The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s bigger than the Olympics which people only watch for the 100m and women’s beach volleyball, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl which is just a big concert sponsored by Pepsi, and it’s bigger than the 24 hour race at Le Mans which is just a metaphor for our directionless and ultimately futile existence.
Of course, the World Cup isn't what it used to be. Amid allegations of heinous corruption, the greedy FIFA oligarchy have ensured that all character has been squeezed from the tournament. Every inch of Brazil 2014 seems to have been covered in gratuitous sponsorship and hashtags. The flykicking Cantonas and Keanes have been replaced by a bunch of prissies with perfectly coiffed hair. But most depressingly, you cannot commission a World Cup song without it sounding like the soundtrack to a T-Mobile advert.
I get that footballers have shit taste in music. Wayne Rooney recently published his World Cup playlist. It included: Damien Rice, at least five songs by Jake Bugg, and a new one by Stereophonics. But it's not the players' jobs to pick the songs, they're too busy disappointing the nation. Surely there is someone else out there with a love of football and music, who can bring themselves to write something with some emotional resonance. How hard could it be? Even The Darkness managed to write an alright Christmas song.
Take a look at England’s official song - a cover of Take That’s “The Greatest Day”. It features Gary Barlow, Emma Bunton, Pixie Lott, and Gary Lineker - a collective that, seemingly, have been pooled together because all the other The One Show contributors were busy. This is what someone on YouTube had to say about the video:
Footman388: As a proud Scot, even I feel for the English, this song is appalling. Bring back Three Lions .
When the Scottish are empathising with the English and no eccies or Buckfast have been involved, you know there's a problem. And that problem is that every World Cup song in recent memory is as depressing as watching England lose to Northern Ireland in 2005.
I don't understand what happened. World Cup songs weren't high-art national pslams, but they gave you something to believe in. "World in Motion" sounded like a street-party in a council flat. I taped "Vindaloo" off the radio and would listen to it on my Walkman. Then when the tape fucked, I'd just sing it out loud everywhere that I went, probably sounding like a UKIP fruitcake but not caring about it. "Three Lions" might be a cliché now, but each tournament - when I play it again - a shiver whispers down my spine. It makes me wish I had scored that goal in the final game of the season in Year 5, or that the Reading FC scout noticed me, or that I could direct Theo Walcott toward the goalpost like on FIFA.
Today's football songs are not made out of dreams. They are made out of sponsorship money and hashtags. And this trend isn't limited to Britain either. Shakira has returned to dry-hump the world with “La La La”, a song that literally is as boring as the title suggests. But perhaps the most galling is Ricky - the face of wet hair gel - Martin with his World Cup song “Vida”.
We’re all used to a bit of product placement - a couple of months ago you couldn’t move without seeing a Beats Pill in a hip-hop video - but Kia’s ‘subliminal’ advertising in “Vida” takes the biscuit as a crude example of football’s modern day monetization. The camera faces a Kia car with the sun beating down on its bonnet while the frame conveniently clears for a couple of seconds so we get a really good look at it, and the same happens about a minute later, only this time with surfer dudes somersaulting and doing some pathetic parkour moves off the boot. Add the tribal tats, the heavy-handed United Colours of Benetton undertones that promote a positive non-City of God message (here’s Ricky surrounded by local kids, he’s such a great guy! High five Ricky!) and the fact that every certified buffed beach bod on view looks like Andy Carroll living it up in Ibiza.
Ricky’s bumpin ‘n’ grindin in “Vida” couldn’t be further removed from the idea of football being the bastion of beer-guzzling hard nut hoolies around the world. We’re slightly beyond that stereotype now - but for every Oasis and Blur song soundtracking early FIFA games we now have Empire of the Sun and the 1975. When James Milner bundles in a last minute winner against Costa Rica in the group stage I want to be spilling my pint while screaming along to something like “Song 2” - not nodding my head and tapping my foot to “Walking on a Dream”.
This is a sign of the time in the industry as a whole and its move toward bland, pop-club-centric music. The official FIFA track this year, “Dar um Jeito (We Will Find a Way)”, comes courtesy of the ungodly quartet of Santana, Wyclef Jean, Avicii and some local bloke called Alexandre Pires, and sounds as inoffensive as you’d imagine. I’m not asking for Graeme Le Saux to go and do a duet with Sepp Blatter or for Glenn and Chris to dig up “Diamond Lights”, but it would be nice to maybe hear something a bit like Til Bronner and Hugh Masakela’s “Win The World” - one of the few credible homegrown songs to emerge from South Africa in 2010. Whatever the case, I’d just like to think that when Phil Jones skies the penalty that sends us packing in the second round against Columbia, I’ll be able to go to my laptop and watch this year’s “Win The World” a couple of times and not feel like total shit about everything. Just not “Vida”. Anything but “Vida”.
Follow Lev on Twitter: @LevHarris1