Creating a World Cup anthem is a tricky affair that often results in scoring an own goal.
One of the main reasons why is that there are so many layers — both creative and bureaucratic — to get through. Does it represent free-flowing football, connect with global audiences and please the endless line-up of sponsors and corporate officials? Does it do all three?
And, with all eyes turning to Qatar for the Middle East's first event, The National reviews the official soundtracks released for the World Cup in the past 60 years.
'Light the Sky' (2022) by Balqees, Rahma Riad and Nora Fatehi
The latest tournament track released is the third official soundtrack for Qatar so far. It is the kind of euphoric dance-pop song Grammy-Award winning RedOne — the producer behind the song — specialises in.
Light the Sky is all about creating a party vibe with a hearty dose of football. It comes with the kind of walloping and easy-to-chant chorus fit for stadiums packed with international fans.
Unfortunately, the verses are forgettable and don't really address the competition at hand.
The accompanying video features the trio performing in front of Lusail Stadium in Qatar.
‘Arhbo’ (2022) by Ozuna and Gims
The second of the three songs was released in August. It blends cultures, sounds, singing styles and even languages.
Puerto Rican reggae star Ozuna teams up with French hip-hop artist Gims, with Spanish, French, English and Arabic vocals featuring throughout. It's primed for clubs and, simply put, has the foundations to be a banger.
The message is about building bridges, putting differences aside and fusing global identities — something with RedOne once again captures through mixing Latin pop, Afro-pop and Khaleeji sounds.
Whether heard in a stadium or a club, Arhbo is a winner.
‘Hayya Hayya (Better Together)' (2022) by Davido, Aisha and Trinidad Cardona
As the first of 2022's soundtracks to be released — way back in April — Hayya Hayya (Better Together) is an earworm.
Qatari singer Aisha teams up with Nigerian pop star Davido and US singer Trinidad Cardona. It is a cheery track, enjoying a Khaleeji percussion and reggae groove.
The accompanying music video was shot throughout the country, travelling everywhere from Qatar's desert to Doha's corniche.
'Live It Up' (2018) by Nicky Jam, Will Smith and Era Istrefi
The anthem from the 2018 World Cup in Russia received a reception as frosty as a Moscow winter.
However, the track is not that bad at all. Uber-cool producer Diplo’s reggae and horn-soaked beats are well accompanied by serviceable rapping by Will Smith and crooning Kosovo-Albanian dance-hall singer Era Istrefi.
'Allez Lmgharba' (2018) by Samira Said
Morocco’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup was great news not only for the North African country, but also for the whole region.
Hence Samira Said, one of the Arab world’s most-loved pop stars, being enlisted to sing the official track Allez Lmgharba.
While the song is a love letter to the Moroccan football squad, the upbeat rhythms and Arabic flavour were enough to keep regional football fans excited.
'Time of Our Lives' (2014) by Ahmed Chawki
Despite Algeria being the only Arabic-speaking nation participating in the 2014 World Cup, it was enough for the tournament to commission a track partly sung in the language as an official song by Moroccan singer Ahmed Chawki.
This was ultimately a good decision, as Time of Our Lives is a hidden gem.
Produced by RedOne, the track is effervescent dance-pop with its fun care-free lyrics and stadium-ready chorus of: “Aye, aye here we go aye, this is the time of our lives.”
'Waka Waka' (2010) by Shakira
While you're unlikely to overhear people debating which World Cup song is the best, you're definitely likely to hear this classic ring out at every future tournament.
After 10 official songs spanning three World Cups failed to dislodge Ricky Martin’s The Cup of Life as the most successful, Shakira’s Waka Waka arrived in 2010 to make a strong challenge for the crown.
A collaboration with South African fusion group Freshlyground, the song is an unwaveringly catchy amalgam of Latin flair and African grooves that can’t help but have you tapping along.
The tournament marked the first time it was held on the continent. Or, as Shakira Shakira herself put it, it was time for Africa.
However, unlike The Cup of Life, most of the lyrics to Waka Waka — with references to hopping “back in the saddle” and skipping the queue — were too vague to classify it as a sporting anthem. Either way, it remains one of the best.
'Boom' (2002) by Anastacia
It was around this time that world anthems began to explode, with various official songs made to appear across the different nations that make up the sport’s wide fan base.
For this event, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, four songs were made, spanning classical music (Anthem by Vangelis) to Spanish (Vamos Al Mundial by Jennifer Pena).
English listeners sadly suffered the worst of the bunch; Boom by Anastacia is a forgettable piece of fluff.
'The Cup of Life' (1998) by Ricky Martin
The gold standard. The greatest World Cup anthem of all time was recorded by an artist who rose to the challenge.
A year before the tournament in France, a young and hungry Ricky Martin was asked to come up with the official anthem for the tournament. Not overawed by the daunting nature of the challenge, Martin recognised it could be his shot at global stardom.
What made The Cup of Life work was that it remained true to Martin’s ethos of melding pop with Latin music.
The end result is a joyous and rollicking ride of samba rhythms, horns and a chorus even a young child could memorise.
While it is understandable for the French to be miffed at the lack of local elements in the track, The Cup of Life energised football fans around the world and was an active participant in the tournament.
The song also introduced Martin as pop music’s latest superstar, so it was mission accomplished. Less than a year later he was livin' la vida local, quite literally.
'Gloryland' (1994) by Daryl Hall and Sounds of Blackness
We expected so much better from the United States. As the host nation and citadel of modern pop music, they should have shown how a sky-raising anthem is done.
Instead, they wheeled out a past-his-prime Daryl Hall (from the soft-rockers duo Hall and Oates) and gospel ensemble Sounds of Blackness for a turgid track with lyrics informing us that "with every passing moment, you begin to understand, that you are bound for Gloryland".
'Hot Hot Hot' (1986) by Arrow
This was the first great World Cup anthem, and that’s because it wasn’t recorded with the game in mind.
The track was written by Caribbean artist Arrow back in 1982 for his debut album, and Hot Hot Hot, with its jubilant tropical rhythms and sun-kissed lyrics, was an instant global success.
Its enduring appeal allowed it to be officially adopted by the World Cup four years later in Mexico — which also brought us the Mexican wave.
The track was a stadium favourite and was used in later years as the theme song of 1989’s Miss Universe and the Canadian ice hockey team the Toronto Maple Leafs.
'El Mundial' (1978) by the Buenos Aires Municipal Symphony
The host nation Argentina won the tournament in 1978 and music fans lost out with this tepid song.
What makes this track particularly disappointing was that it was composed by none other than Ennio Morricone: the Italian is a master Hollywood composer and none of his flair for the grand and dramatic shone through in this soulless piece of elevator music.
'El Rock del Mundial' (1962) by Los Ramblers
World Cup anthems had none of the mass appeal back then: El Rock del Mundial is a fun and chirpy song that sounds like a Latin version of the rock staple Hound Dog, but there is nothing universal here.
The song is all about the host nation Chile, and the band’s lyrics function like parochial football commentary in certain parts: “Get the rebound, goal, goal by Chile.”
— A version of this story was first published on June 3, 2018