Aguilera's 'Star-Mangled Banner'

Monday, February 07, 2011 - 01:23 PM

With all the hoo-ha over Christina Aguilera's reinvented lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner, I have to say that I have some sympathy for her. Not for her choice of hair color, or for the way she chose to rewrite the music, but trying to remember the words when you're under pressure -- I can relate. 

Once upon a time, I was asked to sing the National Anthem for the opening of a Reds game. (Before you Mets fans go crazy, let me hasten to add that I am one, too, and I was living in Cincinnati at the time.) Now, I know the Star-Spangled Banner, I've known it since I was a kid, but standing out there on the field in front of thousands of people -- never mind millions of people watching the Super Bowl -- your brain plays tricks on you. 

Lucky for me, in the old Cinergy Field, they had a screen right next to the American flag displaying the lyrics, line by line. So as I gazed patriotically at Old Glory, there was a constant reminder of what words came next. I can't quite imagine they don't have a display like that at Cowboys Stadium, too... but I'm willing to give the Ms. Aguilera the benefit of the doubt.

Weigh in: What did you think of Christina Aguilera's National Anthem performance? Do you have a favorite or least favorite version? And singers: do you have a story about messing up the lyrics in performance? Leave a comment below.


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Comments [51]

Michael Meltzer

Yankee Stadium still offers the Robert Merrill recording of the Star-Spangled Banner at games when they don't have a special live guest to sing or play it.
Forty years ago, we took that kind of excellence for granted. Today, it sounds very special.

Jul. 16 2011 04:40 AM
Pop from Canada

I've never watched any football game game nor heard that woman singer before.( I'm retired in Canada)
I landed on this page and watched her video singing it.
That is pretty awful and and I can't imagine how she is a famous person which apparently she is as I have heard her name before but thought she was just a model from the internet.
It's true freedom down there when you can ruin the national anthem like that and still get applause - reminds me of the sixties when Jimi Hendrix destroyed the anthem on stage.

Feb. 21 2011 06:28 AM
Neil Schnall

It's an example of "why raise the bridge when you can just lower the river". If we acquiesce in accepting mediocrity, the mediocre becomes the new standard of acceptability... because society will forget what the higher standard ever was. Yes, this is a relatively minor matter, but it's yet another factor in the slow erosion of our cultural heritage.

Feb. 10 2011 03:55 PM
Michael Meltzer

To Katie:
Once we consent to or even approve of mediocrity in our icons, we are all on our way to constantly striving for mediocrity.
Substitute the word "professional" for "pop star." She insults all the professionals who take pride in their work.

Feb. 10 2011 12:57 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Unbelievable rendition. This started with Whitney Houston. We even had the spectacle of a little brat going to all the major league venues to sing the anthem and sounding like Whitney Houston. So many fans got misty eyed at this little brat singing. But not me. It has gotten worse as we have gone along. Another show of disrespect is the crowd cheering while the anthem is being sung. Very poor form.

Feb. 10 2011 10:13 AM
Katie from NYC

People need to relax. She made a mistake. She did not threaten national security or hurt you personally. She flubbed some words. Let's spend our time focusing on actual problems and not berate a pop star for messing up the words in the anthem. Clearly she didn't mean to offend our nation. Stop being so judgemental.

Feb. 10 2011 09:10 AM
Ron Owens from Mountain Lakes, NJ

Setting the mutilation of our National Anthem aside for a brief moment, let's recognize a beautiful performance of "America The Beautiful" that proceeded it. And the half-time "show" (?). To me it was all foam and no beer.

Feb. 09 2011 03:50 PM
Ron Owens from Mountain Lakes, NJ

As I increase in age (notice I avoided "older"), there are more and more things I don't understand. I don't understand, for instance, what has happened to our society that permits such a disgraceful performance to go out to 11M viewers. Most troubling to me, though, was its discussion the following day on the Weather Channel. The meteorologist asked, "What's the big deal?" I guess she had her head in the clouds.

Feb. 09 2011 03:25 PM
Michael Meltzer

I am filled with wonder that her stupidity is even arguable.
When I went to school, we sang the Star Spangled Banner in school assemblies, twice a week, 40 weeks a year for twelve years. How could we not know the words? Is it different these days?
Being a professional means doing whatever it takes to be ready to be perfect, whether its rehearsing, securing a teleprompter, writing the words on your wrists and palms, whatever it takes.
If an amateur performance is O.K., then get Michele Obama, Laura Bush or Hilary Clinton, and you can bet they won't forget the words!

