Why the US national anthem is terrible - and perfect

  • Published on Jul 4, 2018
  • Vox's Estelle Caswell and Joss Fong debate "The Star Spangled Banner"
    Subscribe to our channel! goo.gl/0bsAjO
    When Francis Scott Key attached his poem about the War of 1812 to a popular British song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," he kicked off over 200 years of painfully bad singing by patriotic Americans. The Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem of the United States in 1931, but it had been used by the Army and Navy for decades before that and was popular from the start. One big problem? The melody wasn't exactly written for the masses, but for trained soloists.
    Commentators pointed out early on that it was exceedingly difficult for most people to sing, suggesting that "America the Beautiful" might be a better alternative. Critics have noted that the music requires a uniquely wide vocal range, it's full of tricky intervals, and the lyrics are confusing and uninspiring.
    But if you look at the national anthem as a sport, where we get to watch performers at the top of their game tackle the gauntlet that is the Star Spangled Banner, you may come to appreciate it. In this video, we debate whether the difficulty of the Star Spangled Banner is a feature or a bug for a national anthem.
    Further reading:
    Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America's National Anthem www.amazon.com/Star-Spangled-Banner-Unlikely-Americas-National/dp/1421415186
    Star Spangled Music: starspangledmusic.org/
    Slate: Proudly Hailed www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2014/07/the_star_spangled_banner_four_reasons_it_shouldn_t_be_the_national_anthem.html
    Emily Cope: medium.com/@emilybcope/music-to-what-extent-does-the-star-spangled-banner-illustrate-how-melody-and-rhythm-influence-the-aff2c78853ed
    Some songs don't just stick in your head, they change the music world forever. Join Estelle Caswell on a musical journey to discover the stories behind your favorite songs.
    Check out the entire Vox Earworm playlist here: bit.ly/2QCwhMH
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    Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out www.vox.com
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Comments • 9 414

  • Vox
    Vox  10 months ago +1131

    If you want to learn more about the anthem, check out this site: starspangledmusic.org/blog/ They're obsessed with the Star Spangled Banner and have tons of interesting facts and videos. This book by Marc Ferris is also really interesting www.amazon.com/Star-Spangled-Banner-Unlikely-Americas-National/dp/1421415186/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

    • Yehosh
      Yehosh Month ago

      Why didn't you mention Mariah Carey's Version Of The Star Spangled. Its so Good.

    • HTHTV3
      HTHTV3 5 months ago +1

      @2:22 Most do not believe that *that mic* wasn't on when the late great #WhitneyHouston sung it... is there any proof? The studio where she supposedly pre-recorded it? #Receipts?
      Many may aim to revoke accolades she honestly earned.

    • JESUS Loves cats
      JESUS Loves cats 6 months ago

      I really thought it was terrible

    • Jack Daniels
      Jack Daniels 6 months ago

      thanx .. for your advice...
      although I am a saudi man I love to listen to the US National Anthem.

    • I love noodles
      I love noodles 7 months ago +1

      This is an insult and un American.
      How dare you!!!!

  • Hariz's channel
    Hariz's channel 38 minutes ago

    Greece anthem
    USA anthem

  • Saltine Cracker
    Saltine Cracker 11 hours ago

    Because the anthems hard to sing makes it a bad song?

  • Jeremy Zuniga
    Jeremy Zuniga 12 hours ago

    Probably it’s the person not the song tea periodt

  • AppleDaBoss
    AppleDaBoss 17 hours ago

    My school only says the Pledge of Allegiance. They don't sing the anthem.


  • [AC] E100
    [AC] E100 18 hours ago

    Just shut up and use your lyrics for the God Save the Queen tune, America.
    -We kind of still belong to the British.-

  • Alice Storm
    Alice Storm 19 hours ago

    Jump5 did a great cover with the double octave jump. No one's topped it since.

