By Michael C. Jones
The reviews of Lady Gaga’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Super Bowl 50 are generally quite favorable. We could use that performance as a springboard toward listing the best national anthem performances before high-profile sporting events. But that wouldn’t be as much fun as recalling the worst. Schadenfreude, gotta love it! So here are five of the most mangled “Star-Spangled Banner”s.
- Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera has a stupendous voice, but those pipes can’t make up for the fact that, at Super Bowl XLV in 2011, she committed the cardinal sin of messing up the lyrics. She seems to try to make up for her gaffe with vocal pyrotechnics, even ending on a “whoo!” (which I’m pretty sure isn’t part of the actual song). Fun fact: The practice of singing many notes during one syllable when probably one note would do just fine is called melisma.
- Michael Bolton
Yes, it’s bad to forget the words (see: Christina Aguilera), but it’s worse to anticipate forgetting the words and having them written on your hand. Michael Bolton did just that at a Red Sox/Yankees game in 2003. Watch at :47, when he pauses, looks at his palm, then continues. Give him credit for acknowledging the fans’ derision with a gesture to his memory-challenged noggin. At the end, he seems to cry out in pain. We feel it too, Michael.
- Scott Stapp
When singing the national anthem, the first note is key, as it sets the register for the rest of the song. We’ve seen singers who, mid-anthem, realize they started too high and are going to have trouble hitting the big note at the end. Scott Stapp, though, seemed to start too low at a 2005 NASCAR race, turning his anthem into a series of barely intelligible grumbles. Oh, and you know your anthem is running too long when the flyover happens halfway through.
- R. Kelly
The singing of the national anthem is usually accompanied by solemnity, with hats doffed, hands over hearts, and respectful silence. So maybe R. Kelly’s excuse is that he had never been to a sporting event. In his life. Or watched one on TV. Because his anthem at a 2005 boxing match between Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas featured dancers – yes, dancers – and a percussion track and keyboards that rendered the song, well, not “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And the lyrics do not include encouragement to “clap your hands, y’all.” Fun fact: Oscar De La Hoya looks dumbfounded
- Roseanne Barr
You didn’t have to scroll down on this page to know who was going to be at number one, did you? Of course it’s Roseanne Barr at a 1990 San Diego Padres game. The one thing this version has going for it that these other turkeys don’t is, it’s short.
Note: This list would have included the awful, embarrassing national anthem by track great Carl Lewis at the 1993 NBA Finals, but good video of that moment is difficult to come by. And many people point to Steven Tyler’s attempts at the national anthem as emblematically bad, but hey, we love Aerosmith, so we’ll cut the man some slack.