The Definitive Pop Girl National Anthem Deep Dive

10 views 8:16 pm 0 Comments July 3, 2024

They don’t make the girls sing the national anthem anymore. I mean, they do sometimes, but it used to be a testament to true vocal ability. A right of passage for pop girls to honor America and show off their talent. When I was a little gay kid, knowing that the Super Bowl or some random sports game that my dad put on would often begin with someone like Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé or even Carrie Underwood, singing their heart out in a beautiful gown made it all bearable and even made me proud to be an American.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is notoriously a very difficult song to sing, featuring a wide octave range that makes it easy to screw up. In many of the post-9/11 versions I’m talking about here, it’s also sung fully a capella — a risky move that makes the singer extra vulnerable and opens them up to massive critique. All eyes and ears are on them in that moment, lending itself to either being really bad or super impressive. The pop stars making those No. 1 hits on the radio used to also be the ones who could hit earth-shattering high notes and runs like nobody’s business. That’s not necessarily the case anymore (though I would love to see Olivia Rodrigo or Chappell Roan get up there and put their best foot forward.)

That’s why, in honor of the Fourth of July, we did an exploratory deep dive into the most iconic pop girl national anthem moments below.

The Legends

These are the renditions that will go down in history. The gold standard for pop girlie Star-Spangled splendidness. Pristine and perfect American pop exports showcasing their top-tier vocal prowess for the world to see, representative of a bygone era when our stars were like royalty and would make you want to stand up and salute the country right from your living room couch. Like Whitney Houston, who once famously uttered, “I listen to singers. I very rarely listen to people who… cannot sing.”

Mariah Carey, Daytona 500 in 2003

My personal favorite. Done up in a slicked back ponytail and body-hugging Nascar-themed moment, Mimi manages to demonstrate technically on-point vocal gymnastics all while sounding so gentle, calm and heavenly. It’s Mariah at her best, and when that “Landddd of the FREEEE” climax hits, she gives us the whistle note we were all waiting for. Only she can do it. God bless America.

Beyoncé, Super Bowl 2004

One of many renditions, this Beyoncé performance is arguably her best. Of course, the Houston native decided to do a calculated and clean version, complemented with a full orchestral arrangement and dressed in a very presidential-looking get-up. It was during the Dangerously In Love era, when she was freshly out of Destiny’s Child and working hard to prove herself as the solo artist she was destined to be. Prove herself she does, hitting runs with a confidence and movie-like star power that only Queen Bey could do.

Jennifer Hudson, Super Bowl 2009

I mean, wow. When she steps up on that velvet blue pedestal, she does so with an assurance that she knows she’s about to eat. It always amazes me how Jennifer Hudson looks like she’s barely opening her mouth when she’s hitting these unbelievable notes with such power, and this rendition was no different. That final “THE BRAAAVEEE” is maybe my favorite out of all of these. Gives me full-body chills.

Whitney Houston, Super Bowl 1991

There’s not much to say here. This set the standard for national anthems, a real moment in pop culture history. Though it’s said to be lip-synced, it doesn’t really matter. Whitney made a moment happen, and it was ten days into the Persian Gulf War, which made the timing extra sensitive on the global stage. It was the first time the Super Bowl was broadcast in countries outside of just North America, which brought millions of more eyes on this performance. One could say she had a hand in bringing on world peace.

The Misfits

Let me be clear: I’m giving all of these girls an A for effort. Some of them aren’t even bad per se, all things in consideration, but they definitely caused a public uproar for either wrong lyrics or botched melodic choices. These choices are what make them iconic, though, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. If our girls flop, at least they flop for America.

Kat Deluna, Cowboys VS. Eagles 2008

Justice for Kat Deluna. After her feisty rendition of the Star-Spangled banner at this 2008 football game, you can hear the crowd loudly booing her. It’s been put in many a “Worst National Anthems of All Time” lists, but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. The “Whine Up” singer was definitely over-singing it, but I like the vigor in her voice. The growls. The determination. She didn’t deserve the hate. She was just excited.

Fergie, NBA All-Star Game 2018

This is a performance art piece. Ever the stunt queen, Fergie really shook things up with this one. It was a true test of self control for everybody in that arena when Stacy Ann Ferguson did that, “OOOHHHHH SAYYY” octave jump. It was jazzy and brain-bending. It was a moment we all lived for, and cemented its place in history. Give it up for Fergie, everyone.

The Cheetah Girls, Pistons VS. Trailblazers 2008

Look, I really did see the vision here. They wanted a Destiny’s Child type moment. They wanted to gag us. And in a way, they really gagged us. This was doomed from the jump. Without Raven, the Cheetah Girls didn’t have their stability. Left to their own devices, the girls tried to do some cute harmonies, but Adrienne was the only one who had the actual technical skills to do so. Kiely and Sabrina just didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. I love it, though, and am desperate to know what the dialogue that occurred backstage after this between these queens sounded like.

The Disney Girls

When the Disney machine really put the girls through the ringer. They were out there doing every single awards show performance, daytime TV appearance, press interviews, and even national anthems. They had to be Renaissance women. They were worked to the bone, and in the beginning stages of becoming pop icons. Being plopped onto that football field to sing was just part of the process.

Demi Lovato, Dallas Cowboys game 2008

Demi was always my favorite Disney girl. I think she had the most natural and raw musical abilities, and I loved the husky power in her voice. All of that is on full display here, and she was only 16. With that hard bang, she brought all the pop punk princess aura we wanted.

Miley Cyrus, Backstage at Houston Rodeo 2008

This clip feels like a fever dream. Miley in Hannah Montana drag warming up for her monumental show at the Houston Rodeo in 2008. For some reason, she chose to sing the national anthem, and does so in true Smilers fashion. Her rendition is spunky and bubblegum, and even though it kind of looks like she’s being held hostage, she still ate.

Ariana Grande, NFL Opening 2014

Not a Disney girl — Nickelodeon, rather — but I still wanted to pop ponytail in here. It was 2014, and Grande was just beginning to prove to the public that she was a viable pop princess with true once-in-a-generation vocal chops. This rendition was clean, airy, and satisfying. She did what she had to do.

The New Gen

Though I did say that the new girls don’t sing the national anthem anymore, there are exceptions. They might not have the old-school diva-style vocals from yesteryear, but it is nice to see that our girlies can still attack The Star-Spangled Banner from a fresh, modern angle and bring some tradition to the streaming era. With the election this year, maybe we’ll see some more of this from the new generation.

Madison Beer, Stanley Cup Final 2020

The announcer says, “Rolling Stone has hailed her as our next rising pop star,” and as a Beer stan myself, that brings me happiness. I can’t lie, she really surprised me here. Not only does she look like a beautiful Bratz doll on that big screen, but she really took it there with the vocals. Who knew Madison Beer had chops like this? Let’s go.

Tinashe, Seattle Seahawks game 2023

Tinashe attacks it like a pro. Proving she’s a triple quadruple threat, the singer had to let us know that, yeah, she can hit those notes with ease. She’s actually sung the national anthem so many times throughout the years, but this one was the most recent, and she displays her expertise with the song like someone who knows exactly what she’s doing. A true American star.

Bebe Rexha, MLB All-Star Game 2017

As that huge American flag gets unfolded across the field, there isn’t anyone else I’d rather have salute our nation than Bebe Rexha. Amidst all the EDM bops, it can be easy to forget that the native New Yorker is actually an incredible vocalist, too. She sang that “LAND OF THE FREEE” climax like a bird and ended with a unique take on “BRAVEEE.” You know she practiced this. Bebe Rexha for President.

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