  • r_ascend
    r_ascend 20 hours ago

    Its so hard to sing, thats why Hendrix just used his guitar and boom he made history

  • _A_Berry_ Bear_
    _A_Berry_ Bear_ Day ago

    The Australian anthem!
    Australians all let us rejoice
    For we are young and free
    We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
    Our home is girt by sea
    Our land abounds in nature's gifts
    Of beauty, rich and rare
    In history's page let every stage
    Advance Australia fair,
    In joyful strains then let us sing
    "Advance Australia fair!"
    Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
    We'll toil with hearts and hands,
    To make this Commonwealth of ours
    Renowned of all the lands,
    For those who've across the seas
    We've boundless plains to share,
    With courage let us all combine
    To advance Australia fair,
    In joyful strains then let us sing,
    "Advance Australia fair!"
    (Most schools sing it during assembly's btw((Some even have their own school songs!))

  • Scolar Visari
    Scolar Visari Day ago

    Insulting the anthem isn't very FREEDOM of you.

  • Rageanator
    Rageanator 2 days ago

    I prefer the USSR anthem

  • Mostlyharmless1985
    Mostlyharmless1985 2 days ago

    It's the perfect song for America. You can NOT go into it without having confidence and power. You can not falter at it. You will die. Just power into into it a half octave below your natural singing voice and just hammer it home.
    It really is a super fun song if you are a singer, but if you do not have confidence in your voice, you will crash and burn.

  • TheApacheGunship
    TheApacheGunship 2 days ago

    No one can be satisfied with anything...everything has to be all-inclusive, anything American is bad, and you don’t dare be patriotic. Can we not leave the anthem alone and be proud to live in this great country?

  • Aorda
    Aorda 2 days ago

    It should be Fortunate Son.

  • Diddle Skittles
    Diddle Skittles 3 days ago

    Did they not have to say this in school?

  • Chloe Patterson
    Chloe Patterson 3 days ago

    The anthem is best sung in a chore. That way you have multiply people singing different tunes their used to. This makes it sound really pretty.

  • Sean Thrasher
    Sean Thrasher 3 days ago


  • Abby Lee
    Abby Lee 4 days ago

    No, he cannot see

  • Ian Saylor
    Ian Saylor 4 days ago

    This happened because America is just so extra.

  • c castle
    c castle 4 days ago

    Uks one is so easy to sing lol

  • Valentin Loew
    Valentin Loew 4 days ago

    french anthem is really cool and easy to sing, but when people try to sing it in stadiums the'yre always on the wrong rythm its so funny^^so everybody has its problems i guess

  • MrMarvel
    MrMarvel 4 days ago


  • Desk
    Desk 5 days ago

    Hail Columbia is honestly a much better anthemn than the Star Spangled Banner, if America changes its anthemn it should either be that or Battle Cry of Freedom.

  • Michelle Phan
    Michelle Phan 6 days ago

    The people saying they can't sing this makes me laugh, because I'm in a middle school choir that has terrible funding, one teacher with no substitutes, and is held after school for people who want to be in choir, and each of the students (including me) are perfectly able to sing the national anthem. So either these people are whining or they lack the ability to sing a low B

    • mozak plesa
      mozak plesa Day ago

      The national anthem for choirs is arranged in SATB style and uses voice leading, making it easy for amateur voices to sing. This is referring to solo national anthem singing.

  • Kaveevin
    Kaveevin 6 days ago

    Jesus Christ.

  • snuf kin
    snuf kin 6 days ago

    I usually always agree with Joss! What happened?! 😂😂

  • Apple User 2
    Apple User 2 6 days ago +1

    The old German anthem is good but not many people like it.... wonder why 🤔🤔🤔🤔

  • The Radiation Zone
    The Radiation Zone 6 days ago +7

    “He was a slave holder...”
    Oh no, who would have guessed that someone during the time period of revolutionary war would have slaves!
    It’s almost like... EVERYONE had slaves!!

    • Ted
      Ted 12 hours ago

      +The Radiation Zone I have neither the time nor the crayons to explain this to you, but I shall try to make this as clear as possible to you:
      You are massively, massively stupid.

    • The Radiation Zone
      The Radiation Zone 13 hours ago

      I assumed that you were stating a rhetorical question.
      But for someone who thinks their old and wise, you seem to be failing at making a sufficient argument for me to even answer.
      When I think about it, 90% of what you have been doing since you started talking was to throw mindless banter without any context.

