Wow. It seems like everyone these days has an opinion on Christina Aguilera and her now infamous rendition of the National Anthem. Radio talk jocks and internet bloggers, patriots and politicos, grandpas and pre-teens, professional athletes and armchair quarterbacks—there is no lack of spin coming from all directions.
Now, if you're looking for a blog slamming Aguilera for her performance, this ain't it. It is true that I am neither a fan of pop divas (except maybe for Aretha Franklin), nor of the lifestyles they seemingly represent. I do know that Aguilera is an extremely talented vocalist (her performance on Herbie Hancock's album, Possibilities, still knocks my socks off). But if you know me or read my blog, you know that I will occasionally rant against culture but purposefully not rant against people.
One of the main criticisms of Aguilera's performance is her flubbing the words to the Star Spangled Banner. What she did, forgetting a line and garbling another, seems inexcusable. But have you ever tried it? I mean, in front of people? Before a big game? How about before one hundred million people? It is a lot harder than it looks. Personally, I have only performed the National Anthem once, and I made sure I had the words in front of me—just in case. In truth, all of us have felt the nerves of being in public, and erred during speeches or performances some time in our lives. If her only real sin was "getting so lost in the moment" and forgetting a few words, then we really ought to cut her some slack, shouldn't we? That is what grace is all about.
Others criticize her for stylizing the song beyond recognition. She reached for the lows, stretched for the highs, added a few gospel growls, and even threw in a falsetto jump on "freeeeee!" I think I counted eight notes just on the word, "night." Yes, her rendition is overstylized. But here's the thing: She's Christina Aguilera! That's her schtick! If they didn't want that, they shouldn't have booked her. My point here is that—although I too felt that she should have reined it back—she was simply being her flamboyant herself.
So I don't fault her the actual performance. But if anyone should take exception at all, it should be because of this..
The National Anthem means something much greater than the person who sings it. By it's very nature, it has gravitas. Penned during a battle, sung during every Independence Day, Olympic victory, and war, there is almost a sacredness to it. This is why we stand at attention and put our hands over our hearts when it is played. It represents two centuries of freedom, and honors the people who paid a price for it.
It is like leading worship. A worship leader must never draw undue attention to him or herself, for that person is merely the conduit upon which some greater and mysterious Truth is revealed and reverentially recognized. God then becomes the rightful object of our worship. And as the worship leader is simply a representative of our commonality of faith, his or her job is to simply point people to the Throne.
I think this is really the shame of it all. Any person who sings the Star Spangled Banner is simply a representative of our commonality of country. Their rendition of the National Anthem, while reflecting their uniqueness, must never try to supercede that which the song represents.
As a society, we seem to have forgotten this. Through our cultural culpability, we have allowed an entire generation of people to see the National Anthem as simply a showcase for singers. That is, until Christine Aguilera glaringly pointed this out on Super Bowl Sunday. And on this point, we are all to some degree guilty.
As a means of closing out my point, I'd like to leave you with the absolute best rendition of Star Spangled Banner I've ever heard. Watch it all the way to the end. Enjoy.