Movie Songs

Why Does the ‘Challengers’ Music Sound Like That?

April 25, 20244 Mins Read

Seamless pattern of tennis balls filling the frame

Photo: by The Cut; Photos: Retailer, Getty Images

It was clear from the start that Challengers, Luca Guadagnino’s horny tennis movie, would make a bold statement when it came to music. This is, after all, a film that promoted its pivotal maybe-threesome to the tune of “S&M” and “Maneater.” Here’s what I did not expect: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist flirting with each other over the synths, clangs, and beep-boops of a hardcore techno soundscape.

If you’ve seen Challengers, you’ve definitely thought about the soundtrack, because it plays at almost offensively high decibels during pretty much every important scene. (This is apparently intentional.) If you haven’t seen Challengers, then listening to the soundtrack, which came out earlier in April, will give you a pretty good preview of the movie’s vibe, which is unbearably stressful in the most fun way.

If the Challengers soundtrack had friends, they would describe her as a workaholic finance bitch who spends her weekends subsisting on Red Bull and tequila shots. This album is the aural equivalent of the headache you wake up with after grinding your teeth all night. It’s also what you get when you mix cocaine with Ritalin and send it into a DJ booth in Ibiza. Listening to this score, you will feel invincible and burnt out at the same time, like you are running solely on the fumes of O’Connor’s beard sweat.

The entities responsible for this feeling are Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, two soundtrack gods (and members of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails) who also cooked up the musical worlds of The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. For the soundtrack album, Reznor and Ross’s work was mixed by German electronic DJ and producer Boys Noize to play like an uninterrupted, 28-minute megashot of adrenaline.

The end product is intensely exhilarating. There is “I Know,” which peters out with tiny pings of tennis balls bouncing off jewel-toned concrete. That is followed by “Yeah x10,” which does indeed feature an uncredited vocalist saying the word “yeah” over and over again in a tone that suggests boredom and irritation. “Challengers” — the titular EDM track — sounds like it could be played on a loop at a Berlin nightclub, or at least during a Berlin-nightclub scene in an HBO limited series. A few of the later songs have more of an ’80s-Miami vibe, like a guy with glistening abs and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt is spinning them on South Beach. “Brutalizer” sounds like a song Charli XCX rejected because it was too fast. Beyond the “Yeah,” most of the lyrics on the album are on “Compress / Repress.” They go something like this: “Touch, touch, touch yourself / I am you, you are me / One, one, one two three.” It’s transcendent.

The Challengers soundtrack will make you want to do crazy things, like sprint for 12 hours straight or, I don’t know, start a decadelong love triangle with two tennis prodigies. If you can’t do either of those, here are some other activities that would be great with this album pulsing through your veins.

  • Organize a ten-way staring contest with your friends
  • Play a high-stakes game of Twister
  • Bake a really complicated flower focaccia
  • Regrout your bathroom floor
  • Train for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
  • Go fragrance shopping at the nearest Abercrombie store
  • Scour the internet for the perfect pair of tiny spectacles (you don’t end up ordering anything)
  • Walk to FedEx to overnight a package to a far-flung corner of Europe
  • Play tennis, I guess?

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