‘Cobra Kai’ Theme Song Is All in Johnny Lawrence’s Head, Says Composer Leo Birenberg

Cobra Kai explored whatever happened to Karate Kid bully Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Johnny is still a little stuck in the ‘80s. He still loves hair metal bands, and reminisces about his days as Cobra Kai’s star pupil. The show’s composer, Leo Birenberg, said even the show’s theme song is just part of Johnny’s fantasy. 

'Cobra Kai': Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) looks disheveled, and imagines his own theme song
William Zabka | Netflix

Birenberg was on Cobra Kai star Martin Kove’s podcast, Kicking It with the Koves on Feb. 17. He shared this unique insight into the influence on the Cobra Kai theme song. Cobra Kai Season 5 premieres Sept. 9 on Netflix.

This is the ‘Cobra Kai’ scene that got Leo Birenberg the job 

When creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald were launching Cobra Kai on YouTube, Birenberg and Zach Robinson got rough cuts to pitch their score. They took the series premiere scene when Johnny fights the kids who are bullying Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) as their audition.

“For us, the first scene that was really important, and it was the first thing that we showed Jon, Josh, and Hayden was when Johnny beats up the kids in the parking lot,” Birenberg said on Kicking It with the Koves. “For us, the tone of the whole show musically was going to get encompassed by that fight.”

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Birenberg and Robinson began by setting the Cobra Kai fight to pre-existing music. 

“Zach and I love and hate to play this game where we’re like let’s imagine some other composer having scored that scene,” Birenberg said. “I think the temp was like The Bourne Identity. It was too serious for the moment because it’s a serious moment but what that type of score didn’t do was provide Johnny’s lens to it.”

Johnny Lawrence’s idea of triumphant music became the ‘Cobra Kai’ theme song 

Birenberg and Robinson composed a score that embodied Johnny’s self-image. That song now plays in every episode of Cobra Kai.

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’ Star William Zabka Says Johnny Lawrence Became ‘a Brand New Character’ After the ’80s

“The thing that we’re always thinking about in every scene is whose lens are we looking through here because that’s how you can inform the audience what emotion they should be picking up on,” Birenberg said. “That scene was the first shot for us to be like this is the music that Johnny hears in his head when he thinks he’s being a badass. This is the biggest example of that. It’s also going to kick off the entire story. So we wrote this piece, it’s called ‘Strike First.’ Now it gets used as the end credits in the show so I’m sure everyone is super familiar with it.”

After ‘Strike First,’ the composers were on the right track

Birenberg remembers sweating after they sent “Strike First” to the Cobra Kai creators. Once they got their approval, it was off to the races. 

“That was kind of our thesis statement,” Birenberg said. “We wrote that, sent it off, and held our breath. They loved it so from there we go pretty hard because we think we can get away with it.”

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