Do National Anthems have to Sound the Same?

Today’s New York Times did a piece – the World Cup of Anthems – that highlighted how the different Cup winner national songs have been celebrated and sung. It was good and interesting but missed one of the silliest things about national anthems: they all sound the same.

I first got to thinking about this thanks to ESPNs excellent World Cup iPhone app. It includes the anthems for the 32 countries that made it to South Africa. Regardless of where in the world they were from they’re ALL THE SAME. All of them sound like they were written in Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I can accept this for the European countries but ALL of them? Please, there have got to be some good local composers who could have infused some local color and culture into these turgid marches.

When I started playing Fifa South Africa on the XBOX 360 the universe of absurd anthems really opened up. The game has anthems for every Fifa member. Nearly 200 of them. And once again, as I let my cursor skip around the world, I heard it again and again – 19th century European marching music.

Don’t believe me?

How about we hear from a few of the nations themselves. Thailand, how does your national anthem sound?

Now, half a world away, it’s time for Costa Rica:

Iceland is much colder than either Thailand or Costa Rica. Maybe that means they’re national anthem is different too.

Well, it’s slower, you have to give it that . . .

Now Peru:

From the mountains of South America to the dry Arabian Peninsula:

No nation or geography seems to be immune to this inexplicable trend. That’s not quite true, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Hats off the countries willing to make a stand and try something different.



And to be honest, those are pretty much the ONLY TWO I came across that didn’t sound THE SAME. I’m not saying I listened to all of them but I listened to enough not to want to listen to any more. I’m sure someone out there has a catalog of all the most awesome anthems in the world. Maybe they’ll share the link so my faith the creative capabilities of humanity can be restored. Until that happens I’m going to assume that we hit our musical apogee back in 1870. And please, say it ain’t so . . .