The FIFA World Cup is one of the most awaited sporting events in the world. Every four years, fans tune in to watch their favorite soccer players take over the pitch to confront rivals from all continents. While the sport is at the center of the tournament, throughout the years, the World Cup has become synonymous with new music releases. You must already be thinking of Shakira’s soccer anthem “Waka Waka,” which is one of the singer's most popular tracks to date.
Shakira stands as the “queen of World Cup music,” as her track remains a fan favorite and is the only previous tournament song to make it to the Billboard charts this year, 12 years after its release. While some World Cup songs have broken records and transformed artists’ careers, others have been a source of criticism—and many have experienced both. Either way, music and soccer promise to be an inseparable match for years to come as original songs continue to be front and center in the World Cup.
FIFA sees a lot of value in sponsoring songs for the quadrennial event because they use it as an opportunity to bring together “the universal languages of music and football to stunning effect.” Beyond FIFA’s official releases, there is also an increasing number of singers, TV broadcasters, and brands creating their own independent compositions to honor the competition, which in some cases become as popular as the official tracks.
A Display of Multilingualism
Shakira is known as a multilingual artist who has built her career singing in Spanish and English while also being able to speak Italian, Portuguese, French, and Catalan. However, she surprised fans with “Waka Waka” as she sang “Tsamina mina zangalewa” and multiple verses in Xhosa, one of South Africa’s official languages. “Waka Waka” samples the 1986 track “Zangaléwa” by the Cameroonian group Golden Sounds, which was widely popular across Africa and in Shakira’s home country Colombia. The 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa was the first ever to be held in an African country, and therefore, the official championship song drew inspiration from African music and cultures.
In efforts to pay homage to the tournament's host country or countries, the official FIFA World Cup songs tend to include lyrics in English and the hosts’ languages, which in the past have been Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, among others. This year was the first time that an official song included Arabic, as Qatar became the first Arab country to ever host the tournament.
After English, Spanish is the second most popular language included in World Cup songs regardless of whether the competition is taking place in a Spanish-speaking country. This year, there were two official tracks with Spanish lyrics: "Tukoh Taka'' featuring Nicki Minaj, Myriam Fares, and Maluma and "Arhbo" with Ozuna, Gims, and Red One.
Spanish has a long history as the language of World Cup songs. The first song credited to a World Cup is “El Rock del Mundial” (The World Cup’s Rock) by Chilean rock band Ramblers, who wrote it to commemorate the 1962 soccer tournament in Chile. The upbeat tune describes how the World Cup is meant to be “una fiesta universal” (a universal party) and serves as a team cheer for the Chilean players with the lyrics “tómala, métete, rematala, gol de Chile” (grab it, get in there, kick it, Chile’s goal). While there has been debate about the official number of copies sold, the current estimate is 100K copies, making it Chile’s most sold single in history.
There might be multiple reasons why World Cup songs tend to include Spanish-speaking Latin artists, including Latin America's long history with the championship and its strong soccer culture. The first FIFA World Cup was hosted—and won—by Uruguay in 1930 and featured a majority of South American teams. Even with the World Cup’s global expansion and increasingly fierce qualification competitions, there has always been at least one Latin American team participating in the event, cementing the region’s importance for the championship.
The World Cup has also served as a stage for Latin artists to expand their global reach. Take as example Latin Pop veteran Ricky Martin. The Puerto Rican idol was the voice of FIFA’s official song for the 1998 World Cup, “The Cup of Life,” which also has a bilingual version called “La Copa de la Vida.” Martin was already a household name in the Spanish-speaking world, but it was the soccer-inspired tracks that gave him notoriety among other demographics. The artist made his GRAMMY stage debut in 1999 with his bilingual World Cup song, a performance that is credited with propelling his international career and fueling “1999’s Latin explosion.”
It Doesn’t Have to Be Official to Be Successful
Along with “Waka Waka,” fans associate the 2010 World Cup with another chart-topping song: “Wavin’ Flag (Coca Cola Celebration Mix)” by K’Naan. The difference is that K’Naan’s song was commissioned by Coca Cola for their promotional campaigns; it wasn’t an official FIFA track. Yet, many consider it one of the best World Cup songs ever. “ATTENTION: This is NOT the official video or song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup!” reads the music video caption on K’Naan’s Youtube channel.
The Somali-Canadian artist originally created “Wavin’ Flag” as a fighting chant for freedom in Somalia during a time of war, famine, and poverty. He then altered the lyrics to create a new version for Coca Cola, which became the brand’s anthem for the 2010 World Cup. K’Naan collaborated with artists from all around the world to release market-specific remixes in more than a dozen languages. However, the English version remains the most popular one and it is the artist’s second most popular song based on its Chartmetric Track Score. More than a decade later, the song remains a favorite of soccer fans who have revived it to celebrate this year’s World Cup.
Many singers don’t have the opportunity to collaborate with FIFA or major brands to release World Cup songs and decide to make their own independent creations to cheer for the tournament and their national teams. Such was the case of Ecuadorian singer Johann Vera whose Ecuador-inspired World Cup song “Donde Nací” is currently his most popular track and was adopted by Ecuadorian fans as the unofficial team cheer in this year’s World Cup. The tune has been used in 44.8K TikTok videos, including some by influential Ecuadorian figures. “Donde Nací” reached its highest Chartmetric Track Score, 59, in November and became Vera’s highest track score ever since his 2015 debut.
“I wanted this song to feel new for young people but at the same time, maintain a national identity,” Vera told El Comercio. The track combines urban, tropical, and andean beats along with uplifting lyrics about victory and hope, while the music video intertwines shots from across Ecuador with memories of the national soccer team.
Vera’s example shows that even artists who are creating World Cup-inspired songs independently can find success and notoriety if the tune appeals to the fans. To all the musicians out there who are also soccer fans, it might be a good move to create a tune inspired by the sport. With four years to go until the next World Cup, there is still plenty of time to come up with what might become the next viral soccer anthem.