history. 9 a.m. was I Love Lucy, and then My Three Sons and Flipper and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then by 2 p.m., you're in the '70s with The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. By 4 p.m., you're starting to get more into the '80s with like Three's Company, and then you watch whatever the must-see TV was at night. So you did the whole research, and it was all there in my body when we got this job.
Like, "Okay, this is the job I've been preparing for my whole life."
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Yes! When your mom used to say, "All those hours in front of the TV will not amount to anything! Get out and play! Go for a run!" Well, guess what! [Laughs]
So, when you sat down to write these different theme songs, where did you start?
LOPEZ: The main challenge was that this was to be a TV show with many theme songs — which would seem to defeat the purpose of having a theme song. [We needed] stylistic unity and having one tune that you associate with the show. We decided that there would be one piece of musical continuity that would be in every song. So we wrote the WandaVision motif, which goes, [sings four notes] "WandaVision!" It's in every song, and it's in a different place and hidden in different ways. It became a kind of game and a way to organize the writing.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: It's a musical Where's Waldo for musical people. They can be like, "Oh, it's in the arrangement here! Oh, the background singers are singing it here!" Then the next big challenge was making sure we weren't parodying any one show, that the songs we were writing would evoke all of the iconic songs from an entire decade and be their own thing. That was a challenge too, but also a fun one. For us, it's really important that it feels like it came from us and is something new.
That's where story came in a lot and also just academic curiosity. At Williams College, I took a class called, "The History of Jazz." We followed why jazz and American song changed decade to decade. It had to do with union laws, sometimes, because the big bands got really expensive, so you'd go to a smaller, cooler jazz. Then technology comes in, and you've got electric guitars and synths. So [we wanted] to use that stuff, as well as the story that we're given in the scripts. All of that hopefully made each one unique and different.
Are there any specific details or lyrics that you're particularly proud of?
LOPEZ: There was one lyric [in the third episode]. The first time the song ends, it goes, "One plus one is more than two." The second time it ends, it goes, "One plus one is family." [Laughs] I just think that's the dumbest and funniest and most TV-like lyric we've ever written.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That was actually a rewrite because it ended with, "One plus one is more than three." They were afraid that was possibly a spoiler. So we turned it into, "One plus one…"
TOGETHER: [Singing] "Is family!"
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Which is like the most '70s thing.
LOPEZ: It's the most idiotic lyric I've ever heard. [Laughs]
For you, what is that makes a perfect TV theme song?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: They need to be catchy. They need to have a strong melody.
LOPEZ: They need to have a real shape. They have to be a real song, even though they're short.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And they have to evoke a decade. With the language, too. [Sings part of the first episode's theme] "She's a magical gal in a small-town locale!" We're using "gal" and the duh-duh-duh. That triplet is pulling lyric and musical choice together, so it really sounds like it would've been written in 1958. That's part of it. But ultimately, our job is basically to do the job of [a title card]. Other Marvel movies would have the type come across and go, like, "Sokovia, 2009." What we're doing with these theme songs is setting tone and place and time.
We've seen the first few episodes, which are rooted in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Is there anything you can tease about what we should listen for as the show moves into the '80s and '90s?
LOPEZ: I think we can say — maybe because we're '80s kids — that the '80s was our favorite decade to take on. The craft of theme songwriting peaked in the '80s because, after the '80s, you see fewer and fewer songs at the beginning of sitcoms and TV shows. It was their heyday. It was the brilliant starburst before the death of the sun. They're longer. They're touchy-feely ballads. And it was fun to really put some emotion into the one we did.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: The fun thing is that our voices are on a lot of it. Because of the pandemic, we couldn't do a lot of recording live. It's mostly us singing the solos with a wonderful group of backup singers, so that's a fun thing to look for. I can't spoil it, but there is a guest star on a decade that really brought a lot of authenticity.
And again, you can play the game of: Where is that motif, that tri-tone? The tri-tone, they call it "The Devil's Interval," and it gives you that feeling of, like, something's not right here. Something's a little creepy. People have been trying to figure out, why do these songs sound creepy? And I think it is because of that.
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