For Some, Music Matters More Than Sports at 2010 World Cup
By Jason Newman Posted Jun 12th 2010 05:00AM
For an event that draws hundreds of millions of viewers from over 200 countries, FIFA's choice for an official World Cup theme song -- an anthem you'll soon be sick of hearing before, during and after every game -- is not a decision to be made lightly. It's been 30 years since FIFA started the tradition with the Andrew Lloyd Weber-penned 'Argentine Melody' and since then, artists as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti, Youssou N'Dour and R. Kelly have been chosen to compose and sing the anthem du jour.
How do you even begin picking a song that will appeal to countless different cultures, each with their own rich musical history and background? Most songs chosen by FIFA have been multilingual affairs, designed to appeal to both English-speaking countries and the country hosting the event (that's why since 1986, there has always been at least two official songs). When the United States hosted the event in 1994, the relatively soccer-averse country went the obvious, if still anthemic, route with Queen's 'We Are The Champions' (along with a Daryl Hall-written update of 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah' entitled 'Gloryland').
Which points to the need for relatability and commercial viability over any sort of creative gamble. With this much money on the line, risk is not an option. Not that the World Cup songs are without any controversy, though. When Ricky Martin performed his 1998 World Cup anthem 'The Cup of Life' at the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush, co-writer Robi Rosa lashed out at the ex-president, telling MTV at the time that he felt Bush "[used] my song and Latinos and Ricky as pawns." Martin would later distance himself from the president, and the minor incident didn't appear to hurt his career in the long-term.
When Shakira's 'Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)' was chosen as one of the official theme songs to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, (along with R&B singer R. Kelly's 'Sign of a Victory'), it wasn't without conflict. Despite performing with South African band Freshlyground and sampling the popular 1986 Cameroonian song 'Zangélewa,' the singer and FIFA faced criticism over a non-African -- Shakira is of Colombian descent -- at the head of the table. (Though Somali-born rapper/singer K'naan's 'Wavin' Flag,' chosen as Coca-Cola's official theme song, has become nearly as ubiquitous as the official tracks.)
You have to give it to R. Kelly, though. Regardless of what you think of his alleged non-musical endeavors, musically, the man doesn't play. As the Wall Street Journal notes:
"Kelly describes himself as a 'method writer' and when he took the assignment, he signed up to run some drills with the Chicago Fire professional soccer club in his hometown to get more of a feel for the game. He also watched the film 'Invictus,' a movie set in South Africa about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and bought some books about soccer from Borders."
With so many different niche outlets for music distribution, the World Cup, which notably towers over the Super Bowl ratings-wise, has become one of the last spots to reach a global audience. 'Waka Waka' is admittedly catchy, but Shakira and R. Kelly already have worldwide recognition. Where's Major Lazer when you need them?
Shakira performs a song during the kick-off celebration concert for the 2010 FIFA World Cup at the Orlando Stadium on June 10, 2010 in Soweto, South Africa.
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