How Ramin Djawadi’s Cover of Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’ Ended Up in a Super Bowl Ad

Sun-soaked views of an all-American landscape become something much darker in the new trailer for the second season of Westworld, HBO’s futuristic story of sin. Sound drives the video’s arc. Sparse, hopeful piano notes start to accumulate harmonies before a violent crescendo spells trouble in paradise. The gripping score comes courtesy of veteran composer and Stem user Ramin Djawadi.

The Berklee alum turned heads in living rooms (and hip-hop forums) across the country by creating a brilliant cover of Kanye West’s “Runaway.” The 2010 track served as the centerpiece to West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Its trademark intro lends itself to the immediacy an advert requires.

Djawadi worked with show co-creator and trailer director Jonathan Nolan to devise music for the spot. This riveting glimpse at one of TV’s most-watched programs debuted during the third quarter of the most-watched program. This is HBO’s first Super Bowl commercial since 1998, when the cost of a 30-second spot didn’t quite rival this year’s—a cool $5 million.

The Super Bowl remains a lucrative mass market opportunity even as NFL ratings decline. 103.4 million individuals tuned in for the football championship. The seven-year low still towers over other programs. (For the sake of comparison, last year’s Game of Thrones finale netted 16 million night-of viewers.)

Not yet 48 hours removed from the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory on Sunday, Westworld’s trailer has enjoyed over 10 million hits on YouTube. That its 2016 counterpart—the trailer for the first season—amassed roughly the same number of views across its lifetime makes the online response all the more impressive.

Djawadi’s use of “Runaway” has sparked joy for countless fans of the series. His cover is rare in that it maximizes a classic song’s pull while introducing its own elements and arrangements. This isn’t the first time an old but familiar song became the foundation for his work, either. Djawadi covered the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” for Season 1. Years and years of practice made such a masterful approach possible.

westworld runaway Kanye west
A still from West’s 2010 ‘Runaway’ short film. Buy MBDTF here.

Ramin’s first big break came after graduating music school in Boston: Hans Zimmer, the man behind the soundtracks of Inception, The Dark Knight, 12 Years A Slave, Insert Modern Classic Here, asked him to move to Los Angeles and join Zimmer’s company Remote Control. The experience was formative, to say the least.

Djawadi’s successes have not slowed in the years following his cordial departure from Remote Control. He has somehow found time to work on more than 100 scores, including the Grammy-nominated Iron Man soundtrack and some songs you might recognize from Game of Thrones. In addition to talent, he attributes several simple habits to his sustained success.

HBO Creative Services, an in-house team, collaborated with Jax, a boutique studio founded in 2015, to produce the trailer. Jax also helped create the trailer for Game of Thrones’ 7th season. HBO’s licensing team would have had to procure (and presumably pay for) sync rights to use West’s work. These rights can be obtained directly through his publisher. HBO would have also needed to secure mechanical rights to reproduce the song (e.g. sell the cover on iTunes). To learn everything you’d ever want to know about legally releasing a cover song, visit our blog here.

Watch the thrilling trailer for Westworld above. Its second season airs April 22 on HBO. Stream Ramin’s “Runaway” cover on Spotify now, powered by Stem.

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