Like many of us, Porter Robinson turned to video games during the pandemic. In particular, the musician got really into League of Legends. He remembers getting his first kill and thinking, “Oh, I get it. I get why people play this. I get why people love it.” It became a hangout for his group of friends during a particularly challenging period, a space where everyone would get together in the evenings to play. But it wasn’t until League developer Riot released the animated series Arcane on Netflix that Robinson truly got sucked into the fantasy universe. “I was like, ‘I want to be involved in their world,’” he tells The Verge.
League is currently in the midst of a 10-week-long event that spans multiple games and mediums, focusing on a parallel universe called Star Guardian; think of it like Sailor Moon meets League’s fantasy realm of Runeterra. (League has a few of these alternate takes on its mythos, which has led to the fictional bands K/DA and True Damage.) There are new skins and game modes across the main game and its various spinoffs, as well as the latest of Riot’s “creator-safe” ambient albums. Tying it all together is a musical anthem by Robinson called “Everything Goes On,” which was released today alongside an animated video. You can check it out below.
Robinson says he was initially inspired in part by an animated short Riot released in 2019, called “A New Journey.” He was attracted to the short because of the animation — it was helmed by anime studio P.A. Works — but he also saw himself in the main character, a young college student who joins a League team at school and finds a sense of community. “It was almost like my story of getting into League in a way,” Robinson explains.
However, when he actually sat down to write the song, he went in a different direction and began by coming up with his own storyline tied to some of the tropes typically found in the magical girl anime subgenre. It was planned as a heartbreaking story about a character who takes a contract to become a magical hero in order to save their terminally-ill romantic partner; the twist is that, by taking on the contract, their partner would survive but forget about the relationship altogether. “The song that I wrote was written from the perspective of the last night that they would spend together,” Robinson says. “It’s just this bittersweet last night where he knows what he needs to do, but of course, it’s really painful because he loves her. And this was the story I had in my head.”
But it wasn’t working. While that kind of bittersweet tone is a common thread in much of Robinson’s work, the idea of writing real emotions through a fictional story proved challenging. Once he pivoted to something more true to his own experiences, though, things started to fall into place. “Somebody who I really love was going through something really painful, and I started writing about that, and that was when it really clicked for me because I wasn’t faking anything anymore,” he explains. “The emotions I was writing about were really sincerely held and painful. And when I finally figured out the second pre-chorus, I literally cried in the studio. My entire heart was in it.”
This also created an interesting contrast. While the song and lyrics are deeply personal, they aren’t strictly connected to what’s going on in the video that accompanies them since Robinson didn’t work on the animation side of the project. But for Robinson — a big fan of the many fan-made animated music videos that populate YouTube — the contrast is actually very welcome.
“I think it’s better in a way where, with animation and music videos, if there’s a bit of a gap between the lyrics and what’s playing out on screen,” he explains. “Something that I really like about these animated music videos — a lot of them are fan-made, where you would see Linkin Park’s ‘One Step Closer’ cut to Evangelion or something like that — is the ways in which the listener themselves gets to interpret how the lyrics apply to what they’re seeing on screen, that little bit of creativity that’s needed to synthesize the two ideas that are being presented.” (He jokes that “Maybe somebody will export a version of this in 240p and remove my music and add some Linkin Park, and it’ll really hit.”)
Of course, “Everything Goes On” isn’t a fan-made video — it’s a collaboration between a popular musician and one of the biggest video games on the planet. And though Robinson has done some notable collaborations in the past, including teaming up with anime studio A-1 Pictures on the music video “Shelter,” the scope of the League of Legends project is quite different. The video is part of a complex project that spans multiple games with millions of players between them. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that just knowing the scale of this wasn’t something that was kind of intimidating,” he says. It’s not just intimidating, though — it also led to some creative challenges.
“Usually, I really don’t like having constraints on what I’m doing because creativity is really, really hard for me, and it takes me forever,” Robinson says. “So the idea of having an animation studio waiting on me was daunting. I think my mind was actually more focused on ‘This giant company is taking a chance on me to deliver something really good for them.’ And I just wanted it to be up to the standard and good enough and to not let anyone down. But at the same time, I can be pretty uncompromising about what it needs to be for me personally.”
That level of pressure was amplified due to the existence of Arcane. Robinson didn’t just like the show; he described it as “to my eyes, very nearly perfect.” Prior to watching the series, he viewed League as more of a sport than a story, a game like basketball he could pick up and play with friends. That changed with Arcane. “It moved me so much more than I thought it possibly could,” he says. One of his first ideas was to create a new song for the show (it already has a hit theme song courtesy of Imagine Dragons), but that idea slowly morphed into something more personal. In fact, Robinson says that he has become so attached to the song that he would release it even without the League of Legends connection.
“If this disappeared tomorrow, if they’d told me, ‘You know what? We’re going in a different direction with this. We’re going to use somebody else’s song.’ I would still release the thing that I wrote,” he says. “Because it’s something that I feel with total sincerity.”