O' Valley Of Plentyyyyy: 'Toss A Coin To Your Witcher' Is An Intentional Earworm

Jan 12, 2020
Originally published on January 13, 2020 4:01 pm

Every good hero needs someone to tell their tale. In the Netflix series The Witcher (based on a book series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski), that hero is Geralt of Rivia, played by Henry Cavill. He's paid to slay the monsters that plague poor villagers in this medieval fantasy world, and his exploits are detailed by an enthusiastic bard named Jaskier (Joey Batey).

At the end of the second episode, Jaskier has an artistic breakthrough, and pens an epic earworm.

"Toss a Coin to Your Witcher" has captured the imagination of the internet. Its catchy chorus and slightly nonsensical lyrics have inspired numerous memes, remixes and covers.

"There is a line about how he puts an elf on a shelf and the first time I heard it, I thought, 'That cannot be right. I have to be having some kind of hallucination,' " Kathryn VanArendonk, a writer for Vulture, says.

Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, the show's composers, wrote the song in November 2018, before they even started working on the score. (Batey's performance needed to be filmed, so the song needed to be written before The Witcher entered production.)

"The idea behind 'Toss a Coin to Your Witcher' was to create this epic anthem," Ostinelli says, "[so] that the people who'd be inside a tavern, you could see them singing along with a jug of beer in their hand."

The song also needed to demonstrate a transformation for the character Jasker, from simple bard to what the composers call "the Freddie Mercury of the continent."

Joey Batey as the bard Jaskier in Netflix's The Witcher.
Katalin Vermes / Netflix

Essentially, Belousova and Ostinelli needed to write a hit. The two ended up writing several versions of every song in the show, including seven of "Toss a Coin," in order to give the showrunner and executive producer, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, "the whole spectrum of different genres, starting from something very Renaissance, very medieval, following the exact, precise language of medieval music, going to something very contemporary," Belousova says.

The two composers settled on a version that maximizes the usage of medieval and historical instruments, many specifically crafted for the show (Belousova and Ostinelli recorded 64 instruments for the score between the two of them), while leaning into a contemporary pop vocal. They worked closely with Jenny Klein, the writer and producer of the episode the song appears in, to tailor the lyrics to the story — although many fans still find them baffling.

" 'Valley of plenty' makes no sense," VanArendonk says. "There are no 'valleys of plenty' in the show."

When trying to write "Toss a Coin to Your Witcher," Ostinelli says the goal was for "the theme to be very versatile, that you can adapt it how[ever] much you want."

And the internet certainly took that call to arms. Two of the composers' favorite covers include one by the Russian folk choir Philharmonic Omsk and a metal version by Dan Vasc.

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Ultimately, one of the reasons the song might get stuck in viewers' heads is its familiarity: The musical motifs of the tune are introduced to the score during earlier parts of the episode. "The audience doesn't realize it, but they're subconsciously absorbing the themes," Ostinelli says.

"I think the best check that you can do when you write something is kind of leave that material for a bit, go out, do something else," Belousova says. "And if this material is still stuck in your head, you know it's exactly what you're looking for."

VanArendonk agrees. "One measure of a great song is when lots and lots of people just want to sing it themselves," she says. "I think the remixes and the covers of it are a testament to that. It has made this show stick in people's minds, I think, in a different way."

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

An apology for what we're about to do. But it's time to "Toss A Coin To Your Witcher."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

JOEY BATEY: (Singing) Toss a coin to your Witcher, oh valley of plenty. Oh, valley...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This earworm is epic. It's from the Netflix series "The Witcher," a medieval tale about a musclebound, leather-clad blond fellow who has supernatural powers. He's paid to slay the monsters that plague poor villagers. And his exploits are detailed by an enthusiastic bard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

BATEY: (Singer) A champion prevailed, defeated the villain. Now pour him some ale. Toss a coin to your Witcher, oh valley....

KATHRYN VANARENDONK: It is really like a head banger about freelance work, basically.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kathryn VanArendonk. She's a staff writer at vulture.com. And she has watched the series. Oh, yes, she has.

VANARENDONK: I find it trashy in the way that I had always wished "Game Of Thrones" would be more of.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like many across social media right now, she found that her mind seized on this song - over and over. She says it's a good song. And it's campy.

VANARENDONK: There is a line about how he puts an elf on a shelf. And the first time I heard it, I thought, that cannot be right. I have to be having some kind of hallucination.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If so, judging from all the videos online, it's a hallucination others really want to be in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) He thrust every elf far back on the shelf, high up on the mountain from whence they came.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) ...Friend of humanity. So give him rest.

BATEY: (Singing) Toss a coin to your Witcher, oh valley of plenty. Oh, valley of plenty, oh. Toss a coin...

SONYA BELOUSOVA: We needed a big and epic and super memorable chorus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Blame them. That's Sonya Belousova. She and Giona Ostinelli composed this song to be catchy. See, in the show, word of the Witcher spreads along with the song. As for its popularity in real life...

GIONA OSTINELLI: It's amazing to see how much they're loving it, embracing it, covering it and having...

BELOUSOVA: Yeah, all the...

OSTINELLI: ...Fun with it.

BELOUSOVA: ...Covers that they're sending us every single day is just - it's so much fun.

OSTINELLI: It's a gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

OMSK CHOIR: (Singing in non-English language).

BELOUSOVA: There is the Russian folk choir. That one is brilliant. Then there was another one, which was people from all over the world singing together in one video. And that was a beautiful performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Oh, valley of plenty, oh. Toss a...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vulture writer Kathryn VanArendonk also has her favorite.

VANARENDONK: There's a metal cover of it by a guy named Dan Vasc. I was not expecting to find this quite moving. And yet when he gets into the final chorus and really lets loose on the high notes, I clapped. I clapped by myself in my basement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

DAN VASC: (Singing) Whoa. Toss a coin to your Witcher...

VANARENDONK: One measure of a great song is when lots and lots of people just want to sing it themselves. I think the remixes and the covers of it are a testament to that. Also, I have just kept singing it. It has made this show stick in people's minds in - I think in a different way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOSS A COIN TO YOUR WITCHER")

VASC: (Singing) Yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.