A couple of weeks ago there was an event called the Superbowl. You may have heard of it. As is tradition, an 'artist' of prominence (most often a pop singer) is chosen to "honor America" by singing the National Anthem. It is needless to say that such a performance goes beyond the thousands in attendance at the football stadium and is therefore a daunting and deceptively difficult task. Some singers opt to perform a lip-synced version of the anthem. Other "divas" like Christina Aguilera boldly choose to belt it out live and a capella (a ubiquitous term that as of late is being mistaken for "acoustic" but really just means without accompaniment). The latter sentiment is one that has been rehashed by fans and critics alike as the justification for why the media should cut her some slack, despite the flubbed lyrics and excessive melismas. But somewhere amidst this cacophony of public opinion, there are some important issues that, at least to my knowledge have not been considered. It seems people are all too willing to criticize Aguilera's performance as an isolated event and quickly move on to the latest fodder perfect small talk. But this ultimately dismissive reception distracts audiences from a wider epidemic currently invading the music scene.
Pop singers, who continuously perform in high-pressure situations with little to no rehearsal beforehand (or at least enough preparation so sing the right lyrics and melody) are almost always the first choice for such high profile events. Aguilera's interpretation is merely one in a slew of performances in which self-indulgence supplants good musicality and virtuosity, the latter of which I admit she does possess, evidenced by her recent Grammy performance paying tribute to Aretha Franklin. Even if some of the higher notes were slightly strained, the evenness throughout her vocal registers and clarity of tone are trademarks worth noting.
In effect, her performance is still merely a symptom of a problem that goes beyond her or any individual performer and will continue to worsen unless these so-called "professional music critics” and “journalists” opt to think outside the pop bubble box. It seems that more often than not they are letting themselves be swayed by the currents of popular culture and what the "average viewer" thinks. While adopting popular opinion as your own can at times be justified, for me, this is just not one of those times. I hate to be obnoxious and adopt the all-too common and egregious OMG phrase, but OMG I swear, it's like an infectious pox is invading the entire music industry and people are willingly spreading the epidemic!
One of Aguilera's own songs explains this phenomenon well I think:
Musical criticism needs to aim its analyses and points of reference beyond the scope of a single performance, otherwise what we are getting is generic drivel being rehashed by different social mediums. Why is that you ask? For one thing, the market is saturated with "singers" that possess little or no musical training yet demand thousands (even millions) of dollars for one "live" performance. This is somewhat mind boggling and frankly it worries me that people don't realize how much clout this is giving to certain "artists" and how it is affecting performance standards overall.
My main question, then, is why oh why didn’t this widely-televised fiasco prompt a dialogue in which other musical genres are discussed as reference points (at least in passing) for performance standards? How is it that people are content with just saying it was a bad performance?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for innovation in the arts, but it seems these pox singers are being given the luxury of, not just re-defining, but inverting the musical values of our society. Words like "edgy" and "avante-garde" are being thrown around too loosely in my opinion and people either eat it all up or are obliviously indifferent to it all. Furthermore, given the growing trend of the polarizing effect of some performers (Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert anyone?) is this shift in musical standards inevitable?
Below you will find a youtube clip of the infamous Superbowl performance for your viewing 'pleasure' in hopes you might consider some of the ideas mentioned above. I have purposely chosen the worst quality video I could find courtesy of Time Magazine and their list of the ten worst ever National Anthem renditions. I think the video is a prime example of how the pox phenomenon is affecting us.