Heel to Face: Gotta Make an Entrance

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Hello, pals, it’s me. It’s been two weeks since we last spoke as my gracious editor went on vacation, and I’m simply teeming to speak with you goofballs about the Night of Champions, et al, but that will have to wait for later in the week.

Entrances are important. If you have ever been a WWE wrestler, Disney princess or this man—

—then you know the importance of making a good entrance. When a wrestler knows how to enter the room, whether they’re a curtain-jerker or a main eventer, it sets the tone for an entire match and, in the case of the WWE, can even foreshadow its outcome. Along with the promos cut in the ring, a wrestler’s entrance is their personality distilled into thirty seconds or less—this is what they look like, this is their music choice, this is the phrase they repeat over and over in the hopes that ol’ Vincey-Pie will deem it t-shirt worthy.

Sure, the Superstar’s gotta be electric, but the performer can’t make an impression without a few stars aligning to make it happen. I’m comin’ out today, dogs—let’s talk about the fine art of the entrance.

LOOK THE PART, FIND YOUR MARK

Every once in a while when I’m watching thousands of people wave their phones in the air to Bray Wyatt’s theme after watching a short video of him huddled in the corner of a shack covered in flopsweat, I wonder how to hell we got here.

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Wrestling aside, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitmore suggests that important elements of, um, walking into a room include “show[ing] the appropriate emotions for the situation,” “look[ing] as if you’re having a good time,” and “determin[ing] when you’re not the center of attention.” Hilarious advice for going to someone’s funeral, but apt if you’re trying to burst into the Staples Center and rile up the throbbing masses.

Part of making an entrance relies on #prahm logic. The idea of the promenade is a broad one that could apply from anything to a party for French royalty in the 16th century to last spring when your cousin like totally got fingered on the dance floor at senior #prahm because YOLO but in all seriousness she got a UTI and Pierce is so freaking gross. It’s a concept that revolves around marrying music and costume to make a definitive presentation of self, and there’s almost as much riding on it for WWE superstars as it is for my cousin Katie, whose UTI healed up like totally fine and she’s loving UMass.

There’s certainly no shortage of prom kings and queens vying to dethrone the guys who have dominated the senior class for upwards of a decade—Cena—and looking the part is half the battle. Let’s start with the stage itself.

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The WWE don’t got no time for subtlety, so there’s no shortage of pyrotechnics involved. As of 2014, the company was using so many damn fireworks that they had to make budget cuts to dial back the explosives. Even so, pyro has been used with the characters that it makes sense to use it with—no one could claim that The Brood isn’t terrifying enough to not warrant a wall of fire when they enter a room, nor that Chris Jericho’s trademark flashiness shouldn’t be married with colored fireworks. Other times, pyro is used to indicate importance within the organization, announcing a Superstar as the main event or a rising star. Even Big Show gets pyro!

#BigShowVapes

Lighting is another tool used alongside music and costume to get the character who’s about to enter across as quickly as possible. While most WWE stars get the standard strobe light and spot treatment, others need specific lighting in order to get their gimmick across. If you’re Bray Wyatt, audience participation is necessary for the full effect, as the people whip their phones out to create his firefly cult effect. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Undertaker bathed in anything but blue or red lighting, nor Goldust in anything but, you know, figure it out.

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It’s gold.

Then there’s the costuming, another aspect of the WWE that has developed its own internal branch to keep a fierce stronghold on the product put in the ring, for better or for worse. While the concept of the entrance robe, a star-studded tradition rooted in royalty that stretches back at least as far as Gorgeous George, has fallen out of practice over the years, the costume is still a major marketing tool. After all, this is going to be what ends up in the Halloween costumes aisle.

“It has to be tight-fitting to the body; they have to feel it,” head costume designer Sandra Gray explains in a recent interview. Gray’s job is to balance story coherence with the costume specifications of the stars themselves—if her appearances on Total Divas are any indication, the prom kings and queens do not take kindly to looking anything less than their best.

I can’t believe I’m writing an essay about prom. That’s the opposite of what someone who gets asked to prom would do. I’m so lucky the gays still brought me.

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Okay, we’ve got the lights going and the star’s covered in body paint and spandex backstage—hit the music.

MUSICAL SIGNIFIERS

“When I walk through the curtain, I’m a different person and that music starts it off.” -Batista, Signature Sounds: The Music of the WWE

So Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt are in the middle of a decent match—Seth is doing his “I’m a bad boy and can’t nobody tell me what to do” thing and Bray is doing his “heavily scripted beefy cult boy” thing when—gung.

The death knell sounds, a Pavlovian cue for a stadium full of people to positively lose their minds as the Undertaker approaches. More than any power pop cue or underhanded endorsement (looking at you Demi Lovato), this is the power of music in the WWE.

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The ability to associate a person, personality and backstory to a single note is a powerful narrative tool that can set the perfect tone for a well-cut promo. A 2013 study from the University of Newcastle in Australia confirmed what many had long assumed about the associative property of music—our brains instinctually seek connections between what we hear and a signifier, a task that WWE theme music strives to make an easy and logical leap. These connections, called “music-evoked autobiographical memories” (MEAMS), can trigger the image of a person or place from another time to the front of the brain, and when there’s only a few seconds of wiggle room in a live broadcast, the WWE camp tries to make it as easy as possible.

