Among the many dirty secrets set to be exposed when the Olympic Games kick off in Rio this week, there’s one that irks music fans the most. Every fourth summer, we’re presented with incontrovertible evidence that national anthems kind of suck. Hell, every athlete competing this year deserves an honorary medal just for having to sit through the wildly unimaginative “Hino Nacional Brasileiro” at the opening ceremony. (Where’s the squealing Bahian guitar solo, Brazil? Cum on feel the noize!) To be fair, it’s not like “God Save the Queen” or “The Star-Spangled Banner” is any better. Pretty much all of these weirdly jingoistic odes to king and country make us want to stuff flags in our ears.
So we had an idea: Why not let a bunch of musicians choose a new national anthem to represent their home country? Imagine, if you will, a world in which the Dutch rapped “Drank & Drugs” to get pumped before a football game. Better yet, imagine a world in which the Australians swore in a new prime minister to the tune of a song called “Gimme Head”. Yes, we know. This is a good idea.
Not all of the musicians we reached out to had such unconventional responses, and some (Peter Bjorn and John) took the question more seriously than others (here’s looking at you, Hockey Dad). But the world is a quilt stitched together with all kinds of mismatched fabrics. Shouldn’t its nations’ anthems be the same?
Read ahead to see what anthems you’d be hearing in Rio if these artists had their way.
Hockey Dad and Gypsy & The Cat
It’s one thing to propose a replacement for “Advance Australia Fair”, the song that usurped “God Save the Queen” as Australia’s national anthem in 1977 (The year punk broke! And a shit year for Queen Elizabeth II, apparently). But the young Aussie rapscallions in Hockey Dad had to take it a step further, thumbing their nose at the establishment by selecting the Radiators’ “Gimme Head” as their national anthem of choice. A sample lyric: “Gimme head baby/ Gimme head like you did just last night.” If that doesn’t give you a tingling patriotic sensation, maybe their description will: “It’s the perfect mix of cheeky Aussie banter and a solid riff that will get any blue-light disco rocking.”
Another Aussie band, Melbourne dream pop duo Gypsy & The Cat, took the challenge a bit more seriously. They chose “Great Southern Land” by legendary Sydney rockers Icehouse. “Our current anthem is a bit naff and pompous,” they said, “whereas ‘Great Southern Land’ is an inclusive description of the hard and beautiful extremes of the Australian landscape. Australia as a land is rough and rugged, and this song captures that in its sparse synth sounds and simple, descriptive lyrics.”
Rodrigo Brandao of BROOKZILL!
Brazilian MC Rodrigo Brandão knows that his home country isn’t showing its best face to the world at the moment. But he also knows that Brazil has so much more to offer than whatever’s going on in Rio these days, and a by-the-books national anthem like “Hino Nacional Brasileiro” doesn’t do a great job of capturing that. Hell, it has a better chance of capturing a virus just by going for an afternoon swim.
That’s why the member of new collective BROOKZILL! (Brooklyn meets Brazil) has proposed a new anthem for his home country: Martinho da Vila’s “Canta Canta Minha Gente”. He describes the classic 1974 track as “one of those songs that’s so attached to the nation’s DNA that you know the lyrics even without realizing when or how you learned it. The title means ‘Sing Sing My People’, and it’s a shiny samba jam that calls for better days during tough times, just like Brazil is facing right now.”
People don’t normally associate Canada with the feeling of being wild and reckless and free, but America’s neighbor to the north has a lot more to offer than cheap healthcare and cheaper Molson. Shit, something like three-fourths of the country is wilderness! That’s a lot of space in which to bury “O Canada” after we take it out behind the shed and put it out of its bilingual misery.
OK, fine, “O Canada” isn’t all that bad, but Canada is home to way too much good music that deserves a chance to shine in the national spotlight. Look past your Drakes and your Arcade Fires and you’ll stumble across lean, mean bands like Toronto’s July Talk, who won us over (and then some) at this year’s Festival d’été de Québec. When asked to choose a new national anthem for the Great White North, the group’s gravelly vocalist, Peter Dreimanis, didn’t hesitate in selecting Constantines’ “Young Lions”.
“This anthem seems to highlight the experience of growing up in Canada in a way that feels far more honest and liberating than the ordinary explanation of our ‘true north strong and free,’” Dreimanis explains. “Canada is a vast, sparsely populated country, and this song acts as a call to arms for all of the young people across our landscape to ‘climb out the window’ and ‘glow like a beacon fire.’ Just, uh, try not to glow too bright. There are bears out there.
Born in France and raised in Israel, singer-songwriter Yael Naim is pretty much the textbook definition of a world citizen. As if to rub our lack of culture in our stupid faces, she even sings in three languages: English, French, and Hebrew. Naim drew from her worldly perspective to select an alternative to France’s “La Marseillaise”, a song that isn’t even that bad in the first place. It hurt the Nazis’ feelings in Casablanca! France gets all the good stuff.
Anyway, Naim chose Serge Gainsbourg’s “Aux Armes Et Caetera”, which is itself a loosely interpreted reggae version of “La Marseillaise”. “It was very controversial when it was released,” explains Naim, “but has now become a classic for many generations. This song and Serge Gainsbourg himself represent everything we like in our country: musical curiosity, openness to the world, a mix of cultural influences, rebel spirit. Just going on stage after releasing this song was brave at that period. Olympic games like we dream them!”
