Fergie, 8-time Grammy award winner and former singer for the popular band The Black Eyed Peas, debuted a unique take on The Star Spangled Banner at a NBA all-star game on the 18th of February. It wasn’t a success. Indeed, it was a flop so sizable that it’s aftershocks continue to echo throughout social media and e-zines the web over. Fergie’s performance broke from tradition quite sharply, not in terms of her character nor garb but in both the way the song was sung (low, bluesy, roughly sensual) and the backing instrumentation (slow, sultry, far-quieter than the vocals). All of it had the tenor of a attempted sexy New Orleans funeral march.
The performance was so strange and absurd that various members of the crowd struggled to contain their laughter. Other still furrowed their brows in confusion as if to say “What on earth is she doing?”
The problem was two-fold. First and foremost, the National Anthem is not a “sexy” song and attempting to make it so comes off as sleazy and ill-fitting despite one’s intentions. The reason for this is that the National Anthem is a battlefield ballad concerning America’s persistence through struggle and ultimate ascension to victory in the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. There is no room in the lines for a kind of 1950s backroom sensuality. The context simply isn’t there. Furthermore, as pertains to the jazz instrumentals, again, this fails miserably due to the fact that the slow, languid and relaxing tenor of the jazz does not merge fluidly with the lyrics of the anthem wherein “bombs burst-” in the air.
The secondary point where the performance of the song fails is in the vocal oscillation from high-highs to very low-lows (at one point Fergie was practically growling, another, shrill as a cocktrice). This has no direct bearing to the military tenor of The Anthem itself, rather, it is simply ear-grating. There are numerous explainations for why she would chose to sing the song in such a unstable and uneven manner but the first and most seemingly likely which springs to my mind is that it was a demonstration, driven primarily by egoism, to show off her vocal range. For all the terrible failures of this particular performance (and many of the lyrical disasters of Fergie’s storied discography) she is a immensely talented singer, can hold notes, has good voice control and a smooth fluidity to her singing. When a singer achieves a certain degree of popularity and also has a certain degree of vocal control they tend to become inextricably tied to it and known by it (i.e. Christina Aguilera) and thus, they will feel the need to re-demonstrate and reinforce their special skills. When this tendency is interjected into a song-work that is wholly non-conducive to such a flagrant display (the anthem is highly tonally consistent in writing and has traditionally been sung as such), the effect is a jumbled mess of thematic inconsistency.