Official World Cup song review: 'Live It Up' with Will Smith, Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi is almost unlistenable

Blatant attempt to cash in on the music industry’s Latin American obsession is at odds with the fact this year’s World Cup is being hosted in Russia

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 25 May 2018 12:10 BST
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‘We feelin’ like a champion when we shine our light/We got the power, make a nation correct’ – one of the lyrical highlights
‘We feelin’ like a champion when we shine our light/We got the power, make a nation correct’ – one of the lyrical highlights

Attitudes to the World Cup song generally feel like Britain’s manner towards its own Eurovision Song Contest entry: essentially, no one cares.

There have been exceptions, but the announcement that this year’s event would be soundtracked by Will Smith, Era Istrefi and Nicky Jam (produced by Diplo) simply seemed to raise a few eyebrows.

It’s an odd mix and they’ve created a song with a generic message: you’ve only got one life so “Live It Up” – about the biggest cliche you could come up with for any sport-related anthem, opening on the kind of dreary, anthemic “woah-oh, woah-oh-oh-oh” that makes it easy to picture Diplo cackling as he took the money and legged it out of the studio.

Will Smith is a bizarre choice given his credibility as a rapper has all but disappeared – if it was ever there before. That’s not to dismiss his talent in other fields, but given he is mostly known as an actor and comedian, the attempt at sincerity in a line like “One life, one dream, one moment, one team/One you, lights hot, thousand roadblocks, one shot” only makes the listener cringe.

Meanwhile Era Istrefi, a Kosovo Albanian singer who shot to fame with her viral track “Bonbon” in 2016 (it currently boasts more than half a billion views on YouTube) is criminally underused. Critics have compared her to the likes of Sia and Rihanna thanks to her sultry, strong vocals; and appeal built on her slick blend of Albanian and English language lyrics.

Bizarrely, on “Live It Up” she adopts a faux-Caribbean accent over the bouncing, Latin-influenced backbeat that none of the singers can keep up with, crooning the slightly nonsensical: “Strength in numbers is a force we can mix/We raise our flags and put our pride on our back/We feelin’ like a champion when we shine our light/We got the power, make a nation correct.”

Nicky Jam, the American singer of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, adds some credibility to the blatant attempt to cash in on the music industry’s current obsession with Latin American music, but the entire song makes zero sense when you remember the World Cup is being held in Russia this year.

When Shakira performed the World Cup song for the South African tournament in 2010, she enlisted South African band Freshlyground and referred to the host nation in the song, which also featured African guitars and a chorus borrowed from “Zangalewa” – the 1986 song by Cameroonian band Golden Sounds, which was a hit in both Africa and also Shakira’s native country of Colombia.

“Live It Up”, in contrast, appears to make little effort to pay any tribute or reference to this year’s host country. As controversial as Russia may be, omitting the nation entirely only draws more attention to it.

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