Keeping Beat to the World Cup

By Kate Holby

So how hard can it be to compose a tune fitting for a World Cup?  String together the words “flags,” “world,” and “one,” throw in a catchy beat and a flashy video (with the requisite half-dressed women), and you have yourself a clear winner. Or maybe not. The World Cup’s official song, “We Are One,” seems to have hit the goal post. Right in step with FIFA’s expanding legacy of corruption, mismanagement, and elitism, “We Are One” resonates with few others than perhaps the corporate sponsors. 

The tradition of a World Cup official song began with the 1962 Chilean-hosted games. The Chilean band, Los Ramblers, rocked their way to World Cup fame with their song “El Rock del Mundial,” which was less about worldwide unity and a bit more about Chilean nationalistic pride. The chorus translated to “Take it/Put it in/Get the rebound/Goal, Goal by Chile!" Yet this nationalistic pride seemed to have everyone dancing, with Los Ramblers going on to sell over two million copies.

The subsequent 1966 World Cup song was less rocking, and more of a painfully rolling flop. England produced “World Cup Willie,” which was a tribute to the World Cup mascot, Willie, who happened to be a stuffed lion. The lyrics roared “He is tough as a lion and will never give up. That’s why Willie is favorite for the cup.” While Willie died a merciful death in World Cup musical memory, England went on to win that year’s Cup. 

As Willie showed us early on, not all official songs are international successes. Shakira’s 2010 World Cup song, “Waka Waka,” on the other hand, captured crowds. The song mirrored the excitement of finally having a World Cup in Africa, was set to catchy lyrics, and nicely blended African rhythms. “Waka Waka” sold almost 10 million downloads worldwide. This type of success is hard to match. Many have taken to Twitter, expressing dislike for “We Are One,” and demanding a return to the Waka Waka-like tunes with #VoltaWakaWaka.

Criticisms of “We Are One” include the song’s limited Brazilian influence, with lyrics mostly in English and Spanish. Although Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte is featured in the song, her addition comes off as an afterthought, with a few seconds of Portuguese singing at the end. Critics point to the lack of Brazilian music tradition within the song, selling out for yet another Western-exported pop song. These same types of criticisms were launched at Shakira with “Waka Waka.” Why was a South African, or an African, not picked to sing the official song? Is Western-style pop the only form of music that can appeal universally?

Yet Shakira’s hips and songs don’t lieshe has successfully transcended the Western pop mantle. She is an icon of global citizenship, and the world at large was captivated by her quick dance moves and diverse musical styles.

This 2014 World Cup official song is a different matter all together. Its dry sporty lyrics sound like they were composed by a committee and approved by the board of directors, which isn’t far from the truth. The chorus, “Put your flags up in the sky/And wave them side to side/Show the world where you’re from/Show the world we are one,” won’t have too many signing along. Credited to Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, and Claudia Leitt, “We Are One” is a calculated display of boardroom imagination out of tune with public expectations.  But just like the games themselves, performance is, thankfully, another matter.  In the true spirit of sportsmanship, unofficial performers have taken the field. Shakira once again shakes her way to World Cup stardom, while lesser-known artists follow in her wake.

In fact, many are calling for Shakira’s unofficial World Cup video “Dare (La La La)” to become the official song.  The music video features Shakira’s partner and Barcelona footballer, Gerard Pique, and several of his teammates including Lionel Messi. Shakira’s song also features hugely popular Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown. Her music video has been viewed almost 77 million times on YouTube since it was posted on May 22. “We Are One” has been viewed almost 60 million times since it was posted on May 16.

Lesser known but more Brazilian-influenced World Cup songs include the Cocoa-Cola official World Cup song, “La Copa de Todos,” and the FIFA official mascot song, “Tatu Bom de Bola.” Both songs feature uniquely Brazilian beats and popular Brazilian artists. “La Copa De Todos,” or “Our Cup,” is a collaboration between Colombian artist Carlos Vives, U.S. singer David Correy, Brazilian singer Gaby Amarantos, and the Brazilian percussionist troupe, Monobloco. In line with Cocoa-Cola’s feel-good global marketing, the Coca-Cola has released 32 versions of the song directed to different countries. Coca-Cola followed a similar campaign in the 2010 World Cup, with the chart-topping K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag.” “Tatu Bom de Bola,” the mascot song for an armadillo named Fuleco, is less globally accessible as the lyrics are solely in Portuguese. But one does not need to understand the lyrics to enjoy Brazilian artist Arlindo Cruz’s rhythmic samba single. 


Even though the World Cup’s official song, “We Are One,” is offsides, the song displays a level of global sportsmanship. In fact, the official and unofficial World Cup songs all show a level of global collaboration. While critics are looking for a measure of “Brazilian” authenticity, authenticity is no longer relegated to a region. Authenticity, whether Brazilian or South African, has been supplanted by cross-continental collaboration, with the only measuring bar being sincerity and originality.

“We Are One” fails because it sounds synthetic rather than sincere, falling flat on play-it-safe lyrics and generically bland rhythms. The official song misses the beat of spontaneity and energy that embodies the games themselves. The World Cup was, and still is, a platform for grace, originality and spirit.  This time around, we’ll need an unofficial song to carry that tune.  



Kate Holby is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal. 

[Photo courtesy of RNB Exclusive]

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