There’s an old joke about a guy saying he likes country music so someone gives him a CD filled with national anthems. I can’t find the meme anywhere otherwise I would give better credit to whoever said that, but regardless it’s hilarious and it’s not my original thought.
But it got me thinking. What if national anthems weren’t a thing and countries got to pick what played when an athlete from that country won gold? Then I realized that there’s probably a lot of music that we as Americans never hear because it’s in the other country’s native tongue so they’re not songs we’d know anyway. But then I remembered that most other countries have a sizable portion of the populace that listens to English music and so I should just quit thinking about this so much and get to the substance of the article.
So here’s what I did: I looked up the top 10 gold medal countries from the 2016 Olympics, picked a song that would be more fitting as a national anthem for them, and made this list.
United States of America: Muddy Waters, “Mannish Boy”
2016 Medal Count: 126 (46 Gold)
There a lot of things I love about being American, but living in a country that consistently brings home a lot of Olympic medals is definitely one of the things I hold most dear. Which is why I really wanted a song that represented America as a place and as a culture. “Born in the USA” would be a popular pick but the lyrics are actually quite the bummer, plus the title is a little on the nose. So I went with “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters. Why? Because it’s blues, which is a decidedly American genre of music. It’s also a song about a man with a lot of swagger who basically tells everyone he’s the best at stuff then proves he is, in fact, the best at stuff. Plus, how good would that riff sound coming through those huge speakers they have at the Olympics? It’s big, it’s brash, it’s in-your-face, it’s loud, and it’s all about how awesome the singer is, so that sounds like America to me.
Great Britain: Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust”
2016 Medal Count: 67 (27 Gold)
You know why it’s this and not “We Are the Champions”? Because it would be very British of the committee deciding the new national anthem to say something like “doesn’t ‘We Are the Champions’ come across as braggish and ever so slightly…American?” And then three men, all named Nigel, would shout “bloody hell, you’re right! We cannot allow the world to colour us as ruddy Yanks!” Then they’d all probably just eat bad candy and drink tea while watching a Man U/Man City game instead of the Olympics. But “Another One Bites the Dust” is also a song about victory, and again has a great riff that would play well on a pedestal. The only thing I know for sure is that whatever song was chosen, it’d be a Queen song. Sure, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Oasis, etc. are all great bands, but no one—no one—had the level of casual confidence that Freddie Mercury had, may he rest in peace.
China: The Police, “Every Breath You Take”
2016 Medal Count: 70 (26 Gold)
This song sounds sweet and protective but is actually about a stalker spying on an otherwise innocent person. I wonder if there’s some huge government that does that routinely in the name of “security?” I mean, I suppose the USA and most other major countries do it to some extent, but no one does it quite like China. This has a catchy riff, and the sort of possessiveness that athletes have about medals. “Oh can’t you see you belong to me?” Doesn’t that sound like how some Party member would speak to the poor Chinese fencing team or something? “If you don’t bring that medal back to me, you might find yourself ‘lost without a trace.'” I don’t know. It just seems like a very stalkery song for a very stalkery country.
Russia: Audio of the Apollo Creed/Ivan Drago Fight from Rocky IV
2016 Medal Count: 56 (19 Gold)
I’ve talked before about how Rocky IV is the best Rocky movie and is one of the best patriotic movies ever made. But let’s not forget that until that final fight between Rocky and Drago, everything’s coming up Russia. The biggest pro-Russia moment is when Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed in what was supposed to be a slightly lighthearted showcase fight. Don’t get me wrong, if I was Drago and I saw Apollo coming out in a star-spangled top hat and robe, dancing while James Brown sings “Living in America,” I’d be pissed, too. But still, it was supposed to be a fun fight. But not for Drago. He’s upset. He talks some mad shit in an accent (“You vill lose”), then goes out there and FREAKING KILLS APOLLO CREED? What? But at the same time, I could absolutely believe that Vladimir Putin watches this scene before every conference call with an American head of state. And standing on the podium while the audio of this plays, listening to Apollo Creed getting his ass kicked and listening to Tony Burton scream “THROW THE DAMN TOWEL!” would be pretty intense and a weird power play that only Russia could get away with.
Germany: David Hasselhoff, “Looking for Freedom”
2016 Medal Count: 42 (17 Gold)
Germany feels very bad about World War II and the Berlin Wall. They really do. I’ve been there, I’ve spoken with a lot of Germans, and a lot of them still seem incredibly embarrassed about the whole thing. I understand their embarrassment, I guess, but it’s not like many people alive today were around helping Hitler commit unspeakable atrocities. But all of that is to say that Germany would absolutely pick a song by a pseudo-German that praises freedom and liberty and all the crap Germany didn’t like for several years in the 1930s and 1940s. Dirk Nowitzki famously said he hummed this song while shooting free throws to clear his mind, and even sang it on a German TV show once. Wild, right? And then there’s the true pièce de résistance: Freakin’ Hasselhoff sang this song ON TOP OF THE BERLIN WALL on New Years Eve 1989. Come on, man. That is so, so German.
