Behind the Paul Walker 'Furious 7' Tribute Song: "We Didn't Want People Leaving the Theater Sad"
Universal Pictures' president of music and Atlantic Records Group's president of film and TV tell Billboard the story behind Wiz Khalifa's and Charlie Puth's "See You Again."
Wiz Khalifa's and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” — and its video in tribute to late Fast & Furious franchise star Paul Walker — laid skid marks on the Internet with the release of Furious 7 in theaters this weekend.
Fast star Vin Diesel released the “See You Again” video Sunday at 11:45 p.m. ET on his Facebook page, and 20 hours later, it had been viewed more than 28 million times. It posted an hour later on Walker’s page and was viewed more than 15 million times by 7:45 p.m. ET. The track, which hit No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart, was sent to radio two weeks ago with an impact date of April 6.
“I think it’s only resonating because it feels genuine,” says Mike Knobloch, Universal Pictures’ president of music. “This was a moment that was so important to get right — there’s always high stakes, but this was in a class of its own.”
The song intentionally closes the film on an uplifting note, says Knobloch. “Once it was clear that that’s the [film’s] structure — the cast saying goodbye to Paul’s character — we put it out to writers that the song had to be earnest and celebratory. We knew we didn’t want people leaving the theater sad.”
To date, the film has not been marketed as Walker’s finale, though the Walker tribute song will be part of the promotion going forward. Khalifa will perform the song on NBC’s The Voice on Wednesday, having already done it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Revolt TV Live.
“We purposely held back on the song to be respectful of the fans’ experience and the Paul Walker family and camp,” says Kevin Weaver, president, film and television, Atlantic Records Group. “A lot of thought was put into allowing fans to experience the goodbye to Paul in the picture.”
Weaver set up the Voice performance two months ago, showing producer Audrey Morrissey footage of the scene, and “she took a leap of faith,” Weaver says. “The Voice became a big part of our rollout plan.”
Furious 7 grossed $147.2 million in the U.S. over the weekend, $392.3 million worldwide. It is Universal’s biggest ever opening and the biggest domestic April debut in history.
The soundtrack — which industry forecasters are suggesting could hit the top five on this week’s Billboard 200 — was the result of a deliberate effort by Knobloch, Weaver, Warner Music Group A&R president Mike Caren and the filmmakers to fill song spots with new material from artists who fit the DNA of the franchise. They organized a writers’ camp to get new customized songs, knowing from the start that the Walker tribute would have a song and not score.
“It’s a very complicated sequence,” Knobloch says of the film’s coda. “In writing and producing it, there were beats it had to hit, moments when it has to push in and then dial back, be thinner in the production and then fuller.
“Charlie Puth and Wiz came into the cutting room and Mike Caren and [music supervisor] Rachel Levy and Kevin [Weaver] kept pointing to scenes and commenting on what it needed. This was not people in the music business sending around emails saying ‘check this out.’ This was people in a room working to get something 100 percent right.”
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.