Japan plays its first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, against Côte d’Ivoire this weekend. Although the tournament kicks off two days earlier in São Paulo, for many the Samurai Blue’s opening game ushers in the event, along with the activities that would normally raise eyebrows but get a pass every four years, such as waking up at 2 a.m. to watch football and drinking before noon.
It will also unleash a new batch of World Cup songs that will play practically on loop for the duration of the competition, including the television network’s special theme tracks to various commercial tie-ins. And that’s just on the domestic side. Pitbull’s voice will haunt many for months to come.
World Cup-related songs have a long and interesting history, including official anthems (from superstars like Shakira down to half of Hall & Oates) and all sorts of country-specific tunes (Weezer sining for the U.S., the Village People putting on for, uh, Germany). Having qualified for their first World Cup in 1998, Japan doesn’t have the rich soccer-music history of other nations (“World Cup Willy!”), but entering their fifth cup, the country now lays claim to a handful of Cup anthems.
Here are the most noteworthy from each edition of the World Cup:
France 1998 — “Together Now” by Jean Michel Jarre and Tetsuya Komuro
The Japanese squad’s first foray into the World Cup didn’t produce many theme songs at home, but it might have spurred the creation of the country’s finest football anthem yet. ’90s J-pop staple Tetsuya “TK” Komuro teamed up with French music producer Jean Michel Jarre for “Together Now,” half inspirational all-for-one-one-for-all session and half dystopian rush bordering on being digital hardcore. Guest vocalist Olivia Lufkin, a member of the pop outfit D&D who is known professionally simply as Olivia, shouted about “lying on the edge” over the driving music, and the whole song has a harsh edge not typically heard in a track tied to a sporting event. It spent 10 weeks on the Oricon music rankings chart.
Japan/South Korea 2002 — “Mugen” by Porno Graffitti
Despite the 2002 World Cup being the first to take place in Asia, Greek composer Vangelis (behind the “Chariots of Fire” and “Blade Runner” soundtracks) created the official song. Still, this year saw a notable increase in Japanese tracks coinciding with the tourney, most notably the TV broadcasters commissioning their own themes to use during game coverage. The best of the lot came courtesy of NHK, who tapped rock outfit Porno Graffitti to write the peppy, horn-filled “Mugen,” which sounded like it could actually play in a stadium.
Germany 2006 — “Get Your Dream” by Tokio
“Get Your Dream,” a straightforward rock number featuring some soulless horns and dramatic violin flair, was created for Samurai Blue’s 2006 World Cup campaign. It’s mostly forgettable but still sold better than the competition, peaking at No. 2 on Oricon. It’s also notable for being the first World Cup song done by a Johnny’s & Associates outfit. The number of boy bands (and Tokio are for all purposes a boy band who just happen to hold instruments) doing these sort of songs would increase in the coming years, highlighted this year by a dreadful number courtesy of NEWS.
South Africa 2010 — “Victory” By Exile
The first World Cup in Africa also saw the first year where Japan was absolutely inundated with theme songs. Besides the television networks continuing to commissioning their own tracks, more and more advertisers were introducing tunes. In top of that, YouTube and Nico Nico Douga allowed people to share their own Japan-support songs, or at least their covers of already existing numbers. Still, despite more options than ever before, this Japanese-Football-Association-backed song, with vaguely “African” percussion and cosmic Lion King-ish promo video, stood out in 2010.
Brazil 2014 — “Nippon” By Shiina Ringo
This year there aren’t many new variations on the usual World Cup song. The JAF backs a song made by a guy from Mr. Children, while Coca-Cola will be flooding the TV with their own Japanese-language anthem to sell sugar water. Only NHK has anything resembling a twist: They enlisted art-rocker Shiina Ringo to create their theme, the driving “Nippon.” It’s not like she went and re-created the sound of any of her excellent, forward-thinking early 2000 albums here — this is, at best, a smarter-than-average jock jam — but of all the songs to hear constantly in the coming month, they could have done a whole lot worse.
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