Japan, Super Mario Bros. Theme Song
2016 Medal Count: 41 (12 Gold)
Japan has made countless contributions to the world in the form of electronics. Of course, they’ve made plenty of contributions to the world that were no electronics, but I think we can safely say that the electronic/technology boom that began in the 1980s was largely fueled by the Japanese. Sony, Nintendo, Mitsubishi, Nikon, Fujitsu, Brother, Canon, Casio, Olympus, Pioneer, Hitachi, and Yamaha were just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. And, of course, there’s Nintendo. My grandparents called every video game console on earth a Nintendo. We had a Nintendo Playstation, and Nintendo Sega Genesis, and several actual Nintendo products. And Super Mario Bros. was a game we played religiously growing up. Mario has an instantly recognizable theme song that is highly associated with Japan and I think would actually make a decent substitute foe a national anthem.
France: Dido, “White Flag”
2016 Medal Count: 42 (10 Gold)
Get it? Because of the surrendering. Remember when The Simpsons referred to the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys?” That was a great time. This song has a name that means “surrender” but in actuality is about not surrendering. What about that isn’t French? France has a long history of being teased for surrendering in World War II but in fact, according to British historian Niall Ferguson, France has the most successful military in history. Crazy, right? But in all seriousness, I do love this song, and I love Dido, and I was glad France made the list because I instantly knew this would be their song. Plus, I found out Dido’s mother descended from a family of French poets, so it actually kind of has an actual French connection. (I’ll be honest, I was also trying to figure out a way to use the phrase “French connection” in this article, too, because that’s a great movie).
South Korea: Psy, “Gangnam Style”
2016 Medal Count: 21 (9 Gold)
In 2012 you would walk into literally any business and hear “Gangnam Style” playing. It was everywhere. Gyms, bars, banks, schools, grocery stores, Home Depot, and probably even funeral parlors. And the video went viral. Then Psy was on Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel and sang at some award shows or something. He was everywhere. Then there was a surge of K-Pop artists being more popular in America, for which Psy deserves a lot of credit. But it’s a fun song, the lyrics are mostly in Korean, and South Korea seems like the kind of country that would really lean into the popularity of the song. As an aside, I watched this video like three times while writing this and it’s just as weird and wonderful as I remember it being.
Italy: Frank Sinatra, “My Way”
2016 Medal Count: 28 (8 Gold)
Frank Sinatra had a golden voice and didn’t write any of his own songs. He’s also American, but to be fair he was born to Italian immigrants in New Jersey. Italy probably would choose this because it’s a somewhat arrogant song and was done by a guy with an Italian last name. Sure, Dean Martin had more songs with Italian words and themes in them, but “Dean Martin” sounds like a Canadian accountant and not a slick Italian ladies’ man, so here we are. Of course, there’s also a chance Italy wouldn’t even get the song choice submitted in time. Seriously, I’ve had the great fortune to spend a little time in Italy and everything opened late and closed early. No one is or was punctual. Even my flights were late, and one of those times it was due to someone missing their turn to take off at the airport and causing a huge backup. Italy: Love the food, love the culture, love the people, hate the general disregard of time.
Australia: Men at Work, “Down Under”
2016 Medal Count: 29 (8 Gold)
Look, Australia loves this song. There’s even an entry on the song’s Wikipedia page about it’s cultural significance in Australia. It’s also already associated with sports because it was used by an Australian sailing team as motivation to win the 1983 America’s Cup, whatever that is. The song itself is catchy, mentions Vegemite, and generally has a lot of great Australian spirit. Colin Hay, lead singer and songwriter for Men at Work, has said the song is actually a protest song about how people were overdeveloping and ruining the Australian landscape. It couldn’t be any other song, though. Right? I mean, other Australian songs include “Who Can it Be Now,” all of the AC/DC songs from the Bon Scott years, “Touch Myself” by the Divinyls, and “I Want You” by Savage Garden, which despite the name is a band that does not rock very hard even a little bit. Sure, some of the early AC/DC songs would make good candidates, but at the end of the day if you’re talking about Aussie music, you’re talking about Men at Work’s “Down Under.”
So there’s your list. What do you think? If you have some feed back find us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!