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When Did Imagine Dragons Take Over the Sports World?

The most ubiquitous presence in sports is … um, the guys who sing “Radioactive” and are behind ESPN’s newest college football anthem

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

ESPN has selected the new Imagine Dragons single “Natural” as its official 2018 “college football season anthem,” according to Billboard. This might seem like a rather innocuous bit of news, but let me ask you two questions:

  1. Do you believe that you can win this fight tonight?
  2. Will you remember me? For centuries?

If you have even a passing interest in college football, you know that the song ESPN chooses as its season-long pump-up anthem becomes inescapable. You will hear it during weekly ads for games, during the garish introductions leading into those games, and then again during the games themselves, in what feels like every commercial break. This year, that song will include Imagine Dragons screaming “YEAH, YOU’RE A NA-TU-RAL” every few seconds. And while that phrase lacks the epic implications as lines about winning a fight or remembering somebody for centuries, the song sounds pretty similar to past ESPN college football anthems. (The key feature that connects them? Howling!)

By October, this song will have been drilled into your brain sufficiently enough that you will no longer remember a time when “YEAH, YOU’RE A NA-TU-RAL” wasn’t being hollered every few minutes throughout the season. Imagine Dragons will simply become part of college football viewing reality. You will not view the band as a friend or enemy, but simply as a thing that exists and always has, like rivers, mountains, and Bill Snyder.

But sports fans should be used to this. After all, it’s been hard to follow sports over the last five years without having Imagine Dragons thrust in your face. Here is a short, perhaps incomplete list of the sporting events I’ve watched Imagine Dragons concerts interrupt since 2014:

Imagine Dragons also played non-televised fan fest concerts at the 2014 MLB All-Star Game and this February’s Super Bowl (as part of the EA Sports Bowl party), as well as a concert at the 2018 Sugar Bowl that was broadcast as part of ABC’s New Year’s Eve lineup. The band also performed in TNT’s promo for the 2015 NBA playoffs, was featured in ESPN’s NBA promos in 2013, and was incorporated into ads for the 2017 MLB All-Star events. Imagine Dragons’ reach isn’t limited to American sports, either; they performed at the League of Legends world championship in 2014, and after Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga in 2015, it played with most of the team on stage. And, oh yeah—ESPN has already used Imagine Dragons in its college football coverage. In 2015, “Roots” was the network’s primary college football song, and ESPN also aired commercials a remix of an Imagine Dragons song.

Basically, if you’re a sports fan, you haven’t had to imagine dragons—they’ve been around you, at all times, for going on half a decade. It’s not particularly surprising that a band as popular as Imagine Dragons gets invited to perform a lot of concerts, but I can’t remember any musical act being so routinely called upon to perform at so many sporting events. Clearly, someone at the headquarters of sports—some sort of Sports Center; we’ll workshop the name—has decided that we must be continually seeking a side of Imagine Dragons with our sports entrée.

So beware: The next time you get stuck in traffic while heading to shoot hoops with your pals or driving to your kid’s soccer game, know it’s probably because a nationally televised Imagine Dragons concert is taking place in the parking lot of the gym or field to which you’re going. If there are sports, there will be Imagine Dragons, being edgy ... but not so edgy that casual fans will be turned off by it.