Creative Soccer Culture

Virgil Van Dijk On His Love For Music And The Soundtrack To His Recovery From Injury

Virgil Van Dijk is one of football's greatest tastemakers. An iconic winner, music is one of his greatest passions. Having become a face of JBL, we spoke to the man about how music have woven its way through his career. Initiations and all.

Working hard to get back out onto the pitch, Virgil Van Dijk is on a mission to return, in his words, "better than ever". A player of supreme quality, the Liverpool and Netherlands star talks us through the sounds that are backed by his style. From gigs through to festivals and all the music that accompanies him after a game, Van Dijk gives us a glimpse into how music has played such a big part in his life.

Start at the top and working with someone like JBL, you’ve become an ambassador for the brand. How important is it for you, when you do link up with a brand, to ensure it fits a genuine interest and passion of yours?

For me personally, music is so important. I grew up with music and dancing. It’s just something that is just so important for me. Whether I listen to it in the car or before training or anywhere for that matter, I just like to hear music. To start a partnership with JBL is something I’m very proud of. I can’t wait to get going with it and hopefully both of us together can go through a lot of good things in the future.

We want to dive deep on music and the role it has played and does play in your life. First of all, do you find it a form of escapism?

Not so much. I think music is beautiful in the way it can take you back to certain moments and times in your life. It can bring back good memories. For me, it just lifts me in that time that I’m listening to it. It can also take me into a certain mood. For example if I’m listening to music I used to listen to years ago, it can take my mind back to where I was all those years ago. That’s a beautiful thing. Whether that was a personal time or a special time, it can make you reflect on that time. I think that’s the power of music. Apart from that, music is just nice. The beat, the lyrics - everything coming together. It’s something I’ve enjoyed and grown up with.

To get an understanding of where your musical journey started - What was the first album or track you bought?

My mum always listened to a lot of R’n’B slow jams. People like Usher, Ginuwine and all these classics. A lot of love songs at the time and boy bands too. Bands like Black Street - she always had a tape player in the car and we used to rewind the cassette tape, I remember that. We started with that and then CD’s took over. On the CD’s we used to download music on to them and the car was full of CD’s. We always kept up to date with R’n’B songs. I remember my mum singing the songs loud and clear. I appreciate those memories now because I love that music as well. I know all the lyrics to them too. It all started then.

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We can imagine a little baby Virgil dancing to Usher in the mirror…

That’s definitely what happened. I’m not going to lie about it because it definitely happened [laughs]. There was a time back when I was young that I did a little bit of street dance and some break dance as well. I can’t imagine me doing that now. When I do a handstand these days I already see stars in my head… It’s calmed down a bit. Back then me and my brother loved it and just used to enjoy all those kinds of things.

Do you feel like your mum played a big role in shaping your tastes then?

She definitely shaped my music taste. I think it always goes like that. For me personally, I now have three girls. We listen to a lot of music every day. Naturally they hear music in their own way as well but I think their music taste is similar to what me and my wife like. We’re at that stage with them at the moment where we have to pay attention to the music and particularly to the lyrics because of what they are saying and stuff so that’s quite interesting. I’m just very happy that they like music and they have the rhythm of music as well.

Your family background stretches around the globe - did the nationality of say your grandparents come into your life much musically? Can you remember hearing sounds from there? How would you describe it?

Yeah plenty. Especially at family parties and things like that. My mum is from Suriname so I grew up the Suriname way. At family parties we’d have live bands and people playing with the drums and all those kinds of things. So for me, I grew up with all these sounds. I really enjoyed that music when I think back. I really am a big fan of a lot of different kinds of music. I have a wide scope and a big variation of tastes that I enjoy. I appreciate that as well because I can go anywhere and enjoy music.

I bet those parties must have been a vibe...

They definitely were a vibe. Obviously when you’re younger everything is different. If I was to go back, me at this age, it would be different in a good way but those parties were always fun. The nice thing about Suriname parties is the music, the bands, the family and the food. The food was definitely a big thing with days of preparation. Everything was big. I loved it.

