Most World Cup songs are offside
You know the Fifa World Cup is around the corner when official merchandise starts popping up at your nearest mall.
The most high-profile of these is the official World Cup album that is led by the tournament anthem.
This edition’s official tune is We Are One (Ole Ola) by two Latin American pop stars – the rapper Pitbull and the American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez – alongside the Brazilian singer Cláudia Leitte.
The song has all the elements of a World Cup anthem: the lyrics expressing unity, a nice chant-along chorus and the obligatory indigenous musical flavours of the host nation.
Unsurprisingly, it is horrendously dull. Its chance of inspiring the masses mirrors the possibility of the lowest-ranking competing nation – Cameroon, incidentally – of winning the trophy.
To be fair, it is not Jennifer Lopez’s or even the chronically mediocre Pitbull’s fault. This dud happens when musical choices are decided in boardrooms.
Ever since the first official football World Cup anthem was released, with Los Ramblers’ peppy El Rock del Mundial for the 1962 tournament in Chile, the history of World Cup songs has been largely offside.
The main issue lies in the financial, social and, in some cases, political significance surrounding each tournament.
The end result is a cavalcade of forgotten anthems that are the sonic equivalents of your parents DJing your 18th birthday party.
Let’s take, for example, the 1966 World Cup anthem in England; it is hard to fathom why for such a pivotal year in popular music (The Beatles released Revolver, The Beach Boys came back with Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan put out Blonde on Blonde) the tournament organisers decided to go with the novelty song World Cup Willie by Lonnie Donegan with couplets such as: “Dressed in red, white and blue, he’s World Cup Willie / We all love him, too, World Cup Willie.”
Perhaps stung by its sheer awfulness, future World Cup anthems moved away from (what they deemed) contemporary styles towards classical music in the hope that the genre’s grandeur matches that of the event.
It was the television viewers who benefited by using the time to make countless cups of tea and coffee when the World Cup anthems by the Buenos Aires Municipal Symphony (for Argentina in 1978) and Placido Domingo (El Mundial for Spain in 1982) were screened.
It’s not all own goals for World Cup anthems, however. Like a swift German counter-attack seemingly out of nowhere, there have been a few killer tracks among the sorry bunch.
Ricky Martin’s The Cup of Life for the 1998 World Cup in France remains not only a great sporting anthem, but a brilliant pop record, period. The song is all rising drama until the tension is released with that euphoric skyscraper of a chorus.
Shakira’s Waka Waka (for South Africa in 2010) also succeeded due to its sheer optimism and quirky dance routine that was embraced by adults and infants across the globe.
We Are One (Ole Ola) has nowhere near the personality of these highlights and now another four-year wait beckons until the next attempt to get it right.
Then again, music and football are often alike, in that anything can happen.
* Saeed Saeed