By SAM BORDEN
PARIS — In a sporting sense, the European soccer championship is a gathering of tremendous talent, artful craftsmen and bubbling drama, a delicious recipe that produces one of the most remarkable events on the calendar.
The extraordinary nature of the soccer, however, is surpassed by the extraordinary nature of its soundtrack. For in a musical sense, the European Championships are a gathering of bizarrely discordant overtures, cheesy riffs, synthesizers and, quite often, rhymes that schoolchildren would struggle to comprehend.
And yet it is all somehow irresistible.
Let me explain: Major soccer tournaments, whether the World Cup or the Euros, regularly inspire a menagerie of songs from the participating countries. Some are official anthems, contracted specifically for the tournament by national federations; others are unofficial tracks, recorded and produced by opportunistic musicians (or, often, misguided enthusiasts who maybe once got a guitar for Christmas).
As you might imagine, the quality of these tunes varies widely. So, much like slam poetry or one of those incredibly tiny microhouses, these songs typically inspire a passionate reaction from a small segment of the population, while the rest of the world does not really see the appeal at all.
This summer’s collection is particularly piquant. Hungary’s Euro 2016 anthem, for example, is an updated version of a pop song called “The Night Will Never Come to an End” by the group Soho Party, which, after breaking up more than a decade ago, reunited solely for this composition. The track is peppy and quick — and, in its original version, has a video that appears to showcase a variety of people dancing vigorously after committing an armed robbery — while also being inspirational.
Soho Party – Az éjjel soha nem érhet véget
Video by BSE86
“Make a nice miracle to us,” the refrain goes. “Fly with us on the wings of love / The trip is starting / You’ve waited just for this.”
Gergo Szabo, a communications executive with the Hungarian national team, explained.
“The story is that the games are in the evening,” he said. “If the team wins, then the supporters celebrate all night, so this is why the night should never come to an end, because in this case, it means that national team achieved something great.”
Other songs are more strident. Ukraine’s official song, titled “Riding Cossacks” and performed by the group Shadow of the Sun, sounds a bit like a folk ballad infused with a dollop of grunge rock. The lead singer, Serhij Vasyliuk, seems to be channeling a young Eddie Vedder (if Pearl Jam, for some reason, had chosen to record a deep catalog of Irish rebel music).
In a television interview, Mr. Vasyliuk said the song was about the return of heroes — including heroes from several centuries ago — and described the piece as “a romantic song, also a patriotic song, also a historical song.”
He added, “I love Ukrainian football.”
Many of the other official songs are in the rock-ish, cheerleader mold. Austria’s, “Das sind wir (This Is Us),” is performed by the group Schmidhammer (you may remember the group from its previous hit “Molto Sexuale”). The song is relentlessly upbeat, repeating over and over (and over and over) that Austria has “never been stronger, never been harder, never been better,” before closing with the soulful promise, “one for all — ever alone / No matter what happens / That will always be so.”
Sweden’s official song, by comparison, more closely resembles its star player, the brash scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Performed by the Swedish rapper Frej Larsson, “Mitt team (My Team)” is a more frantic club song with an aggressive bass line; lots and lots of people (including Mr. Ibrahimovic) saying, “My team,” in Swedish, as an overlay to the beat; and a mesmerizing video that features reindeer, helicopters and a person bungee jumping with what is revealed to be a parachute that looks like the Swedish flag.
Mitt team – Sveriges officiella kamplåt till fotbolls- EM 2016
Video by criei 7
Some songs have been controversial. France’s choice, a remake of Kiss’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” by the group Skip the Use, drew stinging criticism almost immediately after its release. The vitriol, unfortunately, was not focused on the edits made to the bizarre lyrics — example: “Tonight I want to give it all to you / In the darkness / There’s so much I want to do / Oh tonight I want to lay it at your feet / ’Cuz team, I was made for you” — but rather the language in which the song was recorded.
Using English, instead of French, for the official team song was “very concerning,” according to André Vallini, who is France’s minister of state for development and Francophonie, or promotion of the French language. Mr. Vallini said the tournament was an opportunity to show off France and its culture to the world, so “it is therefore incomprehensible that the anthem of the French national team should be in English.”
Britain and Ireland, of course, have a long history — good and bad — of soccer tournament songs, and this summer produced an eclectic crop. Wales’s official song, by the Manic Street Preachers, is the expected bouncy and sharp rock performance — although an unofficial track, released by the indie punk band Helen Love, has also received significant acclaim for its homage to the star attacker Gareth Bale.
Despite a somewhat pedestrian rhyme scheme — “We’re going to France / We’ve got a chance / We cannot fail / Gareth Bale” — the song is nonetheless energizing. Welsh fans in search of a trippier experience can also sample the work of the group Super Furry Animals (yes, that is the band’s real name), which released a new version of a Euros song titled “Bing Bong” that is vaguely psychedelic and, frankly, terrifyingly catchy.
England, despite being responsible for the timeless “Three Lions,” which went to No. 1 on the British charts 20 years ago and largely focuses on the slew of English failures in major tournaments, did not commission an official anthem for this tournament.
Still, there are scads of unofficial England songs. The one receiving the most attention, “We Are England,” was composed by Shaun Ryder (formerly of the Happy Mondays), Paul Oakenfold, Kermit and Goldie, who are calling themselves Four Lions. It features a chorus that is unforgettable (mostly because it is five words repeated a lot): “We’re England ’til we die / Until we die / Until we die /We’re England ’til we die / Until we die / Until we die.”
Four Lions – We Are England
Video by FourLionsVEVO
Scrutiny of the Four Lions’ lyrics is justified, if only because a few of the group’s members are responsible for what many consider to be the greatest turn of phrase in the annals of tournament anthem history.
The song, which went to No. 6 on the British charts, was clubby and sharp and included this verse, which is simultaneously simplistic and sophisticated, and espouses a sentiment that many artists have tried (and failed) to match ever since:
There’s a fella in the middle
And I think he’s pulling my string
My wife’s lactating
And I’m spectating
It’s a football thing.