    • Ted
      Ted 14 hours ago

      +The Radiation Zone You didn't answer my question, son. Maybe you simply haven't been alive long enough to understand that this little symbol, ?, is in fact requesting a reply.

    • The Radiation Zone
      The Radiation Zone 14 hours ago

      So, what your saying is “I know you are right and I’m just adding on a comeback to seem at least slightly intelligent.”

    • Ted
      Ted 14 hours ago

      +The Radiation Zone Is it difficult having a room temperature IQ, or do you get used it after a while?

  • Jason Williams
    Jason Williams 6 days ago

    It's a categorically awful song... Sonically, lyrically, instrumentally... Just terrible.

  • AncientHunter101
    AncientHunter101 6 days ago +1

    Really Vox? No Jimmy?

  • jrwhitney22
    jrwhitney22 7 days ago +2

    The NFL should play Whitney’s video every Super Bowl!

  • Matt R.
    Matt R. 7 days ago

    We should go back to Hail, Columbia
    Must more suitable for our country than the star spangled banner.

  • Johnny Sins xD
    Johnny Sins xD 8 days ago

    No it's not perfect. It's a gay tune and the worst song ever.

  • VK89000 XaLo
    VK89000 XaLo 8 days ago

    Trash Spangled Banner, the perfect name for it.

  • titznkronos
    titznkronos 9 days ago

    1:57 fifths ?
    More like

  • Jake Spur
    Jake Spur 9 days ago

    Great if u like songs about war.

  • Ixion Music
    Ixion Music 9 days ago +1

    Dare to be stupid by Weird Al Yankovic should be the national anthem.

  • Danny Lam
    Danny Lam 9 days ago +4

    It's performed at ALL American sporting events, not just the large commercialized ones.

  • Salomao Kawakami
    Salomao Kawakami 9 days ago

    That's why here in Japan any children know and CAN sing from kindergarten the Japanese anthem.
    The anthem is to any occasion and to everybody not only to sports... That's what Japanese people think...

  • Mariocolby
    Mariocolby 10 days ago

    We all know the better song is the Soviet anthem

  • Bill P
    Bill P 10 days ago

    This song is not just a anthem it's a story about all who died holding the flag up.

  • Take The L
    Take The L 11 days ago

    Our National Anthem is awesome; it's the best in the world. We don't need a new one

  • Norwegian Little Tonje Andrea

    When do I sing my country’s anthem?

    A lot during may 17th

  • Brick Life
    Brick Life 12 days ago

    Chinese anthem is my favurite anthem because i am Chinese

  • Joseph Underwood
    Joseph Underwood 12 days ago +1

    how you gonna fail to mention Igor Stravinsky's arrest for making his own edition of this song?!

  • Dragoon The Weirdo
    Dragoon The Weirdo 12 days ago

    I sang the national anthem 25 times just to barely get it correct

  • Kim Jong-il
    Kim Jong-il 12 days ago

    Listen tho the asian

  • ResidentEvil302cuba rican215

    Im proud 2 b an American 🇺🇸 🇺🇸...yea fergie really fuckd it up. She shouldn't see it ever again..jose killed it boriqua 🇵🇷

  • Duck
    Duck 13 days ago

    But wouldn’t you sing this in a choir?

  • Jeff Lindeman
    Jeff Lindeman 14 days ago

    To the woman who says, "It just feels like failure." Get over it. Get over yourself. Accept the fact that the breadth and depth of human achievement and understanding is under no obligation to restrict it's reach to some "average" level of cognition, comprehension, natural ability or nurtured performance. Profundity and one's inability to perceive it, does not render the concept any less profound.
    Personally, I see the idea that our national anthem is more complex musically, a stretch to perform, and requires a greater sense of our history and core ideals to understand, as conceptual perfection. It reveals so much about us. Our ability to quell our fears, face the challenges and reach for higher goals, while still acknowledging a sense of humility and the ability to laugh at ourselves. It represents that freedom is difficult and not something to be taken as a given; it requires work and constant practice to achieve properly. It carries respect for the intentions of it's creators, even though their ways (as in the language) might be awkward, less nuanced or even incompatible with today's standards. And lastly it's performance places great importance on the idea of personal responsibility for the soloist willing to take the challenge, accepts that not all will have the perseverance to hit the pinnacle, but a satisfactory attempt is still acceptable, as is covering any shortcomings by joining in the heartfelt chorus. Additionally, deriding it's difficulty, yet kicking down the stage door to get into the performance, and then attempting to sing some other 7-note or 9-note song in an dissonant key will garner calls for Security.
    All I got. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Live it or live with it. Cheers

  • Some One
    Some One 14 days ago

    We should replace Star Spangled Banner with the Soviet anthem. They don't need it anymore.

