June 9, 2010KR BlogKR

World Cup Coca-Cola K’naan Fever


Carl Wilson, in his terrific contribution (an exploration of taste via C??line Dion called Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste) to the 33 1/3 series, writing here on Dion’s success internationally, and what it suggests about marketing for a global audience:

“In 1999, after performing [in Hong Kong], [C??line] was asked if she’d be interested in learning Chinese, and answered, ???That’d be great! I’d love to learn every language in the world. When you’re an artist, a musician, you have a musical ear. It’s easier for you to learn languages.’

This is becoming the norm, and as [University of Leicester’s Mashahiro] Yasuda argues, it’s not like the Coca-Colonization stereotype. Now a successful artist has to figuratively become local by fulfilling entertainment conventions in other parts of the world. It is less homogenization than hybridization of cultures. As Jan Nedeerveen Pieterse of the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague writes, ???How do we come to terms with phenomena such as Thai boxing by Moroccan girls in Amsterdam, Asian rap in London, Irish bagels, Chinese tacos and Mardi Gras Indians in the United States“? Cultural experiences, past or present, have not been simply moving in the direction of cultural uniformity and standardization.’ He suggests that what we’re witnessing is a ???creolisation of global culture.’ It does not follow that creolization will take a standard form. Localism is ignored, as C??line’s marketers know, at peril. Likewise the global-hegemony model presumes there won’t be reciprocal cultural influence on the west, but the counterevidence is all around us: Asian video-game music, for example, is arguably among the most pervasive influences on young pop musicians now. And as Pieterse points out, with the exception of isolated indigenous groups, civilization and hybridization have been synonymous for centuries.

This is not an answer to exploitation and inequality. But the presumption that the world will automatically become more like us is itself chauvinism. Contrary to globalization cheerleader Thomas Friedman’s bestselling sloganeering, the world is not going ???flat,’ never has and never will, unless you look through a two-dimensional screen. Yet some western critics of hegemony present merely a negative image of American triumphalism. In George W. Bush’s case, it is wishful thinking; in theirs, apocalyptic thinking; but both operate as if the totalization of their own culture were an inevitability, despite all signals of how improbable that is.”

Now that Carl Wilson has given you plenty to read and think about (you should buy his book!), I can proceed with my contribution: posting a whole bunch of World Cup commercials.

Here’s the main event:

But really, what better contemporary example of the cross-pollination of world cultures than the seemingly endless supply of international variations on K’naan’s Coca-Cola-sponsored 2010 World Cup Trophy Tour anthem, “Wavin’ Flag?”

Here’s the Arabic version:

The French version (avec my new favorite French rapper, Fefe):

The Thai version:

Perhaps, by now, you’ll recognize some scenes in the Chinese or Spanish versions.

According to the bite-sized introductory version below (filmed in Johannesburg, and featuring a lovely sunset shot in what appears, based on the flags, to be Coca-Cola country) there are at least 17 more global versions, and they’ve hit #1 in over 11 countries:

And here’s the song before it was a soccer-related sensation:

How did a mournful (yet hopeful) revolution song transform into a mega-corporation-endorsed advert-anthem for not only Coca-Cola and the World Cup, but for soccer and sport itself, for national pride and global unity, for upliftenment (which should become a word just for this song/phenomenon)?

Well, like C??line Dion’s handlers, Coca-Cola’s marketing people know a thing or two about global appeal. From a Telegraph article by Colin Freeman about Coke’s controversial choice (of K’naan, a Mogadishu-raised, sometime-Somali-pirate-defending rapper and poet whose songs, while catchy, are usually too lyrically heavy to be effervescent)::

“Coca Cola’s selected K’naan’s song after a search involving hundreds of artists. The quality of his music and his personality and life story were more important than whether he was South African or not, said Joe Belliotti, the firm’s global entertainment marketing chief.

‘We went through hundreds of demos and recommendations for songs and artists that fitted the bill, and K’naan ticked a whole laundry list of things,’ he said. ‘He has the connection to Africa, he is not a fly-by-night pop star, and his song is very indicative of celebration.'”

So much so that the new version is called “Wavin’ Flag: The Celebration Mix,” and, according to Billboard.biz, it’s:

“a recast version of a track off K’naan’s set ???Troubadour’ (Universal Music, 2009). It features many elements of the original song but includes a pre-chorus that sets the uplifting, unified tone of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, turning the song into one that is ‘more open, more inviting, more celebratory,’ [K’naan] says.

???I’m so proud of this version,’ K’naan tells Billboard.Biz. ‘We took something like 50 drums and did this crazy mix for it. It’s about the one time that we all get together and the world forgets its conflict and its problems and we focus on this unity and celebration. That moment is connected now to “Wavin’ Flag.”‘

And the song transforms again (after serving as the chart-topping Canadian response to America’s “We Are the World” remake, and raising a million dollars to benefit hurricane-relief efforts in Haiti): into a declawed, defiance-lite (compare will.i.am’s Buffalo Soldier-free second verse with the original above) version released, no doubt, in response to (and to capitalize on) the fact that K’naan was right all along: “everybody will be singin’ it” (emphasis mine).

We were already singing it. But now we can sing it in Arabic, drinking Mexican Coke purchased in rural Wisconsin. I can’t get enough K’naan, or caffeine, or videos of people waving their flags, jumping, kicking, scoring, dancing, embracing, soaring.

I’m caught up in it. It’s not flat. It’s complicated; it’s buoyant; it’s beautiful (artfully faded Coca-Cola tees and all). Sing it:

Sing forever young. Singing songs underneath the sun. Let’s rejoice in the beautiful game. And together at the end of the day, we all sing–




You made it this far? Bonus round links: