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Thursday, June 17, 2010

True Soccer Anthems are Catchy, Curse-Laden, and Mean-Spirited

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 9:13 AM

BLK JKS: On the classier side of World Cup 2010 music
  • BLK JKS: On the classier side of World Cup 2010 music
Don't be alarmed to turn on ESPN this month and hear some witty Englishman declare the arc of a round ball through space "inspired," "creative" or "clever." It's World Cup season -- the month-long Super Bowl-meets-Olympics-meets-Mardi Gras of that "beautiful game" -- and early risers across the states are realizing what our neighbors to the north, south, east and west have known for a long time. That soccer -- football, to the rest of the world -- is a game for the eyes.

So what happens when record executives/ footballers/ Simon Cowell decide to bring the beautiful game to our ears? As they say in football, a missed chance.

Listen Up! The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Album is the record you'd buy if you wanted to commit to posterity the tournament's sanctioned anthem and song. One wonders: What makes R. Kelly's tepid "Sign of a Victory" the official anthem, and Shakira's spritely "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" merely the official song? The Colombian diva's remake of "Zangalewa" -- a Cameroonian hit from the '90s, with martial overtones -- is puzzling in many ways (what says world harmony through fair play like an African military parade?). But at least it doesn't feature the lyrics "You open your eyes to global warming." Not even R. Kelly could get a stadium full of drunken football fans going on that one.

True football anthems are catchy, curse-laden and mean-spirited -- "We've got Di Canio / You've got our stereos" was the chant West Ham fans used to hurl at Liverpool supporters, who enjoy a reputation as thieves elsewhere on the island. England's additions to this year's World Cup songbook aren't so clever. Robbie Williams teams up with Russell Brand to rehash "Three Lions" -- better known by its chorus, "Football's Coming Home" -- a sheepish call to arms that someone very rich has been rolling out every World Cup since 1996, the thirtieth anniversary of that storied side's last championship. Pity nobody saw the opportunity to tap Brand's Apatowian alter-ego Aldous Snow for a rendition of "African Child" ("There's a little African child trapped in me ..."), his delightfully tasteless "Get Him to the Greek" spoof.

Speaking of tasteless, don't miss "Shout for England," the aforementioned Cowell's pairing of Dizzee Rascal (losing credibility by the month) and British comedian James Corden. Rascal advises Wayne Rooney and company to leave the wives and girlfriends (known lovingly in the British tabloids as "WAGS") at home before Corden dives in headlong to bellow the chorus to Tears For Fears' "Shout." The duo appeared on "Britain's Got Talent" earlier this month on the eve of the single's release. Rascal's was the only black face on screen as Corden, a huge man who looked as though he'd just stepped off a cruise ship, and a gang of hanky-waving hooligans rushed the stage. The effect was hilarious and painful, but probably the most accurate depiction of English football fandom you'll see this month.

Nonetheless, hip-hop culture seems to be making headway in the genre of football music. Dutch rapper Ali B brought his team's longtime hymn "Wij houden van Oranje" ("We Love Orange") into the fold in 2006 with, well, less than stellar results (wait for the chorus). And then there's our own national team midfielder Clint Dempsey, whose Nike-sponsored "Don't Tread" is a fitting match for our side: awkward, hustlin' and just weird enough to make it happen (teammate DeMarcus Beasley has his own signature diamond line).

Thankfully, if there's a host country that can deliver an antidote to these football anthems, it's South Africa. FIFA's televised two-dozen-act kick-off concert offered more than a few local surprises, including recent Secretly Canadian signees BLK JKS and kwaito hitmakers Big Nuz and DJ Tira, not to mention Malian guitar champs Vieux Farka Toure and Tinariwen.

There's plenty of class in that group, as they say in the game. Train your ears on these acts to prepare for the morning's matches.

That, or the vuvuzuelas.

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Ian S. Port


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