Why Is 'We Are One' A Flop?

Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte perform at World Cup 2014 opening ceremony

Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 12 June 2014.  

There’s been a lot of spirited debate on the merits (or not) of “We Are One (Ole Ola),” the official FIFA World Cup Song, performed by Pitbull with guests Jennifer Lopez and Brazilian Claudia Leitte.

Reviews of the track run the gamut, with some calling it spirited, festive and catchy, and others deriding it for a lack of authentic Brazilian flavor, limited use of Lopez and Leitte, and overall triteness.

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But all that is tangential. A hit is a hit, but “We Are One” just isn’t a hit, a fact made even more apparent by its marquee roster and huge promotion.

These are the facts:

“We Are One,” released in early April, has sold 105,000 downloads in the U.S. to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but has struggled, spending only three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Following its performance at the World Cup Opening ceremony, the track did spike to sell  22,000 downloads that week, its biggest-selling week.

And, the official “We Are One” video has been viewed 131 million times on Pitbull’s VEVO channel, nothing to scoff at.

These stats are far from a failure. But they trail the performance of “Waka Waka,” the 2010 World Cup song performed by Shakira with Freshlyground.

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“Waka Waka” spent a total of 18 weeks on the Hot 100, selling  57,000 downloads its best week. Indeed, sales of the track never dipped below 31,000 on any given week of the World Cup. All told, “Waka Waka” went on to sell 1.8 million downloads in the U.S. alone. Even taking into consideration that only 274,000 of those downloads were sold during World Cup weeks, the Pitbull track is not near approaching those numbers.

And as far as the video goes, “Waka Waka” has nearly 800,000 million YouTube views, and at one point, it held the record for the most-viewed video on YouTube.

And then there’s the other Shakira track—“Dare (La la la),” billed as this year’s official World Cup anthem with a featuring from Carlinhos Brown. Shakira has yet to perform the track on any of the World Cup ceremonies, but it’s outpaced “We Are One” on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 53. And although it’s sold 78,000 downloads--less than “We Are One”—it’s poised to overtake those numbers, particularly with the looming closing ceremony performance featuring Shakira.

On the video end, “Dare” boasts 165 million views on Shakira’s official VEVO channel (the original, non World Cup version has 33 million views), far more than “We Are One.”

And here’s the real kicker: A massive 20% of the 774,000 people that rated “We Are One” (as of June 23) gave it a thumbs down. Meantime, the dislike rate for the “Dare” video sits at a low 6%, same as with “Waka Waka.”

All of which begs the question: Why?

Quite simply, it’s just not a very good song.

"We Are One” has no chorus, no hooks, and lacks a memorable melody to sing along to.  

Neither soccer nor the tried and true pairing of Pitbull and Lopez (Whose “On The Floor” is a showstopper), have been able to push this track to the next level.  

Many critics have panned “We Are One” because it’s not “Brazilian” enough; because it’s meant to celebrate one of the most musically rich countries in the planet with pseudo Brazilian elements and only the token participation of a Brazilian artist.

But that thoroughly misses the point. Beyond the fact that “Waka Waka” was panned for exactly the same reason—not representing South Africa adequately—World Cup songs are not meant to reflect on a single country and their success really predicates upon global acceptance.

Ricky Martin’s “The Cup of Life,” perhaps the most emblematic World Cup song of all, has nary a French element in it, save for “Allez, allez, allez.”  But not a peep was uttered about the lack of French savoir fair, because “Cup” was such a monumentally kick-ass song.

"Waka Waka” wasn’t quite up to par, but its video, featuring Shaki shimmying with Freshlyground and cameos of all the soccer players that mattered, was irresistible.

“We Are One” tries way too hard, covering up its flaws in the video with an overdose of Brazilian flags(to the detriment of all other countries), Brazilian drums and scantily-clad Brazilian dancers. The soccer shots are a generic collage of plays.

“Dare,” instead, smartly emulates the “Waka Waka” aesthetic, prompting viewers to look out for their favorite players in what is finally a way cooler visual experience.

Of course, not all World Cup songs become hits.

Remember Anastacia’s “Boom” from 2002, or Il Divo and Toni Braxton’s “The Time of Our Lives” from 2006? We don’t either.

And while hindsight is 20-20, looking back, “One World” was a gamble. You have two huge superstars—three if you count Leitte’s clout in Brazil—and nine writers vying for relevance in a single song while attempting to adequately represent a host country synonymous with both soccer and music.

But second-guessing has never been a friend of hit-making.

Years ago, Pitbull scored his first mega radio hit, “I Know You Want Me,” by cleverly sampling—solo--“75 Street Brazil,” a track by Italian DJ Nicola Fasano featuring Pat Rich.

It was a cornucopia of styles and nationalities and beats, but it worked.

If only.