Remember hearing the song over and over again? Of course you do
Home Rugby World Cups don’t come around very often, and so when it returned to the ‘home’ of rugby in 2015, it was clear that host broadcaster ITV was going to go large with it.
Who can forget the opening ceremony intro film – a veritable mainlining of the William Webb Ellis myth, starring future Sex Education gem Asa Butterfield as the man himself. With production values that Midsomer Murders could only dream of, and even a Prince Harry cameo for crying out loud (what odds would you get for a repeat for 2023 I wonder?), it was clear no expense was being spared.
But stylised renditions of patently fictional origin stories are only good for the opening ceremony. If ITV wanted this to be the most memorable World Cup ever, they needed to inject their coverage with something truly iconic, and what better way to do that than with the Poundland Amy Winehouse/Home Bargains Adele that is Paloma Faith recording a brand new rendition of that most iconic of rugby anthems, World In Union.
I know. I know what you’re going to say and I agree. We all agree. There was even a 10,000-signature petition that showed how much we all agree that the very worst thing about the 2015 event – even more than the weird Xenomorph Egg POTM trophies – was Faith absolutely butchering that most sacred of rugby songs.
But did she? Certainly when you compare it to Kiri Te Kanawa’s original version in 1991 (which somehow made it to number 4 in the UK charts) it’s not exactly traditional – but that was, you imagine, the point.
Rather than hand it over to a safe pair of hands like Russell Watson or, I dunno… Claire from Steps… they chose to give the song to an artist that, it’s worth remembering, was at the height of her zeitgeisty appeal back in 2015.
Just over a year earlier, she’s had her first (and currently only) UK top ten single, she won the BRIT award for Best Female Solo Artist in 2015, and her brand of sultry, throwback balladry seemed precision engineered to appeal to men of a certain age (the sort of men who also watch a lot of rugby).
On paper then, adding a bit of retro-crooner pizzazz to The World In Union was a good idea… except that, as we all now know, it wasn’t.
From the moment ITV booted up their 2015 coverage with the singer clad in a sleek evening gown crooning into a vintage microphone – cut into increasingly weird vignettes of RWC iconography (the haka in front of Warwick Castle, Takudzwa Ngwenya burning Bryan Habana down a cobbled Hovis-advert street, Johnny Wilkinson dropping a goal over Nelson’s Column) – the rumblings began that ITV’s bold gambit had backfired massively.
In truth, however, if the only thing we’d seen and heard of Faith’s version of the song had been in the opening to that first show – and indeed as the opening track of the RWC2015 official album (the RFU had promised the IRB a £300 million windfall from the tournament don’t forget) – rumblings of discontent might be all we’d ever heard.
Becoming a Paloma Faith jingle
But of course it wasn’t. ITV had paid a fair chunk of cash to get one of the UK’s biggest pop stars on their books, and they weren’t going to waste it. And that, friends, is where the wheels come off.
Instead, someone at ITV – who presumably had ‘DJ, Guantanamo Bay’ lurking somewhere in their CV’s employment history – decided that not only would we be inflicted with Paloma’s version at the start of every ITV broadcast for every single one of the 48 matches, but crucially, we’d also have to hear tiny snippets of the song at the start and end of every single one of the network’s commercial breaks.
That is why you hate it. Because every time they cut to the adverts for 44 days you had to hear that same goddamn “A new dayyyyy hasssss beeeee-guuuuuuunnnnn” from Paloma Faith and it makes you want to tear your own face off just thinking about it. Because they turned a song into a jingle.
It forced us, as a viewing public, to deconstruct what didn’t need to be deconstructed. To become intimately familiar with every syllable of the track in a way that very few pieces of music can really stand up to. Even the singer herself, while defending the track, told the Telegraph that, “I think they don’t like it because it’s being played too much.”
That’s why you were much less offended by (and indeed probably forgot all about) Emile Sandé’s 2019 version – because ITV learned the lessons of 2015 and gave the song much less prominence.
Back in 2015, it also probably didn’t help that, from an England fan’s perspective at least, those jingles were the painful exclamation points that peppered your team’s slow motion car crash of a humiliating pool-stage exit. There was a lot of misdirected anger flying around England at that point (just ask Andy Farrell and Stu Lancaster) and no doubt Paloma copped a fair share of it from England fans in the midst of a Dan Biggar-induced existential breakdown.
Because if you go back and listen to the song – the whole song – with eight years of headspace between you and the trauma of having the same four-second snippets inflicted on you day in, day out for six weeks… it’s not that bad. It’s not good, of course, but then World In Union is fundamentally a bad song, so what do you expect?
And before you say anything, you don’t like World In Union – you like Thaxted from Holst’s The Planets, or if you’re a Songs Of Praise viewer, I Vow To Thee My Country.
The World In Union is a shameless piece of commercially-contrived tosh created by a gun-for-hire who has exploited the weird niche of sticking bad lyrics on top of wonderful pieces of classical music.
Even its title is the sort of terrible wordplay that can only have come from the worst kind of boardroom brainstorming session. “You see Sandra, it’s actually very clever – we are rugby union, and we’re bringing together the world… IN UNION geddit? Anyway, shall we call that lunch?”
There’s no rousing emotion there, no inspirational wordplay. Just a bland corporate calling card. Paloma Faith didn’t ruin World In Union. You can’t break what was never whole in the first place.
You want to listen to Thaxted and experience some real emotion? Stick on Bluey’s superlative ‘Sleepytime’ episode and be prepared to ugly-cry your insides out. That’s the power of a great tune, but that’s got nothing to do with World In Union.
Paloma Faith just did a job for hire for ITV, who then carpet-bombed our brains with a perfectly reasonable song until we hated every part of it. On reflection, that’s the only crime she’s actually guilty of here.
That, and the way she sings, “It’s the WARLD in YEW-NEE-YUNNNN” at the end of the track. There’s no defending that. Sorry.
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