I’ve heard quite a bit of criticism of Christina Aguilera’s embarrassing rendition of our national anthem prior to kick-off Sunday night. Most of the comments have been focused on her botching the lyrics. Fair enough.
But why should we be so critical of a pop star who probably has no idea of the origins of “The Star Spangled Banner” or any sense that the song’s designation as our national anthem makes it about all of us, not about her moment on the stage? She is no different than the dozens of pop stars who over the years have treated the national anthem like a tone poem open to their artistic interpretation, no matter how bad or inappropriate that interpretation may be. Granted, Christina’s was worse than several we’ve been forced to endure prior to past Super Bowls, World Series, NBA All Star Games and other sporting events, but not by much. By today’s standards, hers was pretty much par for the course. She just happened to bogey the lyrics as well as murder the tune.
Like most human beings, I love music. I have a tremendous amount of respect for musicians and performers of all kinds. Theirs is not an easy profession, no matter how much money, fame and success they attain. I couldn’t get through the day without them.
But as an Army veteran in a family of veterans, the national anthem is sacred to me. Not because it’s a beautiful melody, or because it’s a great piece of poetry. It is neither. It is sacrosanct because it is about the flag that represents the God-given freedom we all have defended. I still stand at attention when I hear it.
It is not a pop ballad or a soul tune. Nor is it a Broadway standard or a heavy metal song. It is not something that the American Idol judges should ever have to critique (though Randy would undoubtedly declare any rendition of it “pitchy”). It is a song about the courage and devotion shown by a group of Americans who in the course of a raging British naval bombardment refused to let the Stars and Stripes fall, no matter the cost to life and limb. And it became a song about the kind of nation we have been and still are, through war and peace, boom and bust. It is about the never-say-die, never-give-in, never-yield attitude that has been the hallmark of our national character and our military’s steadfast defense of freedom from Valley Forge to Fort McHenry to St. Lo to Inchon to Baghdad and Kandahar. It’s about firemen and policemen running into the World Trade Center on 9/11. It’s about that flag flying proudly and defiantly over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
So, with all the kindness I can muster, I give this one piece of advice to the next pop star who is asked to sing the national anthem at a sporting event: save the vocal gymnastics and the physical gyrations for your concerts. Just sing this song the way you were taught to sing it in kindergarten — straight up, no styling. Sing it with the constant awareness that there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines watching you from bases and outposts all over the world. Don’t make them cringe with your self-centered ego gratification. Sing it as if you are standing before a row of 86-year-old WWII vets wearing their Purple Hearts, Silver Stars and flag pins on their cardigans and you want them to be proud of you for honoring them and the country they love — not because you want them to think you are a superstar musician. They could see that from the costumes, the makeup and the entourages.
Sing “The Star Spangled Banner” with the courtesy and humility that tells the audience that it is about America, not you.
Mark Corallo is the owner of Corallo Media Strategies, Inc, an Alexandria, Virginia Public Relations firm.