We're short on time before the opening ceremonies begin at the 2022 Winter Olympics. But we wanted to know: Which successful Winter Olympics powerhouse has the best anthem? We assessed the instrumentals and lyrics of the anthems for the 15 nations with the most medals at the most recent Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
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It may go without saying, but the rankings below are all subjective, from an American’s point of view, and are not to be taken too seriously. After all, we just downward slalomed into a third calendar year of quarantine madness.
Truly, we’re in no way qualified to do this, but here are our thoughts, straight off the dome.
15. United States
Listen. I’m not just being a hater for hater’s sake, OK? And I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. You are, of course, allowed to like the U.S. national anthem. You don’t need my permission.
But, musically, it’s kind of a roller coaster. It spans a huge vocal range, and too often we hear it performed by a solo vocalist with little or no accompaniment.
Some people (Whitney Houston was one) can nail it, brass band or not, but other singers are flexing way too much. What do you mean, “ho oh ohhohohohohoohme of the brave?” Just sing “home of the brave'' and be done with it! Not everyone can be Whitney.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” is about a flag that lingered through a fiery battle over 200 years ago. Other anthems depict the majesty of the nation’s land and the strength of its people. Why isn’t “America the Beautiful” our anthem instead?
“Kimi Ga Yo” calls for the long reign of the Japanese emperor “until the pebbles grow into boulders lush with moss.” Today though, the emperor is a largely ceremonial position and is not part of the Japanese government.
Knowing that history, I think “Kimi Ga Yo” sounds like your parents forcing you to make a toast to some relative you barely know.
The Danish anthem “Het Wilhelmus” originated in the mid-1500s. And it sounds like it. Some versions can be pretty hymn-y.
I will say something nice about it: Dutch violin phenom André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra really made it pop and dazzled a crowd in the above recording.
As an outsider looking in, I have a tough time unpacking all of the history when it reminds me so much of church. It’s certainly a source of national pride and a place for Rieu to show off his talent. But it’s not, as the kids say, a bop. My apologies to the Dutch; I hope I am still permitted to visit someday.
12. Czech Republic
The first stanza of “Kde domov můj,” (English: “Where is My Home”) has been the sole component of the Czech national anthem since 1993, when Czechoslovakia split in two. We love to see appreciation of nature in the piece, and it’s a source of pride for Czechs.
That said, it’s opera. Works better as a poem.
“Du Gamla, Du Fria” (English: “Thou Ancient, Thou Free”) offers plenty of Scandinavian themes: forests, mountains, beautiful skies, fighting to defend the land.
There’s little to say that couldn’t be said about others anthems: a poem grafted onto music. It delivers the message, but I’m not going to hum it. Verdict: not a bop.
Musically, some parts remind me of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," a solid holiday track. Otherwise, not as remarkable as Norwegian Olympians’ historic dominance in winter sports.
If you are French or otherwise have pro-France sensibilities, please stop reading here and skip ahead! I think Kylian Mbappé is a legend!
The Evening Standard in London referred to France’s national anthem as “bloodthirsty,” and it’s hard to disagree. The imagery in the lyrics of “La Marseillaise” is rated M for Mature - Blood.
Did I listen to this while I had a splitting headache? Yes. Did the bombastic horns make the headache worse? Also yes. Do I know any French vocabulary that I didn’t learn from The Talking Heads? No.
I will say something nice about it: It’s good at sending a message.
I'm slightly worried about the consequences for me, but I have reached a verdict on La Marseillaise. C'est no bop.
Lyrically, Norway’s "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" (English: "Yes, We Love This Country") is pretty Metal, with its full version reviewing some of the bloodiest moments in the nation’s past.
The most commonly sung stanzas are more tame, talking about “rugged, storm-scarred” land and the nation’s warriors who are ready to defend it.
Joseph Haydn composed Germany’s national anthem in 1797, and the lyrics were attached in 1841. Today, only the anthem’s third stanza is used, and it urges Germans to flourish in the nation. That’s nice!
Musically, the brass instruments carry the song back to a common place. It’s got consistency and gets the job done before a sporting event. Not a favorite, but not bad.
“Maamme,” the unofficial Finnish anthem, is an anomaly. As a choral-only piece like in the video above, it’s great. But once you hear it with the full orchestra, it starts to blend together with all the rest.
Lyrically, the the 2022 Winter Olympics host’s national anthem “Yìyǒngjūn Jìnxíngqǔ” (English: “March of the Volunteers”) uses an active voice. At multiple points, it urges the audience to "get up" and “march on.”
In 1940, American singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson recorded English and Mandarin covers of the anthem and sent the proceeds to benefit Chinese charities.
Oh, Canada, how you remind us of the name of your country. (I’m also reminded how bitter I am over the result of the 2010 men’s hockey final). The listener is reminded that Canada is in the North, it is loved, and people are standing on guard.
Lyrically, a little uninspiring. But it’s fun to hum!
4. South Korea
Some orchestral renditions of “Aegukga,” South Korea’s anthem, give the same soaring feeling as a great blockbuster movie soundtrack. The nation’s people have been through a lot, and the song depicts the Korean people as resolute and steadfast in standing up for their nation.
Also, you can see BTS shortly after the 1-minute mark in this national anthem video released in 2019.
A great chorus can take a national athem far. Big emphasis on loving the landscape. Mozart did this one, so you know it’s good.
The pacing of the horns in “Il canto degli Italiani” (English: “Song of the Italians”) makes it stand out from the rest of the pack. The video above shows the Italian men's national soccer team singing the anthem at a game and you can see the players getting emotional.
There’s a lot of references to death in here, which feels very 2022.
When I was a kid, we had the “Mr. Bean” DVD boxset, and the choral-only version of this kinda reminds me of that show, which I watched too many times. Not unlike the intro to the BBC silent comedy starring Rowan Atkinson, the Swiss anthem provides a pretty powerful sound, thanks to neat harmonies.
It’s called the “Swiss Psalm,” so its Christian-themed lyrics come as no surprise. But it does mention the Alps, and winter sports happen there, so props to the Swiss for staying on theme.
Honorable Mention: Jamaica
Look, we know Jamaica is not going to top the overall medal charts in Beijing this year, but it’s exciting to see a Jamaican four-man bobsled team back for the first time in 24 years.
And that anthem! “Jamaica, Land We Love” builds anticipation with a drum intro, carries everything with a bassline. Plus, some uplifting brass in the background, and rhyming, metered lyrics. Definitely a bop!
There’s a camaraderie and hope for the future in the lyrics. All of this combined together would help the Jamaican anthem get into first place if it were eligible for our highly technical ranking.