Feb. 09 2011 10:32 AM
Arden Broecking from Connecticut

Re: Aguilera - oh those typos! I really can spell, honest, and I stand on every word I said!!

Feb. 09 2011 10:18 AM
Arden Broecking from Connecticut

That woman didn't mangle the national anthem, she assasinated it!
Domething should really be done about the desecration of The Star-Spangled Banner at these sports events. I remember when Robert Merrill used to sing it at Yankee Satdium, and was geeted with cheers.
The choral arrangement sung at the Army-Navy game was stunning, and beautiful.
Aguilera has no business even being asked!!!
Can you imagine someone giving this sort of treatment to "La Marseillaise' or any other ation in the world?? What is the matter with us??

Feb. 09 2011 10:15 AM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

The producers of the Bowl are trying harder and harder to make the show glitzier. That effort has spilled over into the more solemn parts of the program. Dollars rule! I still wince when I remember Rosanne Barr's masacre!

It's disgusting. If Aguilera was making a studio recording for a mega-dollar album you bet she wouldn't muff the words!

Caught up in the moment? Nonsense! Was there any more "moment" than when she performs with a band and fireworks in a venue full of screaming fans?

Stick with professionals who know the words......and their meaning! No one would object if Renee Fleming or Thomas Hampson sang it. Remember Robert Merrill at Yankee Stadium? He was as well received as the players because he treated the song with the respect is deserved.

Just think of how each of us feels when someone mis-pronounces our name. Don't we fell a bit slighted?

Feb. 09 2011 09:00 AM
Gev Sweeney from Ocean Grove, New Jersey

Am pretty sick of pop versions of the anthem, actually. Songs written 200 years ago, in the language of the times, really should trip up modern performers who don't understand what they're dealing with.

Feb. 09 2011 06:18 AM

Some of the suggestions here are great, especially the one about military bands. While I am impressed by the sympathy, I still maintain she is an alleged professional who should have been better prepared. I do think the anthem is still relevant today as a reminder of how lucky we are to live in the United States.

And Bob from NJ? Ummm, I think Kate Smith actually WAS a moral icon. Unless there is some Kate Smith tell-all out there that I missed. And if there is, cool! Where can I find it?!?! :)

Feb. 09 2011 01:09 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

How nice it would be to see and hear one of our top military bands or choral groups such as The Singing Sargents performing our National Anthem on the global stage. Perhaps we should be grateful verses 2 and 3 were omitted and there was no wardrobe malfunction!

Feb. 08 2011 11:01 PM
Greg Bradshaw

In 1956, when I was a senior at Nyack High School and appearing in the annual school play, Helen Hayes can to see our dress rehersal. It was her custom to do so, each year. She lived in town. She addressed the issue of stage fright by saying that she had never known a performer who had not experienced it at one time or another and that she, personally, had never walked onto a stage without having butterfiles in her stomach. She said they were her "little friends" because they ensured that her heart was pounding just a little bit faster and that extra vitality showed across the footlights. Her calming words were very welcome to us bunch of kids. I always thing of them whenever I see anyone flub in public... remembering that it can happen to absolutely anyone. She was truly a grand lady.

Feb. 08 2011 08:05 PM
Rich from Newark, NJ

Just yesterday I was sent this link to a youtube video of an eight yr old signing the anthem.

What was nice was when she got stuck the people responded by singing it. Yeah, Christina is a professional so she should have gotten it right, but while I did not like it I am not going to criticize it as no way would I have the guts to get up there and do it.

Feb. 08 2011 04:53 PM
Gary in Plano

Add'l: Joyce DiDonato is in Ft. Worth for a Cliburn Concert, Richard Croft and Donnie Ray Albert and Virginia Dupuy live here, the St. Olaf Choir was in town for a concert at the Meyerson last night, they were offered Jaap van Zweden, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Chorus but were turned down flat by the "experts" on the Super Bowl committee......kind of makes you wonder what they consider talent.