You want to talk about Olympic countries overrun by corruption and plagued by financial crises (and home to some very nice beaches, too)? Greece is Ground Zero for all that and more, having hosted the Games in 2004 and subsequently descended into something slightly more functional than a failed state. But you know what Greece has that your dumb country doesn’t? Culture. This is the birthplace of civilization, fuckers. It’s too bad they couldn’t find a better national anthem than the “Hymn to Liberty”, which fails to mention popular Greek exports such as yogurt and democracy.
Pop artist Monika is another Greek export, having worked her way up fronting indie bands in her hometown of Athens. She’s also the only artist to choose a song that originated outside her country: Bob Dylan’s underrated classic “Make You Feel My Love”. “Greece, my beautiful country, has been through many difficulties in the past and is in the midst of a nightmare because of the financial crisis,” she says. “It is so small and has had weak moments. But still, it always makes locals and visitors smile, inspiring love, hope and courage.
“There are no words to describe how much I love my country, and I’m sure that all the Greeks around the world would feel the same. We are stubborn, but sweet and romantic on the inside. I want to make you feel that love with this song.”
“Het Wilhelmus” may be the oldest known national anthem in the world, but Dutch electronic artist GANZ (aka Jordy Saämena) doesn’t connect with those stodgy lyrics celebrating William of Nassau. More like Prince of Bore-ange, right? (Excuse me while I find a scenic canal to drown myself in).
The Netherlands may be a small country, but it’s big when it comes to bold ideas. In that tradition, GANZ recommended that his countrymen change their national anthem to “Drank & Drugs”, a wildly popular Dutch hip-hop track by Lil Kleine and Ronnie Flex. “It’s a huge hit in the Netherlands,” he claims. “Little kids and old people know and sing along with the song!” Normally we’d protest, but we’re going to need all the drank and drugs in the world to get through this shitshow in Rio. Bring it on.
Home is a difficult subject for the members of dream pop quartet Yumi Zouma. They’re all originally from Christchurch, but two members have since relocated after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake devastated them in February 2011. And then there was the recent referendum to change the flag from the Union Jack to the Silver Fern, a messy procedure that ultimately failed.
Given all that’s been going on, these Kiwis initially hesitated to pick a new anthem for their country. “It feels uncomfortable to suggest a new national anthem to replace ‘God Defend New Zealand’,” they explained, “especially if we were to replace it with a purely anglophonic pop song as an alternative to an anthem that is usually sung with the first verse in our native language, te reo Māori.” Rather than pick an instantly recognizable song such as The Swingers’ “Counting the Beat” or Dave Dobbyn’s “Slice of Heaven”, they settled on something a bit more traditional. “We put forth ‘E Karanga E Te Iwi E’, a song of welcome, which remembers loved ones who have been lost from the land by war and migration.”
Northern Ireland has it pretty rough in terms of national anthems. As part of the United Kingdom, they’re stuck with “God Saves the Queen”, a song that had already been played to death before the Sex Pistols went ahead and recorded their own, better version in 1977. Drummer Rick McMurray of Northern Irish alt-rock band Ash figures it’s high time for a reboot, if only so his country isn’t laughed off the pitch at their next international football match.
McMurray chose “Teenage Kicks” by Derry’s finest punk rockers The Undertones, which seems like a fine way to tell the Queen to shove it. He describes the 1978 classic as “a song very close to our hearts and the one song we regularly cover. It’s a slice of perfect guitar-pop joy. Coming out of some of the darkest times for Northern Ireland, this is a song which lifted the place out of that misery and showed there was another side to the country.” Like teenage dreams, this one’s hard to beat.
Norway is a country of beautiful fjords, universal healthcare, and massive man-eating trolls, but none of those wonders can match the country’s musical output. These are the folks who invented black metal! Do not fuck with Norway.
Highasakite are a Norwegian indie pop band that’s as far from black metal as the sun is from Oslo in December, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get a say in things. Drummer Trond Bersu doesn’t think his country’s de facto national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”, is the best choice out there, so he offered up another one: Emilie Nicholas’ cover of “Pstereo”, originally by the Norwegian band DumDum Boys. He describes it as “an incredibly strong pop tune from an artist we know and really admire. It´s done with a completely new twist, and it makes us proud of being Norwegian.”
Shut it down. We have a winner. South African rockers Civil Twilight have decided to replace their country’s hybrid national anthem with none other than Toto’s “Africa”, which happens to already be the national anthem of karaoke bars around the world.
The band’s Richard Wouters explains (though, really, he doesn’t have to): “This song, musically, is a great blend of the vibrant ethnicity and cosmopolitan nature of South Africa. It’s a popular song in South Africa, and the lyric is full of perfectly descriptive lines. ‘God bless the rains down in Africa’ is a line that is very close to a line in our official national anthem. Also, being South African and living in another country, this song always makes us feel nostalgic and slightly homesick. ‘It takes a lot to drag me away from you. Nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.’ Africa gets in your blood.
Peter Bjorn and John
Peter Bjorn and John hail from the land of Abba and Ace of Base and Robyn, a place so dedicated to the pursuit of pop perfection that these three scruffy dudes probably qualify as punks in their hometown of Stockholm. So what’s the song they chose for their new national anthem? Broder Daniel’s “When We Were Winning”, a triumphant indie rock anthem that sounds like Bruce Springsteen fronting Manic Street Preachers. “Call Your Girlfriend” it is not, but it’s a hell of a lot better than “Du gamla, Du fria”.
The guys picked the song because it has “nostalgia, melancholy, and some sort of hope for the future.” They were also quick to point out that nobody really gives a shit about national anthems outside the Olympics, anyway. “Since the best and maybe the only good use of national anthems is around sport events, the lyrics work perfectly,” they note. “It’s also a fantastic anthem for all the invisible, struggling, real heroes in the world.”