  • LegoWormNoah101
    LegoWormNoah101 15 days ago

    EXCUSE ME?! Whitney Houston's performance was *PRE-RECORDED?!*
    Stop asking for dislikes. That's just a conspiracy theory.

  • LegoWormNoah101
    LegoWormNoah101 15 days ago

    I'm sorry, but I have to report this. As an American, that hurt. *HARD!* Mainly because I can remember all the lyrics, and can sing the while song at a lower octave.

  • Jacob Elledge
    Jacob Elledge 15 days ago

    Just like all liberals. It’s hard we have to give up.

  • shyboi 0002
    shyboi 0002 15 days ago

    It's SO SO SOOO easy for me to sing the Star Spangled Banner. How people, mainly other Americans, CAN'T sing it is astounding to me.

  • Afia Zaman
    Afia Zaman 16 days ago +3

    Lmao we have to sing our national anthem every morning at school, yall dont have to?😂

    • Afia Zaman
      Afia Zaman 14 days ago

      +John Martinez We sing Amar Sonar Bangla everymorning. And say our pledges and we have yo hear our principle telling us to be good kids AND then we are allowed to go to class

    • John Martinez
      John Martinez 14 days ago

      I'm 32, when I was a kid we used to say the pledges. So for Texas we would say the U.S.A. pledge then the Texas pledge

  • slosher
    slosher 16 days ago

    That coach is a hero!

  • Michael Reed
    Michael Reed 16 days ago

    Insightful ideas, comrade.

  • Wok's Random Channel
    Wok's Random Channel 16 days ago

    Donzer lee light.

  • Dir Hell
    Dir Hell 17 days ago +1

    We should make the national anthem all stars then remove the bars and expand the stars on the flag

  • Joseph Stalin
    Joseph Stalin 17 days ago

    Try listening to Russian national anthem

  • Erwin Rommel
    Erwin Rommel 18 days ago +1

    Neither is Australia’s one easy to remember.

  • ايمن المغامر
    ايمن المغامر 18 days ago +4

    USSR anthem is the perfect anthem

  • Jasmine Duran
    Jasmine Duran 19 days ago

    I feel bad for the guy who got booed for singing the national anthem. He sounded great...better than Christina Aguilera.

  • Carl Johnson
    Carl Johnson 19 days ago

    Hail Columbia happy land
    Hail ye heroes heaven born band

  • Ray Moore
    Ray Moore 19 days ago

    I liked the end coach of the year right there

  • breezyjimin
    breezyjimin 20 days ago

    the best singer who’s ever sing the national anthem for me is whitney houston and mariah carey

  • Lisergiko
    Lisergiko 21 day ago +4

    It'd be great if it didn't fashion racist lyrics...

  • Akin Khoo
    Akin Khoo 21 day ago

    you should read the lyric of of the american and chinese anthem, they are very similiar, both singing about resisting a war.

  • Ario Danurdoro Widodo
    Ario Danurdoro Widodo 22 days ago

    America is so liberal that even the anthem can be sung the way we want it, brilliant !

  • Julian Galaz
    Julian Galaz 22 days ago

    i think vox is nothing but a bunch if communists

  • Rockson90
    Rockson90 24 days ago

    same national anthem thailand 🇹🇭
    12 notes C4 ~ E5

  • EALM95
    EALM95 24 days ago

    It's interesting how USA values differ from the world.
    In Mexico for example, it is illegal to change anything in the anthem, lyric or music. The only exception is the indigenous translations.
    This is also reflected on our coat of arms and flag, they cannot be altered in any way. On the other hand, you can easily see the USA flag modified to any sort of merchandise.
    We see this as giving utter respect to our symbols, so it's jarring to see the USA doing the complete opposite. Singers adding notes to the anthem, changing the beat, or even the music. While it can lead to unique results, it is very strange to watch it happen and the thunderous applause, booing or laughter following it.
    Also only just one person singing it while everyone watches in silence? Bizarre.

