Monday, February 7, 2011
Let's start with the obvious observation: Christina Aguilera screwed up the lyrics to the National Anthem. Big deal. We all mistakes, and what musician hasn't played or sung a wrong note or word? I once accompanied a college recital where the singer forgot his lyrics and proceeded to replace the Italian lyrics by listing every kind of pasta he could recall. (The memory of an Italian aria reduced to "ravioli macaroni et lasgna" still makes me laugh.) The Super Bowl may be the worst imaginable time to forget the words, but at least they rhymed and she powered through to the end. You've got to give her credit for singing it live and for maintaining composure. One might wonder if next year there will be a teleprompter, or even a few helpful words scribbled on the singer's palm.
My problem with the performance wasn't her little mistake, it was the overly dramatic, self-indulgent nature of the performance. Don't get me wrong, the song isn't sacrosanct and immune from interpretation. Recordings of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner can make you hear it in a whole new way. But Aguilera wasn't trying to communicate her passion and patriotism and deep connection with the lyrics. She was simply closing her eyes, raising her free hand in the air, and generally mimicking every performance you'll see on American Idol this season. Singers now strike certain poses simply because it's part of the accepted theatricality of the ritual, not because it's spontaneous or motivated by the song itself. How authentic can a performance be if it looks exactly like every other performance?
Aguilera violated my pet peeve by singing with her eyes closed. Even at the community theatre level, actors know that you can't communicate with an audience if your eyes aren't open. You can't engage with fellow actors, audience, or even an everyday conversation. Just imagine if a man proposed to his wife without looking into her eyes; would it seem sincere? Closing your eyes while singing only puts distance between you and your audience. It's one of the reasons that so-called "praise bands" violate the purpose of corporate worship. They strike poses to demonstrate their religious fervor, but their artificiality separates them from the congregation.
We sing hymns with our eyes open. Partly because it's easier to see the text, but mostly because when we sing we are joining together in praise, prayer, and proclamation. We are a community of faith, flawed and imperfect but in it together - much like our nation. If only Aguilera had remembered that. It would have made for a great performance, missed lyrics and all.