OPINION: Was Rod Stewart's America's Cup song a waste of taxpayer money or a perfect piece of art for our times? Joel Kulasingham reviews the "Rock the Dock" video.
The most captivating moment of the America's Cup seemed to happen in slow motion, like all great sporting moments do.
American Magic circled the race's final mark, a short stretch of water from its first win of the Prada Cup, until the harsh winds of the Hauraki Bay yanked its chains.
The majestic Patriot – the name given to American Magic's AC75 boat – hoisted up into the air like an agitated horse before crumbling into the sea, a potent parable of the fall of the modern American empire.
The America's Cup had a particular way of holding up a mirror to society at large. The latest revelations about the taxpayer-funded Cup singalong by Rod Stewart provided perhaps the most incisive social satire of them all – an inadvertent masterpiece, a banger of an anthem for these uncertain times.
I'm not kidding, hear me out.
Shortly after Team New Zealand secured the Auld Mug once again, it was revealed that a promotional campaign involving the legendary pop superstar cost taxpayers $918,000.
The 'Rock the Dock' campaign, aimed at using the America's Cup as a way to market New Zealand overseas, featured Stewart's hit song "Sailing" in a special recorded performance, sung with crowds at Cup fan zones in 15 centres around the country. It was billed as a "nationwide singalong" – what's not to love?
The resulting video was, well, the closest thing to pure bliss on earth – at least on first viewing. But repeated viewings would reveal something much, much deeper. More on that later.
"The 36th America's Cup presented by Prada was a time to unite the world, in New Zealand," the video begins, followed by footage of fans from the four competing teams.
"Yet we are oceans apart," it continues. "To bring the world together, we called in an old friend. Sir Rod Stewart rallied our nation to a singalong, to send a message of hope to the world."
The @americascup was set to be a moment that brought the world together, in New Zealand – yet we are oceans apart. So we called in an old friend, @RodStewart, to rally our nation to singalong with him, and send a message of togetherness around the world. #RocktheDock #AC36 pic.twitter.com/zPza7ThQqH— New Zealand 🇳🇿 (@PureNewZealand) March 17, 2021
I know what you're thinking: if this doesn't make the world a better place and finally get rid of Covid-19 and the ever-present specter of climate change, then I don't know what will.
Stewart – hair blowing in the fake wind, dressed in his best patriotic English attire – then emerges in front of what appears to be a green screen, buttressed by a background of the Tower Bridge in London. Just a gentle reminder of New Zealand's colonial past.
"Be happy and join in on this one, which I'm sure you know," he says before breaking into the first verse of "Sailing".
It was at this point, that I took Stewart's advice and became happy. When the guitar solo eventually breaks out – set to images of multi-million dollar yachts foiling in the sea – I was in pure unadulterated ecstasy.
On closer inspection however, the sea of white voices and the prescient lyrics took on another form. I soon realised I was watching the most powerful piece of social satire I had seen this year.
Amid a global pandemic, economic downturns, a full-blown housing crisis and rising poverty levels in our own backyard, the America's Cup – in its grandiosity and almost unbearable whiteness – felt out of place. The fact that it was government-funded made it even tougher to swallow, when millions of Kiwis are struggling to get through the week.
Images of Auckland's elite partying on yachts on the Waitematā Harbour – broadcast to the world (the two countries that care about the America's Cup) – felt like sharing concert photos on Instagram knowing it will be seen by your mates overseas who have been stuck in perpetual lockdown.
Stewart's poignant tenor soon started to hit like a ton of bricks:
Can you hear me, can you hear me
Thro' the dark night, far away
I am dying, forever trying
To be with you, who can say
"Sailing" was a big song in its day, reaching number one in the UK charts and number three here in New Zealand. But as a piece of modern day art, it has nothing on the 'Rock the Dock' Government ad, which lures you in with pop sensibility, simple yet poetic lyrics and images of New Zealand's professional managerial class bursting into song, then stabs you in the heart with subtle Verhoevean satire.
The New Zealand Government (feat. Rod Stewart) made a national anthem for our times, a perfect encapsulation of capitalistic excess, centrism and working class pain, broadcast to the world as the selling point of the country.
It didn't need to show you images of the everyday Kiwi struggle, the country's broken mental health system or the fact that Māori and Pasifika continue to be over-represented in child poverty statistics. In fact, the video, and the America's Cup as a whole, largely avoided showing people of colour at all.
Like any great piece of art, what is left out is often as important as what is kept in – restraint is the director (the Government) of the video's biggest asset.
The romanticism of the chorus in "Sailing" eventually morphs into a passionate plea from the masses in the video advertisement: "Can you hear me, can you hear me?"
Rod Stewart can. He wants you to be happy.
Verdict: Take a bow Rod Stewart, the Kiwi America's Cup choir and the New Zealand Government. Worth every penny.