Feb. 08 2011 04:51 PM
Gary in Plano from Plano

Where's the gong (gong show??) This no talent singer that butchered and screamed what she "sang" has to be right down there with the Rosanne Barr version. As a co-worker put it "that was one hot mess" I am a semi-pro singer and have sung the anthem many times at game openings and such and always stick to what the composer had written, reverent tempo, considering what I was singing and full-voiced chiaro-scuro tone. Other foreign countries I have visited, no one would DARE change, obliterate their national anthems as she has done. Who called her a singer in the first place was tone deaf.

Feb. 08 2011 04:36 PM
anne from New York City

She is a professional singer. She says she got caught up in the emotions of the moment and the event. That is exactly what a professional is NOT supposed to do (at least according to Thomas Hampson). Learn the words, sing it straight, and don't try to get creative with something that is more important than a pop song or "the emotions of the moment."

Feb. 08 2011 03:29 PM
Bob Crescas from New Jersey

Lets give her a break. How many Americans, of any age, can recite the words of the song, know its origin or its symbolic meaning for American freedom.

She tried under difficult circumstances.

Kate Smith was no moral icon either.


Feb. 08 2011 02:26 PM
Holliday from New York

Perhaps it is time to return to having the national anthem sung by all in attendance as a shared experience and declaration and therefore, sung by someone who is leading the singing, fairly straight forward but beautifully, rather than performing the anthem in a style that is not conducive to all singing together. Ms. Aguilera is a wonderful pop singer with some mighty pipes and a a few wrong words is ultimately not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. This has been blow out of proportion. How about Thomas Hampson singing it next year?!?!

Feb. 08 2011 12:58 PM
Maria Eng from Long Island New York

When we select a performer for ratings impact instead of the ability to execute the darned piece straight, with skill and grace, we will always be presented with a debacle. Incidentally, this was not the first time that she tried, and failed, to "change up" the anthem. Lets hope she doesn't take an interest in liturgical music any time soon......

Feb. 08 2011 12:41 PM
fred schick from new jersey

Neil, I stand corrected. Thank you.

Feb. 08 2011 12:00 PM
Neil Schnall

I don't mean to be pedantic here, merely offering fact corrections.
Fred, Kate Smith famously recorded "God Bless America". Her high note was merely an F natural, but she nailed it with such panache, it still makes for goose bumps.

Darryl, the reason that awkward song continues to resonate as a national anthem is its symbolism. It is a metaphor for tenacity (of ideals) in the face of adversity.

Feb. 08 2011 11:41 AM
FRED SCHICK from Niw Jersey

Ugly, ugly, UGLY! A perfect metaphor for the state of today's culture; It stank to high heaven of "American Idol". Who's going to perform the anthem next year-Lady Gaga? Kate Smith must be rolling over in her grave.

Feb. 08 2011 11:05 AM
Ann Wilkinson from New York City

My take on this whole debacle is that Christina came out of the gate with difficulties -- pitch, timing, etc., and she distracted herself enough to lose her grip on the lyrics. Her rendition was absolutely sub-par no matter how you compare it.

Feb. 08 2011 10:39 AM
Darryl Blankenship from Brooklyn

Thank you, Neil, for your correction. That information makes the anthem even more irrelevant.

Feb. 08 2011 10:29 AM
Neil Schnall

War of 1812, not Revolutionary.

Feb. 08 2011 10:23 AM
Darryl Blankenship from Brooklyn

I agree with Ms. Lewin and others who feel that any performer can mess up lyrics and I am sure that we could all think of many famous examples if we think or google hard enough. For me, the real question is why the National Anthem is sung at sporting events at all. As someone else pointed out, most of the players and spectators probably do not give a damn, the lyrics are meaningless to anyone except Revolutionary War historians and the music is dreadful no matter who sings it.

Feb. 08 2011 09:38 AM
Nancy from Denville,NJ

I think her screaming rendition of the National Anthem was deplorable and an insult to anyone that had to listen to it. Why can't we have someone who can sing ,sing it properly? This was a shreaking fest. YUCH!!!

