Why the US national anthem is terrible — and perfect

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  • Published on:  Wednesday, July 4, 2018
  • 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

    Some songs don't just stick in your head, they change the music world forever. Join Estelle Caswell on a musical journey to discover the stories behind your favorite songs.

    Check out the entire Vox Earworm playlist here: http://bit.ly/2QCwhMH

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  • Source: https://youtu.be/cdl8p9akJJw


  • Vox

     (Jul 4, 2018)

    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=

  • HTHTV3

     (Nov 26, 2018)

    @2:22 Most do not believe that *that mic* wasn't on when the late great #WhitneyHouston sung it... is there any proof? The studio where she supposedly pre-recorded it? #Receipts? Many may aim to revoke accolades she honestly earned.

  • JESUS Loves cats

     (Nov 11, 2018)

    I really thought it was terrible

  • Nice meme

     (Jul 4, 2018)

    No matter political meanings, the soviet anthem is the best

  • Yoga Prasidya

     (20 hours ago)

    Followed by Deutschlandlied

  • Nadja Lagercrantz

     (2 days ago)

    Its also 12 notes apart from highest to lowest tho

  • KingTomas7

     (Sep 30, 2018)

    There is no song that will replace the nati-**All Star starts playing**

  • Cameron Keith Campbell

     (3 days ago)


  • Maddox021 - Comedy and More

     (Dec 24, 2018)

    If people knell during this...

  • Panzerkampfwagen

     (Oct 3, 2018)

    Just because you can't sing it doesn't means it's bad

  • Barak Obermer

     (Feb 7, 2019)

    +Rilodom 111 that too, caught my eye. Also, what Vox was saying in the beginning about what made singing the French national anthem while France was occupied during the filming of Casablanca all the more powerful is that *everyone* in the bar could sing La Marseillaise.

  • Rilodom 111

     (Jan 31, 2019)

    I would like this but your profile picture is clearly Hitler

  • Narnia Dici

     (Oct 14, 2018)

    The French anthem is honestly not bad, but never search the translation. It's, um,... It's peculiar.

  • Lotus 10

     (3 days ago)

    +A Guy impure bood of the aristocrates who thanks they had "blue Blood" better than the one of poor people. It's ironic !!!! Like in Harry Potter !!! We mocked them !!!

  • Dabi

     (4 days ago)

    +Estevan Torres Its not pro-war, its pro defending your country when the time comes.

  • 8:15 pm

     (Dec 10, 2018)

    did anyone else get goosebumps when witney sang?

  • Will 1

     (2 days ago)

    8:15 pm I don’t like the way she sings it

  • Kaddywompous

     (Jan 25, 2019)

    Zach Gonzales And he was amazing! And the game was amazing! And I lost 1 dollar to my uncle Artie betting on the Bills! What a time to be alive!

  • Avanda.

     (Jul 4, 2018)

    I hope fergie sees this

  • Life's Little Treasures

     (Dec 23, 2018)

    *Ooooooohhhh CaNaDa....*

  • hobo 13

     (Nov 26, 2018)

    she gets an E for effort in my book :)

  • Mr. Minecraft God

     (Nov 5, 2018)

    Nothing can ever replace the national ant—*Africa starts playing*Wait....

  • Big Smoke

     (2 days ago)

    National *ant* ?!

  • GMsinging

     (Feb 6, 2019)

    Oh yeah yeah

  • Josephysia

     (Oct 1, 2018)

    You wanna know why?*It's a British drinking song.*I'm not joking.A 1771 drinking song called "To Anacreon in heaven" (sometimes just called "the Anacreon song")I wish I was joking.

  • Violet Rose

     (Feb 2, 2019)

    The original poem by Scott key also celebrates the death of slaves.

  • Morgan Robinson

     (Jan 15, 2019)

    +The In practice, no. In aspiration, more often then many would probably assume. American are highly sentimental, but as a people refuse to indulge that impulse. We tend to expose and hold to philosophical positions as opposed to practical ones, but most of us would never admit to that. This country was made , sloppily, from enlightenment philosophy layered onto a nation of farmers, and fed on the promise of a better future since the 1500's. America is a place with common roots and high aspiratio...

  • Yuni Aniceto

     (Oct 29, 2018)

    “No one with a normal esophagus can sing that without screaming.”“Most unlovely tune that was every wrung from the quivering bowels of a horn.”yup.

  • Nurlinda F Sihotang

     (Dec 31, 2018)

    +Morgan Robinson USA. your country is just one country in CONTINENT OF AMERICA.Seriously!?

  • Morgan Robinson

     (Dec 5, 2018)

    We're America. If you're not screaming the anthem, why are you even here?