  • Tim’s Vids
    Tim’s Vids 24 days ago

    It’s easy you just have to memorize it by watching a lot of TVclip videos

  • ThatCSGOPlayer
    ThatCSGOPlayer 24 days ago

    The Star Spangled Banner is perfect because America is perfect

  • Billy Murray fan
    Billy Murray fan 24 days ago

    You sng ase

  • Charlie M
    Charlie M 25 days ago

    Happy to be English not American

  • Annika Sauer
    Annika Sauer 25 days ago

    as a Canadian who has had maybe one too many overly patriotic American friends who forced me to listen to the hymn, THANK YOU IVE BEEN SAYING THIS ALL ALONG

  • DAC Studios
    DAC Studios 25 days ago +1

    0:55 Jesus this one American flag so beautiful

  • Katie Rorvick
    Katie Rorvick 25 days ago +1

    they're singing the way a child does. No wonder they can't sing it. (I'm a choir kid so I'm on the low triggered😂)

  • minte mojo
    minte mojo 27 days ago


  • CatMugz
    CatMugz 27 days ago

    Why is it that my Native Language is English but I can sing the USSR Anthem well-ish? IT'S RUSSIAN!!!!!!!!

  • Breakfast Club Sandwich

    If al bundy can sing the national anthem i’ll allow it

  • Daniel Wilde
    Daniel Wilde 27 days ago

    Read More

  • Randy93
    Randy93 27 days ago

    I prefer it sung as a duet or choir performance it just feels so much more like a piece that requires a group of voices joined together much like how the nation is a group of individuals and individual states united together

  • Jaja Yayaya
    Jaja Yayaya 27 days ago

    I am not an american . so I know the reason every I watch the TV why mostly american not join sing with proud when have ceremony or in sport event. . in my country every person always proud and join sing our national anthem. we sing without change the notes or trying to improve the melody, because forbidden in our law.

  • Alex Abreu
    Alex Abreu 27 days ago

    So.. we're not gonna talk about the other verses?..

  • Crescent Rose
    Crescent Rose 28 days ago

    The World Series, only features the US

  • Crescent Rose
    Crescent Rose 28 days ago

    Land of the free, 1/100 imprisoned

  • Perplexeus
    Perplexeus 28 days ago +1

    After stating that the anthem is challenging to sing, hard to remembre and written by a slaveholder, I was rather surprised by the conclusion that this is what's making the anthem so good.

  • Meylie
    Meylie 28 days ago

    The last part was exactly the day I was born the date and everything 😂

  • Sean Thrasher
    Sean Thrasher 29 days ago


  • Ana Helene
    Ana Helene 29 days ago

    francis scott key: am i a joke to you?

  • Paul R
    Paul R 29 days ago

    But this is why it makes it MURICAN

  • Marcheski TV
    Marcheski TV 29 days ago


  • Marcheski TV
    Marcheski TV 29 days ago

    I hated my kindergarten and first grade years. Those years I was in a different school than the rest of my grades. In the morning announcements, we did the American Pledge like usual. But we had to sing the Star Spangled Banner EVERY DAY. When I sang, my voice cracked like 5 times. No one looked at me though, because their voices were cracking too

  • DontRead
    DontRead 29 days ago

    "It was written by Francis Scott Off-Key" killed me 6:07

  • Laurel Rosas
    Laurel Rosas 29 days ago +1

    I am an American and I think our national anthem is bland

    • Camden Henry
      Camden Henry 26 days ago

      Laurel Rosas I think it’s one of the best songs ever written (in American history)

  • Joseph Bullard
    Joseph Bullard 29 days ago

    I totally agree. It’s great because it is hard and we dare to triumph anyways, which perfectly encompasses the American spirit. “We do...these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” -JFK

  • Samudera Cinta
    Samudera Cinta 29 days ago

    But malea emma crushed it..