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Singing for soccer

Suzanne Cords / twJune 10, 2014

The release of an official World Cup song to accompany the football tournament has become tradition. They used to be sung by the players themselves, but now the professionals have moved in, to mixed reviews.

Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte sing the 2014 World Cup song
Image: picture alliance/AP Images

Just when it seemed like the controversy surrounding the World Cup in Brazil had all been aired, along comes a American rapper called Pitbull. Needless to say, the Brazilians, who nurture rich musical traditions, are not best pleased with his official World Cup song "We Are One (Ole Ola)."

The vocal presence of Jennifer Lopez, whose Puerto-Rican roots are designed to lend the piece a Latino feel, does little to soften the blow. But perhaps the ultimate slap in the face is the almost foot-note appearance of the host nation's own singer, Claudia Leitte.

She offers a few words of her native Portuguese, in an otherwise wholly English offering. But artists and language aside, what has really got people's backs up is the video of semi-naked women, Samba and drumming. Music journalist and DJ Leka Peres described it as bundle of clichés, and his colleague Gaia Passarelli referred to it as a "bad, boring, replaceable pop song" that meant the chance to do something inspirational and cool had been missed.

Looking for alternatives

Outraged Brazilians have flooded Twitter with calls to abandon the Pitbull anthem in favor of Shakira's 2010 World Cup hit, "WakaWaka (This Time For Africa)". And the Colombian singer has in fact released an unofficial tournament track that could give the official one a run for its money. "Dare (La La La)", as the song is called, might not sound terribly Brazilian, but plenty of people seem to prefer it. And it is on the official FIFA World Cup Album, "One Love, One Rhythm."

But how the grass is greener. Back in 2010, Shakira's "Waka Waka" earworm provoked a similar response in South Africa to the one Pitbull has triggered in Brazil. The main lament at the time was that the host nation had perfectly good singers of its own, so why not use one of them. Even the fact that the accompanying band, Freshlyground, was indeed South African, did little to appease the critics.

Vuvuzela playing fans in South Africa
The music of the 2010 World Cup was almost drowned out by the pesky vuvuzela trumpetsImage: dpa

When, on June 12th, Croatia meet Brazil in São Paulo for the opening match of the 20th World Cup, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte will definitely be there to perform. After initial uncertainty, a spokesperson for Lopez has now also confirmed that she should be there.

Brazilian football fans say they would prefer to listen to the "Samba E Gol" (Samba and goal) which was played incessantly in 1998 along with Ricky Martin's "La Copa De La Vida."

Anthems for the soul

The song is chosen by the Sony record label and FIFA, who stage a super song contest. In principle, anyone can enter, and 1,500 took a stab at getting the gig for this year's World Cup. The winning track is always sung by big name stars, because that makes it all the more lucrative.

So much so, that both FIFA and national football associations take the selection seriously. And although unknown artists are barely in with a chance, they can still reach the ears and hearts of fans if they go ahead and produce their own tracks to coincide with the monumental sporting event.

For the 2006 championships in Germany, Herbert Grönemeyer did just that, with his "Zeit, dass sich was dreht." The indie rock band, Sportfreunde Stiller scored big with their "54, '74, '90, 2006" as well. Few people recall the official song for that World Cup, "The Time Of Our Lives" by the operatic pop quartet Divo.

Germany's 1974 World Cup squad, in the studio
Germany's 1974 World Cup squad, in the studioImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A chequered history

The first World Cup was staged in 1930 in Uruguay, and saw 13 countries compete against each other. In the final in Montevideo, the host nation beat Argentina 4:2 to become the first titleholders in history. There was no song back then at the championships.

Members of the German football team used to like to sing for themselves, and made their crooning debut in the seventies. Inspired by Franz Beckenbauer's somewhat strange offering, "Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen," which reached cult status in fan circles, the squad released the song "Fußball ist unser Leben", (meaning 'football is our life') in 1974, an apt title given their subsequent win.

Twenty-eight years later football returned to its cultural cradle, to Asia, where in 2600 BC, the Chinese emperor Huangdi is said to have ordered his men to fill the stomach of a slaughtered adversary and to turn it into a ball that could be kicked around. The game later became less gruesome, and was named "Cuju." To mark the staging of the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea, Vangelis composed the song "Anthem."

England, of course though, is regarded the motherland of modern football, even though King Edward III banned the sport in 1350 on the grounds that it distracted attention from archery and other arts of war.

Cuju is played in China in a demonstration game
Cuju is believed to be the forerunner to modern footballImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Nonetheless, in 1863, England became home to the first Football Association of the world, a status that doesn't make it easy for England to accept that 1966 is its only ever World Cup win. "Three Lions" by the band Lightning Seeds draws on the many near misses, while providing a glimmer of hope for the future.

Since 1978 most fans of the winning team have sung Queen's "We are the Champions" however, on the final night. The country singing the song the loudest this year will be decided on 13 July in Rio de Janeiro.