Christina Aguilera’s national anthem gaffe could have happened to anyone. Her error was not malicious, reckless or ill-intended. But it does give us a valuable opportunity to reflect on how our nation’s beloved anthem is treated by popular culture.
With all of the examples in recent years of renditions gone wrong, it seems the national anthem has become more American Idol than American icon. Many singers, it appears, focus more on adding their own personal flavor and differentiating themselves from other singers than they do on professing the song’s message. What results are long-winded ballads that include more hoots and hollers than were originally intended.
That is not to say that everyone who sings the anthem should strive to be exactly the same. That, frankly, would be an exercise in contradicting everything that America stands for. Seeing an individual take a risk and embrace self-expression is great symbolism for what makes this country exceptional. By no means does one have to be perfect to sing the American song because one does not have to be perfect to be an American.
But there comes a point when showmanship should take a backseat to the idea of just singing the song. That is an idea that does not catch the interest of many contemporary performers.
They add 27 syllables to each word by way of shrieks, shrills and screams, which many times removes all sense of rhythm from the song and makes it nearly unrecognizable. With all of these features added to their performances, it is little wonder when one gets lost between lyrics.
Also, when a person freestyles the National Anthem and laces it with personally crafted whoops and whistles, it can detract from people’s attention to the song’s meaning. It is a song that we have heard thousands of times before and, yet, one that many of us — including a professional singer — cannot remember the words to.
It is rather troubling that the first reaction many of us surely had after being informed of Aguilera’s mistake was to think, “Well, it’s not the first time that that has happened.”
Indeed it was not, but perhaps the proper reaction wasn’t to dismiss her blunder merely as an item of humor. Perhaps it might have been good for all of us to feel a sense of humiliation, no matter how brief it might have been.
While we should be able to forgive Aguilera for her miscue, we should not merely write it off as though it is not important. It is important. The song is important. This country is important. And it is asking little to expect all of us to know the words and meanings to a song that represents the American idea of freedom, an idea that did not prevail by circumstance, but was fought for and won.
No one should excoriate one singer for one mistake on one night. Instead, we should all be encouraged to reevaluate our respect and adoration for this great country and the song that echoes its spirit worldwide.