Monday, February 6

This World Cup’s off-field entertainment has been… strange

The Super Bowl half-time show is a ridiculously over-the-top event, but you cannot deny it is always exciting to watch.

Earlier this year, when the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals, hip-hop royalty Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Anderson Paak all performed at the sold-out 70,000-seater SoFi Stadium in California and there was a television audience of around 112 million people.

The next edition of the NFL’s showpiece event takes place on February 12 and the headline act will be nine-time Grammy Award winner Rihanna. The singer is performing live for the first time in five years before the release of her upcoming ninth studio album.


Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg were among the high-profile performers at this year’s Super Bowl (Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

According to official figures from FIFA, 1.12billion people watched France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final. Those numbers completely dwarf the Super Bowl, so you would expect there to be superstars of a similar status at the closing ceremony in the minutes before this year’s final.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy takes responsibility for organising infrastructure, accommodation and transport in Qatar, but FIFA is in charge of the entertainment options.

It has called the closing ceremony ‘A Night to Remember’ and it will “reference the world coming together for the 29 days of the tournament through poetry and music”.

Davido, Aisha, Ozuna, Gims, Nora Fatehi, Balqees, Rahma Riad and Manal, who are featured on the competition’s official soundtrack, will take to the stage before France try to defend their title against Argentina, but it is fair to say they are nowhere near as big a draw as Dr Dre and Rihanna.

The opening ceremony had a little more prestige as it was narrated by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and featured Jungkook from the South Korean music group BTS.

However, overall, the entertainment at the World Cup has been strange and underwhelming. There has been a huge variety, and that would be understandable if FIFA was trying to ensure it had acts that represented the cultural identity of all 32 competing teams, but their approach has felt scattergun.

Before every match, DJs have attempted to hype up the crowds with a limited degree of success. They have clearly been given a very strict set list as they only play songs from the soundtrack plus a few others including Love Me Again by John Newman.

The Black Eyed Peas’ 2009 hit I Gotta Feeling is blasted out over the speakers a few minutes before kick-off when the stadium lights are cut and the announcers encourage everybody to get the lights on their phones out. They follow that up with a dizzying light show that should probably come with a health warning.

Volunteers have rolled out a huge inflatable World Cup trophy at every match and combined it with pyrotechnics effects. It is a clever sequence, but it loses its charm after the fifth time you have seen it.

The Mad Stuntman appeared at half-time in both of the semi-finals. He is best known for being a member of the hip-hop group Reel 2 Real and performed their track I Like to Move It, which was released in 1994. The problem is there is an entire generation of people who are only familiar with the song because it is remixed by a group of lemurs in the family film series Madagascar, which meant it was hard to take seriously.

The Mad Stuntman is not the only artist from the 1990s FIFA called up for a World Cup renaissance. Chesney Hawkes, who went to the top of the UK charts with a song called The One and Only in 1991 but has not released an album since 2012, performed at half-time during the group stage match between England and Wales.


Chesney Hawkes was an unexpected entertainment choice at the England v Wales game (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Boyzlife, which is a project by former Boyzone member Keith Duffy and ex-Westlife star Brian McFadden, has made a few appearances too.

The most bizarre performance of the tournament, though, belongs to Julian Marley, the son of reggae icon Bob Marley. Julian sang Get Up, Stand Up — written by his father in response to political unrest in the Caribbean — during the quarter-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands. The track contains the lyrics ‘get up, stand up, stand up for your right’, but instead of being a touching tribute, it felt like a cruel joke was being aimed towards the migrant workers who have lost their lives helping to deliver this tournament.

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The entertainment outside the stadiums has generally been better as supporters have been able to attend more than 90 special events including music festivals, cultural displays, film screenings and street performances.

There are small stages in the vicinity of all eight grounds and after Argentina knocked out Australia in the last-16, thousands of supporters partied next to the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. In the Doha Design District, which is near the Souq Waqif, there is an art installation that pays tribute to South American football and has a mural of Neymar and Lionel Messi.

The FIFA Fan Festival, which has been held at Al Bidda Park, managed to secure bigger names than the opening or closing ceremonies — Diplo, Calvin Harris and Sean Paul have all featured. The W Hotel has hosted Jason Derulo, Craig David, Peggy Gou and Ne-Yo, while Robbie Williams and Akon performed at the Doha Golf Club.

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Even the FIFA Legends Cup, which featured Alessandro Del Piero, Kaka, Roberto Carlos and Javier Zanetti, had a ceremony before the final that featured a dance troupe and a marching band.

There has been no clear strategy for the music and entertainment at this year’s World Cup. Nobody is suggesting it becomes as ludicrously extravagant as the Super Bowl, but with a little more effort, it could have been a greater celebration of culture, which is supposed to be what this competition is all about.

(Top photo: Elsa/Getty Images)





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