Monday, February 7, 2011

To err is human, not unpatriotic.

Christina Aguilera did not ruin the national anthem.

I, for one, feel bad for Christina Aguilera. What should have been the highlight of her singing career (yes, even above five Grammys) has instead become a launch pad to criticize her beyond her lyrical flub and into her singing-style, preparation, and even her patriotism. I'm sure she is feeling beyond embarrassed, today.

For any American singer, being requested to perform the “Star Spangled Banner”—a notoriously difficult piece besides being the national anthem—is a great honor at any event. For the Super Bowl, the most viewed television program annually, the honor is magnified beyond calculation. Whatever one thinks about her music or singing style, Christina Aguilera takes her musicianship seriously. So it is an honor that I doubt she took lightly, as is being supposed by so many.

By all accounts, she was devastated after botching the performance. But in the moment, she did what any good performer is trained to do: she kept going (thereby proving she was doing it live). Later, she did something that, generally, performers don’t often do. She apologized* for the error.

I find it lamentable is that she felt the need to affirm her patriotism in that apology. And it was not without cause; her patriotism was one of the things questioned after the flub. It is embarrassing enough to screw-up the nation’s most well-known and beloved song in front of the largest possible audience. But that only makes her human, not a closet revolutionary who secretly covets the end of America. Besides rocking the vote, the singer has kept her politics to herself. (And what is the Washington Post’s excuse for needing to issue its correction?)

I’m not hopping onto the tone-down-the-rhetoric bandwagon; I’ve got my ticket booked for the let’s-be-serious special. Patriotism does not imbue anyone with a supernatural ability to sing the national anthem perfectly every single time any more than religious faith prevents one from ever misquoting scripture.

Christina has also been accused of making an egotistical display of vocal gymnastics that distracted her from the lyrics. But Christina is famous for her vocal dexterity—I think she has it down. To invite her to sing the anthem is to request she bring her unique style. For her to leave that out of her performance would have been a shortchanging. I take such criticism as a dislike for her vocal style, which is just a matter of taste. Anyone insisting that the anthem ought to only be sung the “right” way needs to stop talking like an ugly liberal stereotype of conservatism.

Christina Aguilera says she loves this country and was merely caught up in the moment; she should at least be taken at her word. Whatever she did to the anthem, she did not defile it. Our national song and our pride are more durable than that.

(By the way, halftime was not the Black Eyed Peas best moment. Just sayin'.)

Afterthoughts:
  1. To those insisting that the "Star Spangled Banner" ought only to be sung in a reverential manner, consider that Francis Scott Key's poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song. By that standard alone, it is wholly appropriate to sing our national anthem in a popular style. 
  2. While the mark of a professional performer certainly includes controlling your nerves before a large audience, keep in mind there is literally no larger audience than that watching the Super Bowl.
  3. If you don't like a particular style of music or singing, that's fine. But before you go on about how terrible it is, first tell me what kind of music you like so I can tell you how it is crap, too. 
  4. Additional thoughts
*It’s been pointed out to me that Christina Aguilera never actually uttered the words “I’m sorry.” If that is what is required for you to acknowledge an apology, I suggest you develop a better understanding of “spirit” and keep your criticisms to yourself in the meantime.

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