Like most things in the company and the world, the musical decisions for wrestlers bursting into stadiums are made by an old white dude who’s too old for this shit. There’s no person more qualified to comment on the power of WWE entrance music than Jim Johnston, who’s worked as an in-house composer for the WWE since the founding of the WWE Music Group in 1985. He’s orchestrated some of the most effective introductions for WWE Superstars ever, building on the success of early entrance innovations including Gorgeous George’s famous “Pomp and Circumstance” bit from the 1950s, Hulk Hogan’s triumphant return to “Eye of the Tiger,” and other hits or classics that the federation had capitalized on in the past. Being the conglomerate they are, the company began to build music in-house to better tailor songs to stars and, of course, keep all the resultant billz.

At its core, the music is a thesis statement for the wrestler being presented. Johnston doesn’t write the characters, he just distills them into their purest form and pushes them out into the limelight. And although Johnston didn’t write, John Cena’s “The Time Is Now” is a great example of what a theme can mean for a wrestler. When you hear those egregious tones a series of images flash before your eyes—a hideous marriage of orange and robin’s egg blue, five hundred awkwardly posed Make a Wish pictures and finally the champ himself, all before Cena lugs his way into the stadium to the casual boos of the audience. Johnston doesn’t care if you’re happy to see the person in the ring, he’s just trying to elicit an emotional response to build to the catharsis of the match itself.

While entrance songs can last for years if it’s well-done, there are some circumstances where Johnson and company make small tweaks to a familiar tune to reflect a storyline change. He details adjusting The Rock’s face theme song to accommodate his heel turn back in 2003, merely adding more drums and that “weird electric guitar part.” Music theory professors, are you taking notes? Bad boys = weird electric guitar. No need to write all those dumb theoretical papers. We’ve. Got. It. Covered. :-)

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“It’s all about creating identity for these characters,” Johnston continued in the 2014 documentary Signature Sounds: The Music of the WWE, “and I think it’s the music’s job to completely change your emotional state. Just rip you out of your chair into the next thing…the challenge is to get people into this new world instantaneously.”

If Johnston’s able to capture both a wrestler’s personality and an appealing genre for the times, all the better. Some commercial successes have sprung from these simple tunes, particularly ones like Fandango’s salsa-infused number two Billboard hit and chart-topping albums like WWF Forceable Entry (featuring Creed!). Today, danceable song with lyrics are Johnston’s go-to, shying away from more orchestral mixes like the sweeping pieces composed for Mankind, Undertaker, Goldust, etc.

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In the interest of the Pink Pussy Butterfly gang: Musical entrances have historically been bad news for female wrestlers, as you’re hard-pressed to hear an entrance song that references anything but their bodies and the fact that they’re, like, major bitches. A short history—Nikki and Brie’s “You Can Look (But You Can’t Touch),” Sunny’s “I Know You Want Me,” Kaitlyn’s “Spin the Bottle,” Layla El’s “Nasty Girl,” Stacy Kiebler’s “Legs,” the list goes on. Ladies can rarely catch a break in the WWE, and the music is no exception.

But in all seriousness, “Somebody Call My Momma” is the best one, gang.

“I don’t know why I wrote it or what it means,” Johnson admits, “but I’m sure it’s very deep.”

We’re all sure.

WHO DID IT BEST?

“What makes a great entrance is loud music, bursting colors, different mannerisms, a presence.”—Stephanie McMahon, WWE Countdown

The wrestler’s entrance is the sport (yeah I said it) at its most entertainment-focused, and a successful one simultaneously defines the wrestler that’s coming out and gets people fucking pumped. It hinges both on the power of the first impression and the continued impact of that Pavlovian cue—here’s who’s coming out, get excited.

Any list of best entrances historically include: CM Punk’s 2011 return in Chicago, Chris Jericho’s Y2K approved burst onto the scene in 1999, the testosterone anthem for DX and everyone’s homie Undertaker. A well-crafted combination of music, visuals and personality can be the perfect storm to introduce a wrestler and start a storyline that, knowing WWE Creative, will wind up okay enough but will also set Twitter on fire for a few hours. Decades or possibly even days from now, we will all become one with the soil from whence we came.

Great, we got the wrestler in the ring—now all they need to do is their job.

Thoughts from this Week:
-Still holding off on the Night of Champs until a column later this week, but I have THOUGHTS (th’s) and OPINIONS (op’s).
-IT’S SIX MONTHS UNTIL WRESTLEMANIA. To do list: get a place to stay. Get a car. Get a driver’s license. Listen to that cover of 1989 by that guy with the beard. No, no that one, this one. Read Infinite Jest. Listen to Krill. Stop using an epileptic man’s bus pass to save money.
-I had a dream that Big Show was my dad.

Hours of Pro Wrestling Consumed: 88.6 hours
Days Until WrestleMania: 187 days
State of Union: take me to prom

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