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Are those experiences now things that you’d like to pass onto your kids? They can be eye opening to showing different cultures and different music tastes.

We definitely try to do that. We’re in a different era of music now. When I think back to when I was younger, I think people were a lot more focused on the lyrics and what the artists were actually saying. It was more singing I’d say. A lot of music back then came from the heart in that singers would tell a personal story through their music. At the moment, these days, it’s different. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it. It’s just a different time. We definitely try to show those experiences to our kids and also let them know that music is important and can help you in your life in general because it definitely does for us.

Tell us about the artist Winne and what he means to you?

Winne is, I think, still the best rapper in Holland. He hasn’t brought out a solo album for almost 10 years. I’ve told him to work on one but he’s busy with other stuff [laughs]. He was a rapper when I was younger, who raps and you really feel his lyrics. I really felt what he was rapping about. In my opinion, he’s not really rapping nonsense. I looked up to him a lot as I was growing up because he was such a great rapper and such a great lyricist. I speak to him sometimes as well and it’s nice to see and hear his opinion on things. It’s a privilege for me over the years to be able to experience things like that.

How much do you get a buzz off seeing someone else’s world like that who you grew up and had a lot of respect for? And then what’s it like when they transition into being a personal friend?

It is quite hard to describe. Everything all happens so quick. Back in the day, I was the guy thinking “this is the best rapper in Holland and I’m listening to his music every day”. It was none stop for me as well and his music helped me in my life. Now for me to be in the position I am now, being well known and him knowing who I am and being able to speak to him in person - it’s something that just happens and you don’t have the time to think about it. That happens with a lot of people who I have been lucky to meet over the years but particularly with Winne, it was very important for me. He was huge for me and my youth.

You’ve mentioned the importance of lyrics - can you tell us more about that connection and what makes it important for you?

I can’t relate to every lyric particularly but it’s definitely something I enjoy hearing. I enjoy hearing how people talk or rap. With Winne, it just hits you. That’s what I need with the music I like. I need it to hit me and it was definitely the case with him. I have so much respect for him.

Would you ever get any of his lyrics tattooed? How far does the passion stretch?

Nah, nah. I’m not the guy to put lyrics on my body but for me personally, to speak to him over the years has ben something huge for me. I have massive respect for him and hopefully in the future he’ll bring out one more album. I’d like him to bring back some classics.

You could help someone like that get into a studio and make that happen given who you are. You could even be in the studio when it’s being recorded... How much do you get a buzz from seeing people perform?

I really enjoy it. Concerts in particular, it’s something I’ve spoken to my wife about too. When you go to some concerts, in general, you hear songs that you’ve heard in the car that you might have skipped. When you hear them live it’s a whole different thing. It’s crazy. For example, I went to see Bruno Mars in 2013 or 14 in Glasgow. Before we went I was thinking “Bruno Mars, me, come on?”. There was only a couple of songs that I thought were good but I had never considered myself a Bruno Mars fan. After the show, it was all different - it was the best show I’ve ever been too. It was unbelievable and I really, really enjoyed it. His singing was outstanding, his singing, the whole crew, the dancing, the entire performance - it was incredible. Since then I’ve always been a little cautious with the things I say. I’ve been to see Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Drake, I’ve been to Future and I’ve even been to see Kings of Leon. I’ve been around. For me it’s all about that feeling you get from certain songs. I have a wide and varied taste. I go from Drake to Coldplay and people may think that’s an odd combination but if a song hits me and I’m feeling it, then I can really enjoy it. Concerts give me a big buzz and I appreciate it all a lot more after my Bruno Mars experience.

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Some music does just translate and take on a whole other meaning when it’s live…

Yeah definitely. There’s also a lot of artists that don’t sound great live. Luckily I’ve not come across them yet.

Is there anyone on the bucket list that you’ve not seen live that you’d really want to?

I would love to see JayZ performing once. Same for Ed Sheeran. I’ve heard he’s incredible live. My wife has been to see him. I want to go one time to a R’n’B old school festival. Somewhere they bring all the old school classics back for live performances. That would be nice. There are plenty of these parties to go to I’m sure but obviously during a lockdown we’re just waiting.

