2018 FIFA World Cup anthem Live It Up! is a yellow-carder of an official song: How it compares to previous tracks

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri

June 13, 2018 15:47:17 IST

The FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 is a day away and the month-long marketing circus will feature the official song 'Live It Up!' ad nauseum. Unfortunately for us, it’s a remarkable work of mediocrity.

The song by Puerto Rican Nicky Jam that features American actor-rapper Will Smith and Albanian-Kosovar Era Istrefi, despite its fast pace, has largely been panned by fans who have all sorts of issues with it. Ranging from how neither of the performers’ countries are even participating in this edition, to the lack of sporty soul in the music, 'Live It Up!' is a yellow-carder of an official song. Even DJ Diplo’s magic with dance numbers and Ronaldinho’s footie tricks don’t save this one. To think they took a tried-and-tested formula of football official song composition and failed spectacularly must have to be some kind of musical world record. The song has a distinct South American vibe, one that has championed quite a few World Cups in the past. Even that doesn’t save it from itself.

Twenty years ago, compatriot Ricky Martin shook his hips — and the entire world’s — when he sang 'The Cup of Life (La Copa de la Vida)' in the finale of the FIFA World Cup 1998 in France. He was commissioned to write a song for the event that swiftly climbed the charts. With repeated airplay during the tournament, Martin set the pulse most magnificently for a world sporting event, reiterating the very purpose of an official song for the World Cup. Today, it remains the gold standard of official FIFA songs/anthems.

Until then, the World Cups largely comprised a smattering of regional songs meant to motivate the respective teams, with one song acquiring anthem-like status in every edition. Usually that one song reflected the culture of the host nation while working as an inspiration for the playing teams, binding the fans in their love for the game beyond the compulsions of language and culture.

Starting in 1962 when Chile hosted the World Cup and Los Ramblers sang 'El Rock del Mundial', to the Buenos Aires Municipal Symphony performing 'El Mundial' for the 1978 edition, the songs picked as official anthems musically presented the host nation to a global audience.

That changed in 1994 when the football federation released the official Gloryland World Cup USA 94 album, a compilation of some of the most renowned American and international artists. It featured Queen, Bon Jovi, Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, Scorpions, Santana, Tears for Fears and The Moody Blues amongst others. The eponymous track was sung by the American Darryl Hall (of Hall and Oates fame) and Sounds of Blackness. This official song was so unremarkable, we’ve Jennifer Lopez to thank for her 'Let’s Get Loud' performance in the opening ceremony to set the tone for the event.

When Ricky Martin came along in 1998, it didn’t matter that a Puerto Rican who sang in Spanish was picked to compose the official song for a World Cup being held in France. It’s a wholly different story that the official anthem 'La Cour des Grands (Do You Mind If I Play?)' performed by Youssou N'Dour and Axelle Red did not quite acquire such worldwide recognition, a trend that seems to have continued with the FIFA. Even today, it is Martin’s song and not the official track that has acquired anthem-like status.

Even DJ Diplo’s magic with dance numbers and Ronaldinho’s footie tricks can't save Live It Up!

Even DJ Diplo’s magic with dance numbers and Ronaldinho’s footie tricks can't save Live It Up!

Colombian singer Shakira’s 'Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)' was the official song of the 2010 contest in South Africa. The official anthem — 'Sign of a Victory' — sung by now disgraced singer R Kelly and the South African gospel choir Soweto Spiritual Singers barely made a mark in the fans’ collective imagination. This particular edition of the FIFA World Cup also gave fans the Coca-Cola promotional anthem 'Wavin’ Flag' by K’Naan. Instantly hitting the right notes, 'Wavin’ Flag' and 'Waka Waka' became the sound of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, making it the first World Cup since the 1998 Ricky Martin coup to be a runaway musical success.

One would imagine that the next edition being held in Brazil, where Latin American raison détre is par for the course would make the FIFA 2014 World Cup just as musically enriching. So, the federation picked Carlos Santana with Wyclef Jean and Avicii to create the official anthem 'Dar um Jeito (We Will Find a Way)', another underwhelming number from the house of FIFA. It’s official song 'We Are One (Ole Ola)' by Pitbull featuring Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Lette received marginally more appreciation than the official anthem. This time, the Coca-Cola promotional anthem 'The World is Ours' too was better received, but nowhere near replicating the success of the 2010 edition.

How is it that every official anthem since 1994 has fared poorer than that edition’s official song and subsequent Coca-Cola anthems? It can’t even be a language issue that makes the official anthem (sung in the language of the host nation) perform poorer than the official song because some of the most successful official songs have been in Spanish and then translated into English (the official language of FIFA). People scat their way through 'Waka Waka' (“Charminar mein snaan karega, it’s time for Africa!”) and the language barrier has not once dampened their enthusiasm to sing the song.

With the 2018 edition, the FIFA repository of songs reveals underperforming talent. While the Coca-Cola anthem 'Colors' by Jason Derulo ticks all the “feel-good” boxes of musicality that has come to typify the brand’s marketing strategy, it isn’t a rousing alternative to the tepid 'Live It Up!'. The other songs in the album such as J Balvin’s 'Positivo' is predictably upbeat with over-processed vocals. Russian singer Polina Gagarina’s 'Komanda' is an ode to things Russian and football, with the video featuring young footballers and even a ballerina! They may as well have brought in a circus, a salad and the roulette to pander to all things Russian. It’s a decent listen but hardly capable of inspiring enthusiastic fans to mouth the words. Natalia Oreiro’s 'United By Lovecan be the dance number of impact from this edition — if it gets adequate airplay. It has the rhythm, it has the tune and more importantly, it has the vibe of a good stadium song. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the language barrier-shattering lyrical quality that has worked for other non-English official songs. It doesn’t have a phrase like "Waka, Waka" or "This Time for Africa" that Shakira’s song had, or "Ale Ale Ale" that was on loop for Martin’s 'The Cup of Life' that work well with fans who needn’t sing the rest of the song.

From the looks of it, 'Live It Up!' will be enforced on us thanks to the continuous airplay. It feels as frosty as a Russian winter, steeped in an artifice that has been stereotyped in the portrayal of Russians in movies. Perhaps some Stolichnaya can heat things up a bit.

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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2018 16:10 PM