Feb. 08 2011 09:37 AM

There is no excuse for the mess perpetrated by Christina Aguilera on Sunday. I don’t take any pleasure in someone else’s humiliation and I am not saying I could have done it better. But then, I would have had the good sense to decline. She is supposedly a professional and, I am guessing here, but I think she had some kind of warning that she was supposed to sing the National Anthem. I mean, it’s not as though they picked her out of the crowd and put her on the spot. She was unprepared and simply awful even if she had gotten the words right. Why don’t they ever get a real singer to sing the National Anthem? I suppose then that would leave those of us who wouldn’t know a football from a meteor nothing to talk about after the Big Game.

Feb. 08 2011 09:18 AM

I remember in high school we rigged up a tape recorder so it would introduce a delay of 1/4 second or so to microphone input. We found that folks could not recite Mary Had a Little Lamb without severe stuttering while wearing earphones listening to their own voice with this delay.

That must be what it's like working in a big stadium with that horrific echo!

Feb. 08 2011 09:18 AM
Bill Higgins from NYC

Performance anxiety issues aside, I think we should be somewhat grateful that the national anthem is still sung in English, and not in Spanish as merely another of the excessive and irritating sops to Spanish language "accommodation" one encounters these days, which serve no purpose other than to provide a total disincentive to cultural and linguistic assimilation into American society.

Feb. 08 2011 08:56 AM
Abby Mayer from VZE3M8FW1@VERIZON.NET

Absolutely HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wrong rhythms, wrong pitches, out of tune, and a disparaging rendition of our National Anthem. An elementary school student would have been a better choice.

In addition the football players were more interested in seeing themselves on the monitor, rather than paying attention to the disgraceful spectacle going on before them!!!!!!!!!! Further: I doubt if the players were able, or aware, or conscious in terms of good taste; how bad that gruesome rendition of the National Anthem came across!!!!!!!

If a so called singer (CHRISTINA) has to be that bad, we should stop singing the National Anthem at football games, and all other sports events where the "STAR SPANGLED" is BUTCHERED!!!!!!!!!!

Feb. 08 2011 08:43 AM
Ana Aimaretti from Astoria - Queens

I think a mistake anyone can do. She has a wonderful voice and I am shure, she did not do it on pourpose. I like her.

Feb. 08 2011 08:16 AM
Mirela Sanseviero from Long Island

Mr. Meltzer , you are right!!
Ben detto.

Feb. 08 2011 06:25 AM
Michael Meltzer

The New York Yankees are still using the recording of the Star Spangled Banner that Robert Merrill made especially for them, and it doesn't seem to have hurt their image or their attendance any. They sell out every game, and we never get tired of Robert Merrill.
MS. Aguilera performed like an amateur and there's no excuse. If the players played football like she sang, there would have been a riot at the stadium.

Feb. 08 2011 03:09 AM
Neil Schnall

Sutherland was criticized, stupidly, for sacrificing perfect elocution for the sake of the beauty of her vocal production. It was called "bel canto". I'm unaware of her having difficulty memorizing words.

How absurd to compare Aguilera to Sutherland!

Aguilera doesn't have an ugly voice, although she sings poorly. But she sure "can belto".

Feb. 07 2011 11:38 PM
Catherine J Sidoti from NYC

People are at the Superbowl for the game, they don't care about patriotism, and quite frankly I really don't care for either, she does have a good voice and is quite the attraction, very beautiful to look at and sings correctly for those of us who have both studied classical voice and I have also managed talent, words were difficult for Joan Sutherland to memorize and she too was criticized, it's tough enough to be in show biz without all the harsh criticism, sometimes, new things that happen we can forgive, I know in classical our goal is to be perfect to pay homage to the composers, the Superbowl had 111 million viewers, they made a boatload, the singing will not put Aguilera in bad stead, people find sports more important than anything else which is why there are stadiums all over the world and popular music fills them when there's a concert, as far as classical musicians or opera singers filling stadiums, that probably will never happen unless it's announced that it's an all nude X rated cast, oh and that they have killer voices and bodies too!!!!!

Feb. 07 2011 07:48 PM

I thought she did a pretty good job regardless of word slips and what not. And American Idol is not all that bad people. It's just the people who kid themselves that they can sing when they obviously cannot. Let's just note that pop singing is here to stay.

