If you’re like billions of people, you know that Thursday marks the beginning of the World Cup. The largest sporting event on Earth, the month-long series of soccer matches throughout Brazil has the world buzzing.
And from a music fan’s perspective, the Cup’s placement in Brazil couldn’t be a better fit. Why? Because Brazil is not only a soccer powerhouse; were there a World Cup of Music, odds makers would be picking the country to land in the finals.
From the smooth, expansive feel of modern samba as popularized by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, the 1960s and ‘70s “tropicalia” movement that brought success to artists including Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze and Os Mutantes and the wild, modern booty-bounce sound of baile funk (also known as “funk carioca” and favela funk), the country is a perennial powerhouse. Tomes have been written on the country’s musical influence.
Which is why Pitbull’s official World Cup anthem, “We Are One (Oye Oya),” is such a bummer, and has barely resonated in the host country. In a region teeming with talent, the song, released last month, harnesses the essential rhythms of the country to create a pale, sad replica of Brazilian music. It’s a kick in the shin to a culture in love with sound.
Pitbull’s song, which features Jennifer Lopez, strives to be a traditional World Cup anthem. He and his producers imagined the sort of song that could be universally accepted among the world’s many musical cultures while somehow capturing the spirit of the host country.
And it’s there from beat No. 1: the most obvious sound of Brazil, those percussive tones that combine the Bahia rhythms that drive the annual Carnival coupled with typically Pitbull-ian barking and pounding. That riveting, immediate vibe is so infectious as to be virtually tyrannical, and as the heartbeat of the country, its citizens are understandably protective. Pitbull harnesses it as the anchor, and for shorthand authenticity adds in the chant of “Oye oya!” a Brazilian trademark during matches. But the whole thing feels like a shortcut.
As one Brazilian composer told Billboard: “In the case of this latest song, the seasoning has its right amount of cliches and stereotypes usual with commercial music.”
Even lazier, “We Are One” is sung in English and Spanish, with only a scant touch of Portuguese near the end. Of course Brazilians would find the song hard to love. It’s not even written for them to understand.
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