Assuming you’ve got all your Super Bowl snacks and fixings in time, the Super Bowl National Anthem is the first real indication that the game is about to start. At least, that’s usually when everyone at the Super Bowl party starts shhhing everyone else. Not necessarily because everyone gets misty-eyed over the ole Stars & Stripes — there are plenty of us that wonder what the hell the National Anthem has to do with domestic sporting events – but that doesn’t change the fact that prop bets, careers, and eternal humiliation/glory are all at stake. It’s a big moment for the singers and everyone who took the over/under on length.
Let’s take a look at the five best and five worst National Anthem performances in Super Bowl history.
(The NFL has blocked some of these from being sharable, so we’ve linked to the videos on YouTube where we can’t embed them for you here.)
The NFL has blocked sharing many of these videos via YouTube, but you can watch the actual Super Bowl performance here. This performance, ironically, was only a few months before the Chicks were effectively canceled by the right for saying they opposed the Iraq War and were embarrassed that then-President George Bush was from Texas. It took the band years to recover from the backlash from the same people that love to screech about the First Amendment.
What infamously started off as a bawdy drinking song has never sounded so smooth. There’s a reason America demands that we never stray from Vandross’ version of “One Shining Moment” every March. No one else makes American sports sound like this.
Another one the NFL has prevented us from sharing, but there’s something to be said for just standing there and singing it, you know? No bells, no whistles, no runs or soaring accompaniments, just a clear, strong, familiar voice. Watch America’s favorite blue-collar-New-Yorker-piano-guy kill it here.
Just a few months after 9/11, when the world still felt like it had turned upside down, Mariah Carey performed the National Anthem, flanked by representatives from the US Cole, as well as the agencies that were tasked with responding to the disaster. The weeks and months that followed the falling of the Twin Towers were fraught with anxiety and uncertainty, so seeing Mariah crush the Star Spangled Banner before the big game felt like a little bit of normalcy.
You knew it was coming. It’s the gold standard and will never be topped. Notice how the NFL didn’t dare block this one from being shareable. Super Bowl XXV took place shortly after the start of the first Gulf War. It was the first time America had been at war since Vietnam and, in an effort not to repeat the harassment and underwhelming “welcome home” that Vietnam vets got, the whole country swung in the opposite direction and was in full-on jingoism mode. Whitney Houston’s voice was one of our greatest national treasures, and her rendition of the National Anthem blew the roof off the entire nation. The internet was still a few years away from being a thing, but this would have been one of its first viral moments.
Like many of the names on side of the list, this one is painful to admit. Alicia Keys is a fantastic talent and a phenomenal performer. This one just went on too long — listen to the crowd’s reaction when they realize she’s not even to the perilous fight yet. Alicia’s rendition of the anthem went on for 2 minutes and 36 seconds, which is definitely too long for a bunch of people who are already drunk, and holds the current record for the longest Super Bowl National Anthem. Your move, Chris Stapleton.
This is actually a lovely rendition, and it’s only a few years after Connick’s iconic soundtrack for “When Harry Met Sally” came out, so you know white America was stoked. The problem here is that someone associated with the performance moved Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas’ helmet from wherever he had placed it to stand for the anthem. When Thomas returned from observing the anthem, his helmet was gone, and one of the best RBs in the game missed the first few plays of the Super Bowl. Buffalo wound up losing to Washington 37-24.
Any time the anthem impacts the actual game? Huge fail.
Look, on paper there’s no way this anthem should be among the worst. Aaron Neville’s voice is legendary, Aretha Franklin might be the best pure singer America has ever produced, and there’s a choir backing them up in the Super Bowl after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Not to mention it’s Aretha singing in Detroit. But for some reason, none of this works, and the whole thing comes off like the Barden Bellas trying way too hard. America apparently still hadn’t learned that all Aretha needs to bring sitting presidents to tears is a piano.
Anyway, we feel dirty even putting this one on here. Forgive us, Aretha.
Another great singer who shouldn’t be on this list, but you can’t get the words wrong. You just can’t.
It gives us no joy to award this dubious honor to such a great artist. American treasure Charley Pride was the first artist to perform the “Star Spangled Banner” solo before the Super Bowl. Until then, the anthem had been performed by marching bands or instrumentalists. But remember what we said about getting the words wrong? That goes double for the opening lines of the song. To be fair to Charley, the audio quality on this sounds terrible, and it could be that he remembered the words, but was getting weird feedback or something with the mic. At any rate, the Super Bowl gets points for Charley Pride, but no points for making him screw up at the beginning.
Anyway, here’s Charley Pride on a much better day. That VOICE.