Mono-Genre Watch: Pitbull Riles the World Cup

pitbull-we-are-oneWhen it comes to mixing music forms with no regard for the autonomy or integrity of the respective genres, Latin rapper Pitbull is popular music’s prime culprit. As evidenced in the massive hit “Timber” performed with pop star Ke$ha, his willingness to take the boiled-down shuck of just about every genre and mash them together for maximum Top 40 appeal has no bounds. Recently Pitbull’s handiwork surfaced on a remix of country star Jerrod Niemann’s heavily EDM-influenced hit “Drink To That All Night”, and the rumor mill has a video for the remix being released soon.

With Pitbull’s massive world success and popularity, it is no wonder he was tapped to perform the theme song for the upcoming World Cup being held in Brazil called “We Are One (Ole Ola)”, but the decision and the song itself is not sitting well with many Brazilians and others around the world concerned about the presentation of Brazilian culture through the soccer tournament, which will undoubtedly put the South American country at center stage for the rest of the world.

The United States is notorious for exporting it’s monoculture to other countries, but in such a moment of nationalistic pride as hosting the World Cup, it has made the situation especially concerning for the host nation. Despite being a South American country, Brazil’s primary language is Portuguese, not Spanish, which neither Pitbull, born and raised in Miami, nor his duet partner on the song, Jennifer Lopez, sing in fluently. Furthermore the song seems to disregard Brazil’s bossa-nova style of music for a more Americanized take on Spanish-style samba, subverted by Pitbull’s rapping, EDM influences, and a general lack of Brazilian flavor, aside from a final stanza sung in Portuguese by one of Brazil’s popular stars, Claudia Leitte. “We Are One (Ole Ola)” was written by Pitbull with help from eight other credited songwriters.

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Pitbull w/ Claudia Leitte

No different than American country music fans concerned about the influences of other genres creeping into their music, or American hip-hop fans concerned about the same thing, Brazilian culture feels challenged by “We Are One (Ole Ola)”, and other songs on the official World Cup album being released by Sony called One Love, One Rhythm. Most of the songs’ lyrics are in English or Spanish, and non Brazilian artists like Avicii, Santana, and Wyclef Jean make appearances while native Brazilians are only given token moments to sing in their native tongue.

“The music of the World Cup is not very Brazilian,” the former chairman of South and Central America for EMI Music Marcelo Castello Branco tells Billboard. “The ball is on the ground, and anything may happen, but I do not think we have, so far, any Brazilian repertoire that has a true chance to be a hit – not locally, not internationally. The feeling is that we all lost a huge opportunity to show the world a new Brazil, musically speaking ….”

Part of the problem is the prevalence of misconceptions about Brazil. Many around the world assume they’re a Spanish-speaking country, and despite not being seen as a global superpower, Brazil has a population of nearly 200 million, and is the world’s 8th largest music market. However unlike many counties, Brazil’s musical culture remains mostly autonomous from the rest of the world. 90% of popular music in Brazil is from Brazil, and many of Brazil’s big stars do not pursue careers outside the country.

Meanwhile Jennifer Lopez has canceled her appearance at the World Cup opening game to sing the controversial “We Are One (Ole Ola)” with Pitbull on Thursday in Sao Paulo, and many are predicting a rain of boos for the performance.

The United States and European perspective regularly lumps music from around the world together as “World Music,” offering no distinction between Brazilian bossa-nova, and African-inspired calypso for example. And as Pitbull and “We Are One (Ole Ola)” are proving, the mono-genre is not just a problem for North America, but is at risk of being exported to the rest of the world.