Why More Songs Than Ever Are Contending to Be World Cup Anthems

BB15 2018 - DO NOT REUSE!!!
Courtesy Photo
J Balvin, "Positivo"

The competition has always been tough for artists who want to launch music at the FIFA World Cup, which drew 3.2 billion viewers across its 64 games in 2014, according to FIFA and Kantar Media, compared to the roughly 103 million who watched the Super Bowl in February.

But for the 2018 edition, taking place June 14-July 15 in Russia, there is a record number of musical contenders as streaming services amp up their World Cup-themed playlists and offer unofficial anthems the opportunity to become hits -- without necessarily being performed during the opening ceremony.

"There are more songs than ever," says Dusko Justic, vp international marketing and partnerships for Sony Latin/Iberia Brands. "Media partners see the power of the music, and everyone is deciding to create their own representation of the song."

Sony Music Entertainment's artists have long had an advantage, since Sony has been FIFA's official anthem partner for many years: The label released the official 2018 World Cup song, "Live It Up," performed by Nicky JamWill Smith and Era Istrefi and produced by Diplo, who owns a stake in the Phoenix Rising soccer club. Sony also released longtime World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola's official track, "Colors," by Jason Derulo featuring Maluma, as well as Sprint's song, "90 Minutos," by Prince Royce featuring ChocQuibTown.

But streaming services are expanding the playing field: Spotify is promoting World Cup playlists for individual countries as well as a video series highlighting fans and artists in four team markets, while Deezer, which already had deals in place with Manchester United and FC Barcelona, has added 32 playlists from artists representing the 32 World Cup countries.

"In the World Cup, the barrier for non-English artists and songs is broken down," says Sulinna Ong, Global VP/Artist Marketing at Deezer, noting that J Balvin is Deezer's most streamed artist currently. "We see the dominance of Latin artists and Latin songs, and visitors are revisiting past World Cup songs as well."

According to Deezer, average daily streams of older playoff songs have exploded on the service in the last two months: Shakira's "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" by 110 percent and Carlos Santana's "Dar Um Jeito (We Will Find a Way)" by 365 percent, for example. Artists who have created new World Cup tunes, meantime, include Shawn Mendes, who issued a version of his "In My Blood" to support Portugal, while the video for Universal Music Group's "Love" by Gianluca Vacchi feat. Sebastian Yatra boasts cameos by players from the Colombian team. Even the United States, shut out of the competition, will have a song through Major League Soccer, which is debuting a TV spot during the World Cup featuring Miguel.

"Streaming and digital have totally changed the equation for us," says Peter Blacker, executive vp digital and emerging business for NBCU/Telemundo Enterprises, which is promoting J Balvin and Michael Brun's "Positivo" as the official song for Telemundo Deportes, the U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster of the World Cup. "One of the first things we did when we got the rights was to work with our partners at FIFA and incorporate social media platforms that we knew would be critical, like Twitter, SnapChat and Youtube." 

One trick to winning the musical match, says Justic, is an artist, songwriter or producer "who has an understanding of the sport and the global audience." That may be one reason why Shakira, married to Barcelona soccer star Gerard Piqué, has dominated the song contest for years. Historically, the most successful World Cup by far is Shakira's "Waka Waka," featuring Freshlyground. In the U.S., the track peaked at No 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, and on YouTube, it's the most popular music video for a World Cup and the 26th most-viewed video in YouTube history with over 1.8 billion views to date. Shakira's single "La La La," one of the official songs for World Cup 2014, is the second most viewed World Cup-related music video on YouTube, with over 972 million views, making it one of the top 150 most viewed videos on YouTube. And her video to "Hips Don't Lie" -- which she performed with Wyclef at the opening ceremony of the 2006 World Cup -- has earned over 561 million views on YouTube.

Maluma, meanwhile, a former junior division player, has helped "Colors" amass over 96 million views worldwide.

Global representation could help, too. "Live It Up!" has artists from several corners of the world: Smith represents North America, Nicky Jam represents the Latin market, Istrefi represents Eastern Europe, and Diplo, though also American, is known for collaborating with acts in some of soccer's biggest markets, from the UK to Brazil.

A version of this article originally appeared in the June 15 issue of Billboard.