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Track Review

Looking for a gritty-but-inspirational, television-ready sports anthem? A song that'll amp-up viewers' adrenaline levels during the big game? One that fans will be humming subconsciously by the end of the season?

Look no further than Imagine Dragons, the band du jour for exactly this kind of musical application.

The Las Vegas-based rock group's latest single, "Natural," has been chosen by the NCAA as the theme song for the 2018 college football season. Expect to hear plenty of its pounding, pumping synth lines and bass rhythms this year if you watch a lot of college ball on the telly.

As is generally the case with Imagine Dragons, "Natural" yields yet another dramatic blend of struggle and success. ESPN vice president of sports marketing Emeka Ofodile put it this way: “‘Natural’ embodies the energy, spirit and drama of each team’s journey to the College Football Playoff, and that is why it was chosen as this year’s anthem."

The Thrill of Victory?

Imagine Dragons hasn't delivered a new millennium version of, say, "Eye of the Tiger." Yes, there's commitment and triumph. But while frontman Dan Reynolds and his group laud the perseverance needed to reach the top in the song's lyrics, they spend more time pondering the cost of that success.

"Natural" begins with a question and challenge: "Will you hold the line?" That's a great question for football players, of course. Anyone who knows anything about football knows that the game is won or lost in the trenches at the line of scrimmage. That question is followed by another, similar one: "When everyone of them is giving up or giving in? Tell me." And the lead up to the chorus proclaims, "And you're standing on the edge, face up, 'cause you're a/Natural."

In other words, you were born to enjoy the spoils of victory, right?

Not so fast.

No one becomes a champion without paying a price, the band seems to say next. "Nothing ever comes without a consequence or cost/ … That's the price you pay." And in the chorus, we hear that one potential cost of success is becoming hardhearted ("A beating heart of stone/You gotta be so cold/To make it in this world"). Elsewhere, the band suggests that striving for achievement can also turn successful people brutal ("Living your life like a cutthroat") and predatory ("Rather be the hunter than the prey") in a commodifying, objectifying world ("Leave your heartache, cast away/You're another product of today").

Imagine Dragons paints a portrait of success as a lonely, perilous place. It's a realm where you must be ever-vigilant and face the real possibility of becoming emotionally numbed in the process. No wonder Reynolds cries out, "Will somebody/Let me see the light within the dark trees' shadows?" Maybe being a winner ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Reynolds also includes cryptic lines referencing fate and God's role in this process: "Will the stars align?/Will heaven step in? Will it save us from our sin?/Will it?" The song doesn't answer those significant questions, though Reynolds perhaps implies he's now depending more upon himself than God amid life's storms: "'Cause this house of mine stands strong."

I Do Not Think This Song Means What You Think It Means

From a musical point of view, I get why the NCAA chose this song for the 2018 college football season. The chorus' hypnotic, stabbing beats deliver the right stadium stomper stuff.

Lyrically, though, there's a lot more going on here. So much so that I wonder if the NCAA really even listened to this song. Because what it says about winning, about succeeding, isn't glorious. Those who succeed at all costs may eventually look back and realize that the cost to their hearts has been a steep one.

Reynolds said something similar himself. In a video message about the song posted on Amazon Music's Twitter account, he said, "It's a song about becoming a little ruthless and calloused with time as you realize that sometimes you have to fight for yourself, and you have to stand up for yourself. And that's OK to do. Obviously, you don't want to become a cold-hearted person, like me. But, to a degree, I think you need to stand up for yourself."

Standing up for yourself is, in most cases, a good thing. But that idea doesn't come through clearly here. Instead, what we get is a mediation of sorts on the glory of winning … and the price people pay to accomplish that goal. Reynolds' adjectives, "ruthless" and "calloused," get at the overall vibe of this track more accurately here.

As we've observed so often with Imagine Dragons' material in the past, "Natural" once again splits the difference between optimism and realism, between inspirational and confessional, between being independent and being ruthless.

Positive Elements

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Plot Summary

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Credits

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Performance

No. 1 iTunes single.

Record Label

Interscope, KIDinaKORNER

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Released

July 17, 2018

On Video

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Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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