A version of this story about “Top Gun: Maverick” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
When we asked singer, songwriter, producer, three-time Grammy winner and OneRepublic vocalist Ryan Tedder about writing the smash hit “I Ain’t Worried” (co-written with Brent Kutzle and Tyler Spry) for the shirtless beach football scene in “Top Gun: Maverick,” he talked for 25 minutes without needing a single follow-up question. So we’ll let him tell the story:
“I knew ‘Top Gun: Maverick was being made. I didn’t know any other details. I got a call at the peak of COVID, and I was asked if I would jump on a Zoom with Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer and Chris McHugh, the writer. It lasted probably 30, 45 minutes, and Tom went into depth about why this scene is so critical and what it means to the movie. It’s the only time in the film that the audience gets a breather – you take the foot off the gas for three and a half, four minutes. The song needs to reflect the location, the tempo of what’s happening onscreen, the vibe, the chemistry between the actors.
“There were all these boxes that it had to check, and I found out after the fact that dozens of other songs had been submitted and turned down. And then I got to see the entire movie at the IMAX in Santa Monica, which just blew my mind. I didn’t tell them I did this, but might as well say it now: I had an iPhone, so I recorded the scene while we were watching it. I then took that and threw it into Logic (Pro X software) and threw time code on it.
“And basically, this song was the final thing that was holding up the movie. This was supposed to be a summer movie, and we were maybe two or three months away from its impending release. So it was legitimately holding up the movie, not having this song done.
“And after I watched it, I said to Tom, ‘The song needs to have levity, it needs to have some swag to it, ‘cause these guys are badass top guns. I want it to have a West Coast bent to it. I referenced a few other acts. Like, I said, ‘Oh, it’s a little bit of the Gorillaz, maybe some Foster the People. I don’t know, maybe even a whistle or something,’ And Tom kept going, ‘Yeah, man. This guy gets it, Jerry!’
“The next morning I called my bass player (Brent Kutzle) and said, ‘Get your ass up early and get a cup of coffee, because I want to knock this out.’ I beat-boxed the beat to him, he sent me the drums, I sent him voice memos of bass lines. We were just zipping stuff back and forth for three or four hours.
“At this point, the only reference we had was that we weren’t gonna do Kenny Loggins (whose song “Playing With the Boys” is heard in the shirtless volleyball scene in the original “Top Gun”). I didn’t want to do anything that felt nostalgic or 1980s, because there’s so much nostalgic music in the movie. I wanted it to feel like an indie band in the late 2000s.
“Finally Brent and I had the music bed feeling like it should. And because I probably illegally recorded the scene, I got real Moneyball on this song. I said, ‘Dude, let’s actually match the tempo of the football game. Let’s make it where the impacts and the moments in this song land right on the guy catching the football, a guy getting tackled, Rooster chest-bumping.’
“And once I had the chords, which was probably some point in the afternoon, I turned the mic on and the first thing out of my mouth was that whistle. It just felt carefree.
“I sent it to Tom. I didn’t have the second verse written, and I thought, ‘Man, I’m not gonna hear back from this guy for a few days.’ And after I sent it to him, I texted him and said, ‘Don’t stress, dude — I’ve got two or three more ideas coming.’ I see this dot-dot-dot, like he’s writing me back, and then my phone rings and it’s Tom Cruise.
“He’s saying, ‘Dude, are you serious? Are you serious, man?’ I was like, ‘What?’ He’s like, ‘You already had this song done, didn’t you?’ ‘No.’ He goes, ‘Whaaaat? That’s impossible! Man, it sounds like you were sitting in the movie scoring it to the picture!’
Now, what I didn’t have the guts to tell him at that point, which I subsequently have told him, was, ‘Well, I did. I had a copy of it on my phone and I was writing it to the movie.’”