You’ve spoken about Coldplay in the past and the song Viva La Vida meaning a lot to you - where does your head go when you think of that track?

Yeah… I have some random songs that do come into my mind. A lot of my music taste follows rap, hip-hop and R’n’B but I have some other songs that I hear that hit me and have a positive effect. Viva La Vida is one of those, just the way that song is and goes. We talked about the way music can hit you in concerts but if you have for example, a video and you put music under it, the impact the music can have then can be insane sometimes. When we play games with the National Team, they will often make an after movie and will put a song on it. When that happens, the song can hit you in such a different way. It’s insane. With Viva La Vida and also Paradise, at the time when that song was big I was playing at Celtic. They call Celtic Park ‘Paradise’ so for that reason the song has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It’s fun and what music can do is something I enjoy so much.

You’ve achieved so much along the way. Are there tracks that you think really helped you at low times in your career? Like when you’re coming back from on an injury for example?

I’d say it’s not just one song but about music in general. Right now, I’m recovering from injury and I have my own playlist. That playlist is on shuffle every day so I hear the same tracks all the time. I know for a fact that in ten years time, I hear songs from this playlist, it will bring me back to this moment in time. It will take me back to my rehab. I remember hearing one song on the radio on the way to hospital from the Everton stadium when I got injured - I was on my way to do the MRI scan and I didn’t know how bad the injury was at that time. That was called “know your worth” by Davido and Khalid. That was on the radio in the car and as you can imagine, so much was going around my head. I know now that when I hear that song, it will take me back to exactly how I felt in that moment, in the car. I was hoping for good news but it wasn’t in the end. The main thing is that there’s not one single song that I’m relating to through this rehab. It’s more a mixture of all kinds of songs that I believe I can use to help bring me back to the level I was before, if not better.

What does the playlist look like over the last six months? Did it start off moody and now you’re listening to the Rocky theme tune?

[laughs] almost. For me it’s not like I have to build up. I’ve got a lot of afro-beats in there, I’ve got a lot of rap in there. I’ve got a lot of Dutch music on there too. My choice at the moment for when I’m in the gym is definitely afro-beats. It keeps me happy and makes me energetic. Sometimes I throw some rap in there which can help me feel like I’m stronger than ever. That’s good sometimes for strength work and things like that. I did a lot of rehab away in the sun and that helps as well. Afro-beats can bring you some sunshine when you’re listening to it but when you’re already in the sun it makes things even better.

Do you like those stolen moments when you’re in the car on your own and you just think “I’m going to go for this” and put something on you can belt out?

After a game, let’s say we’re playing away and we’re flying back late after the game and then I have to drive home, I’ll put a 90s R’n’b playlist on shuffle and I’m singing the whole way home. Not just because I want to but more because it’s just nice and a good way for me to get my head around what we’ve just done. Whether it’s a good result or a bad result, I just want to sing and just enjoy it. Luckily no one can hear me. My voice is quite heavy. I think I can sing well but it’s probably horrible in reality.

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Have you had to do all the initiations and everything that came with joining a new club when you joined Liverpool?

Yeah I had to do it. The funny thing is that I arrived at the club in the winter so obviously I was shitting myself that I was going to have to do this in the winter. I think it’s the worst thing to do anyway but still… Henderson said to me “you’re fine, you don’t have to do it now”. So I was relieved. Then in the summer we had a training camp in Evian in France. The thing is there, they always put a karaoke system on there. I walked into the room and they had put all these benches out like a proper audience in front of the karaoke system. So we had new players who had joined that summer. I figured I wouldn’t have to do it. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m not new here anymore, I’m fine”. In the end, I had to do it and what was worse was that they made me go first. I think I sang ‘So Into You’ by Fabulous featuring Tamia. I think I sounded alright…

We can sense a bit of anger in your eyes as you say that [laughs]...

All those nerves. It’s something that you don’t like as a player but it’s part of it all. It breaks the ice immediately. It was fun.

