April 23, 2013 9:45 am

Royal song sparks Dutch discord

Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander on a visit to the European Heinz Innovation Center©AFP

When the committee organising next week’s inauguration of the king of the Netherlands invited the public to send in verses for a new koningslied, or royal song, it was seen as a sure-fire way to generate popular enthusiasm for the event.

The plan appeared to backfire, however, after a storm of public criticism over the song’s poor grammar, eclectic mix of styles and lack of a memorable refrain.

A rap sequence beginning “The W from Willem”, referring to the new king’s name – Willem-Alexander – drew particular criticism. “The W from ‘We’re emigrating to Germany,’” wrote one wag on Twitter.

John Ewbank, an experienced songwriter who was given the job of turning the public’s submissions into a composition, announced he was “withdrawing” the song two days after its online release, complaining of unfair media criticism and threatening tweets.

The organising committee at first accepted Mr Ewbank’s request to scrap the song. But that move would have left schools across the country in a quandary about teaching it to pupils, who had expected to take part in a nationwide singalong during the inauguration on April 30.

After consulting with the artists, the committee backtracked on Monday evening and announced that it would continue to endorse the song, and that the singalong would go ahead. “In retrospect, the committee recognises that it was a difficult task to do justice to so many contributions in a short time period,” it said.

The fiasco is an embarrassment for the organising committee, headed by Hans Wijers, a former minister and longtime chief executive of Akzo Nobel, the Dutch paint company.

The royal song is one of several projects to encourage public participation in the event. Such outreach is typical of the Dutch monarchy, which is less ceremonious than other royal families, reflecting the country’s egalitarian Calvinist heritage.

Such public relations efforts have made the royal family broadly popular in the Netherlands, with only a small minority opposed to the monarchy.

An assessment of online opinion by social media analyst Martijn Rijk indicated nearly as many positive reactions as negative ones. Some of the musicians who recorded the track also defended it, with the popular singer Willeke Alberti saying it had been “made with love”.

But other Dutch musicians said the project had been flawed from the start.

Paul Power, a producer who owns one of Amsterdam’s top recording studios, said the risk of allowing popular contributions and using a pop song as the inaugural theme was that the public felt entitled to judge it.

“They should have commissioned a classical piece, then most people wouldn’t have had any opinions about it,” Mr Power said.

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