Feb. 07 2011 07:46 PM
Whitney Holden

This is actually a topic I was faced with often when I was a student, as I sang the national anthem for sports events at my school. I've always been of the "if it ain't broke" school, so I sang the anthem the way it was written. But then before the championship hockey game one year, the coach approached me and said "We know you have the pipes, so don't be afraid to show them off and have a little fun with it!" I thought this was very odd, considering the ability to "play with it" has little to do with the quality of my "pipes". But, I decided to do as he asked, and threw in a couple runs. Afterward, countless people came up to me to compliment the performance, and (even though I was grateful for the feedback) I was shocked that simply "changing it up" elicited that much of a response. Perhaps Peter O'Malley is right, and the emergence of shows like American Idol have led to audiences expecting -- and directly associating 'talent' with -- hyperactive renditions of songs. Its such a shame; the anthem is so beautiful the way it was written!

Feb. 07 2011 07:44 PM
Michael Meltzer

If you are going to take the traditional national anthem, that many listeners regard with reverence, and subject it to the idiosyncracies of personal style or a "rock" or "soul" idiom, everything else you do had better be absolutely PERFECT!!!
Sorry, Ms. Aguilera, no mercy. The hook!

Feb. 07 2011 07:04 PM

I was at the game in Cincinnati, and heard Naomi Lewin sing the national anthem. Her rendition was terrific -- exemplary!

As Lloyd Benson might have put it:
"Christina, you're no Naomi Lewin."

Feb. 07 2011 06:02 PM
LES from Washington DC

Peter's comment got me to thinking -- why not an opera singer singing opera during half time instead of pop music. An aria from La Boheme or another equally heart-aching piece, reducing the entire stadium to utter silence. Now that would be something different.

Feb. 07 2011 05:28 PM
Neil Schnall

Had it been set by G.F. Handel, there might've been melisma on "wave" as well. But he'd not have squandered the effect on every preceding and ensuing phrase.
I wouldn't say she exactly cracked on "free", but that was the only note not belted in chest voice. There are limits. Didn't really need the little growl either, but maybe that's what passes for emoting. Amateurish vocal production, but then, that's what we get nowadays.

Feb. 07 2011 05:14 PM
Wayne Shipp from Cove Point, MD

I have to agree with Peter and Elizabeth. The anthem looses a lot of its majesty when the singer just renders it in the latest pop style like every other would-be pop singer. Better to leave it up to a trained vocalist with the words etched in there head (probably not low enough for super bowl commercial standards).

Feb. 07 2011 04:46 PM

I lived in Baltimore, MD, as a boy and went to school with a descendant of Francis Scott Key, so I am kind of a stickler: if you're going to sing "The Star Spanged Banner," you ought to sing it right and remember the words. And if you can't hit the high note on "land of the free" without cracking then transpose it down to a key in which you can. Is that too much to ask? And one more thing: I love Gospel music, and I heard a lot of very fine Gospel growing up in Baltimore. But I'm really weary of singers imposing a Gospel singing style on our National Anthem. Aretha Franklin could pull it off (and she forgot the words, too, at the Democratic convention in 1972 I think it was), but there are few who can sing Gospel music at her level. So surprise me—sing it as it was written, and you'll have the entire audience standing to attention!

Feb. 07 2011 04:39 PM
Neil Schnall

Not getting into a discussion of style, or even the specific performance in question, I will repeat here what I said on the same subject in an earlier Facebook comment (bearing in mind, I am referring not to yourself, Ms. Lewin, but a major pop singing star) (who should, indeed, have had a prompter available):

How high-profile must a gig be to be professional enough not to forget the words? She just had the one little song to sing. The world was watching. Learn the damn words!

Feb. 07 2011 03:56 PM
Elizabeth from Hoboken, NJ

I'm with Peter. The National Anthem should be sung straight. Not only does it sound better, but it becomes easier - if you're not having to concentrate on what you're doing melismatically, it's a lot easier to remember the words.

Feb. 07 2011 03:16 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

I did not watch the over-hyped event in question but what littl I heard of this rendition of the anthem did not surprise me. Of course, I knew that they would never pcik an opera singer for a "Sportsworld" event, despite a venerable tradition of having opera singers do what they do better than pop singers: sing songs which rquire range and technique! That to the side, the best versions are those that are done straight, but now that the American Idol/ bad karaoke approach is the standard for most American audiences, we probably can't look forward to an honest rendition any time soon.

Feb. 07 2011 03:11 PM

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