You can see in the International games with the National Anthems, when there’s no fans in the stadiums you can really hear the players singing…

That’s why when I’ve stood there, I’ve had to hold myself in a little bit because I know how deep and loud my voice is. I know that if I start singing properly it’ll be the only voice you can hear on the screen. I’ve always whispered in those moments.

What’s more nerve wracking - karaoke in front of the Liverpool squad or stepping out in a Champions League final… for my personal position, when asked to do karaoke, I had been at the club for six months already… nah who am I kidding, Champions League Final. [laughs]. The first Champions League final I was nervous building up to the game with all the music and all the excitement before it. All the press, all the preparations, I was quite nervous. I think that helped us the year after as you then know what to expect. The year before we lost to Real Madrid, I went to watch the final in Cardiff in the stands. When I saw it and the whole show and everything. That made me think a lot in that first final about how the whole game looks to the outside world. That occupied my mind a lot before that first final. Once you do the warm up and the game starts though, you’re fine - it’s all normal again.

When I think about the Champions League...when I hear that song ‘One Kiss’ by Dua Lipa, that takes me right back to the final against Real Madrid. It hurts.

When we talk about Liverpool fans and the footage from the game in Madrid against Spurs. No matter who you support, the footage of the thousands of fans singing a song with your name in it. How does that make you feel?

Obviously my family were in that crowd at the Plaza. I remember we trained in the morning at the Real Madrid training ground and then we came back and we had lunch. Normally I would have a sleep and a little nap at that point and then after lunch we’d get into the pre-match routine. That was different though. I saw all that footage on twitter. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. It gave me so many goosebumps at the time. It made me so excited and so determined to make sure we go out and get that trophy. I remember watching that video for ages - time and time again. I had all these videos from my family in the group chat as well, in the plaza. It was something very special. Even before the final that song went viral, when we played in Munich. I had videos being sent to me of people of all ages singing it. It’s just something so special. When I was younger it wasn’t something I ever thought would happen. To be in this position and experience something like that it was something I was just so proud of.

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Do you ever think of music as a strategic thing to empower people and use it that way?

The way it works at Liverpool is that in pre-season we create a playlist that will last the whole year. There’s always one song that goes on in the dressing room before we go out onto the pitch. For the rest, the playlist is just on shuffle. Everyone can add to it. Everyone has their input. A lot of players have their own headphones and get in the zone in their own way. I’ll do that at times with my JBL headphones. It’s not that we put something special together, it’s a collective approach.

There’s not a dressing room DJ as such then?

Well I’m quite involved in organising that in pre-season. Together with Henderson, we tend to sort it. We did it this season as well. We had a playlist going and obviously I wasn’t involved in the games for a long time. When I went back into the changing room they had completely changed the playlist [laughs]. I was like “what is going on here!?” I was angry. I heard the music and was like, “I don’t even know what this is, you can’t get ready to this” [laughs]. I said to the guys, “listen, this feels more like a beach cabana”. Anyway, it wasn’t me playing so I had to leave it to those who were going out on the pitch to choose - I couldn’t make a call for them when I wasn’t playing because of my injury. It’s all good fun.

What about the chapters in your life from club to club. Have your music tastes changed from each club?

Yeah definitely. My taste for African music came from when I played at Groningen. We had a Nigerian player there, who had all this Nigerian music. I also had a barber in my hometown who was Nigerian who had all these CD’s of the same music. We always tried to take the CD’s from there to listen to them. That was definitely the period that I enjoyed a lot of afro-beats. That was also a period in my life when I listened to a lot of Reggaeton. Rap and R’n’B has been there for as long as I can remember. Then over time things like Coldplay, Kings Of Leon will pop in. The odd song here and there rather than a whole album.

Do you think we’ll ever see you at Glastonbury or a festival like that?

You never know. The thing is for me, it’s quite difficult. If it’s nice weather it makes it harder but if it’s disgusting weather then I can wear my hood up and go a little unnoticed. Maybe not Glastonbury but I’d love to go to some festivals and keep it low-key. It’s hard when you’re 6ft 4 and you have a ponytail and quite a lot of people know who you are. You don’t see many people walking around looking like me.

Listen to the Virgil Van Dijk playlist on Spotify here.


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