Why the US national anthem is terrible — and perfect

Why the US national anthem is terrible — and perfect

Vox’s Estelle Caswell and Joss Fong debate “The Star Spangled Banner”

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When Francis Scott Key attached his poem about the War of 1812 to a popular British song called “To Anacreon in Heaven,” he kicked off over 200 years of painfully bad singing by patriotic Americans. The Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem of the United States in 1931, but it had been used by the Army and Navy for decades before that and was popular from the start. One big problem? The melody wasn’t exactly written for the masses, but for trained soloists.

Commentators pointed out early on that it was exceedingly difficult for most people to sing, suggesting that “America the Beautiful” might be a better alternative. Critics have noted that the music requires a uniquely wide vocal range, it’s full of tricky intervals, and the lyrics are confusing and uninspiring.

But if you look at the national anthem as a sport, where we get to watch performers at the top of their game tackle the gauntlet that is the Star Spangled Banner, you may come to appreciate it. In this video, we debate whether the difficulty of the Star Spangled Banner is a feature or a bug for a national anthem.

Further reading:

Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem https://www.amazon.com/Star-Spangled-Banner-Unlikely-Americas-National/dp/1421415186

Star Spangled Music: http://starspangledmusic.org/

Slate: Proudly Hailed http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2014/07/the_star_spangled_banner_four_reasons_it_shouldn_t_be_the_national_anthem.html

Emily Cope: https://medium.com/@emilybcope/music-to-what-extent-does-the-star-spangled-banner-illustrate-how-melody-and-rhythm-influence-the-aff2c78853ed

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92 Responses

  1. Avanda The Screaming Llama says:

    I hope fergie sees this

  2. Vox says:

    If you want to learn more about the anthem, check out this site: http://starspangledmusic.org/blog/ They’re obsessed with the Star Spangled Banner and have tons of interesting facts and videos. This book by Marc Ferris is also really interesting https://www.amazon.com/Star-Spangled-Banner-Unlikely-Americas-National/dp/1421415186/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

    • Orange says:

      Brando Ho you are being too pedantic about it. Most people agree that there are 8 notes in an octave with 12 semitones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octave

    • danial r says:

      Do video about zionist

    • Joe_Schmo14 says:

      If you replace everything that makes America what it is then you will no longer have America. What’s the point of being American if we are always changing the definition. The people at Vox want a country that is something completely different from the US. They call themselves Americans yet they want nothing to do with anything that is American.

    • Lax says:

      *Oh so proudly we sailed?*

    • MrBaseKlefr says:

      Brandon Ho Chromatic 12th is an octave yes, but the more common meaning when speaking of intervals is their diatonic name. they’re talking about diatonic 12th which is an octave and a half. Still hate vox but nothing they said was technically wrong in terms of the music theory.

  3. afro curly girl says:

    Poor Fergie, she thought that she had knocked it out of the park. lol smh I go back to that video often when I need a good laugh.

    Seriously though, why couldn’t she hear herself? I thought they gave you a device to put in your ears so you can hear yourself.

  4. mahchymk93 says:

    Whitney Houston is legend

  5. Jonathan Andersson says:

    You ever heard of the god:

    A D A M N E E L Y

  6. Moutton Noir says:

    Whitney Houston OWNED it!

  7. A, Joseph Stalin, wants, 20 million subs says:


  8. Awsamazing Eden says:

    I just think every event should just play Whitney Houston’s version because it’ll never be done better.

  9. KhanStopMe says:

    Joss and Estelle in one video. Iconic.

  10. Snoopi says:

    Nice Adam Neely cover video

  11. Mykasan says:

    i never got the lyrics of any nation anthem as a kid. They are too complicated and weirdly written.

  12. Russ Southerland says:

    A d a m N e e l y

  13. Catarina Batista says:

    omg !! when whitney sang, I got goosebumps <3

    • zhaquiri says:

      David L Yet you conveniently just believe that she DID sing it also “without solid proof beyond reasonable doubt.” Interesting.

    • Hector T says:

      zhaquiri exactly. i didn’t wanna engage him. when people start throwing phrases like that out i generally disregard. plus, Who are the people putting her down?

    • Timberly Jones says:

      Catarina Batista goose bumps or not . I guess you didn’t come for the actually video

    • David L says:

      Zhaquiri. I didn’t say she 100% sang it. I only said you can’t prove her guilty of not singing it live. If you want to lose another argument feel free to respond.

    • Dudebro13454 Bro says:

      Hector T Too bad your mother is white and Whitney gave better lives performances than that. There is a live performance she did a few months later and it’s on YouTube, sounds the same

  14. jillhbaudhaan says:

    That last bit was such an awww, dad moment

  15. M. S.K says:

    Wait!!! Whitney’s version was pre-recorded! Why do you gotta ruin my memory like that?!

  16. Cory Mck says:

    *Dadam Neely, sue um*

  17. Drowsy_ Mouse says:

    on the other hand, be happy we aren’t forced to sit through the other verses

    • Ronquixote D. III says:

      Drowsy_ Mouse that 4th stanza looks like such a piece of work

      Oh this be it ever when when freemen shall stand / Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation/ Blest with vict’ry and peace may this heaven rescued land / praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation

      How the hell does that fit in the standard melody

      I’d rather sing Take on Me than try that and I’m only a bass with regular range lol

    • Apolonia Espinal says:

      Drowsy_ Mouse it talks about slaves

  18. 30secondstomarsMBH says:

    TBH, if you can’t sing the US National Anthem, then you’re actually trying to sing it. Which is the wrong thing to do anyway.

    There is no instance where you’re going to be forced to sing it, as a US citizen by yourself.

    The only time you’ll be doing it, is with a crowd or with people around you that don’t care how bad you sing.

    You’ll do it in a classroom, or at a sporting event, or a patriotic national event.

    But you’re not going to be getting up behind a microphone to sing it.

    Ain’t happening.

    So you don’t need to be able to SING it. You just need to be able to sing it in a way that suits your voice and everyone else that’s also crap at singing it will drown you out anyway.

    People worried about not being able to sing it because it’s hard to sing, are people that think, wrongly, that their voice is going to be showcased singing the song.

    Feel sorry for new immigrants who have to sing it to gain citizenship.

    Yes, it’s hard to sing, the lyrics are weird, but it’s still damned patriotic and I as a (hopefully) future US Citizen wouldn’t change it for the world.

    Star Spangled Banner FTW.

  19. Anon Anon says:

    Creating an anthem that it’s people couldn’t even sing. That is so America.

    • True Hunt says:

      It’s like creating a country that most people can’t survive in.

    • CyBoRgS&BaSkEts s says:

      Anybody can sing it. This is like saying Katty Perry making a song her fans can’t sing. Nobody is going to sound just like her lol. And when did making a song become a America thing?

    • Chris Z. says:

      Y’all it’s a joke calm down

    • Scott Petersen says:

      Chris Z. based on some people now a days, its hard to tell. I bet if we scroll down in the comments far enough, someone will blame trump for the song being hard to sing

    • Chun Choi says:

      CyBoRgS&BaSkEts s when did national anthem became not about the American thing?

  20. RMG Entertainment says:

    *takes knee

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