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This Sunday at the Super Bowl, Carrie Underwood will very likely be lip-syncing the National Anthem, whether she wants to or not, and it is mostly the fault of the king of pop country, Garth Brooks.
This story starts way back in 1993 at Super Bowl XXVIII in Pasadena, CA. In 1993, Garth Brooks was not only the biggest thing in country music, but the biggest thing in music, period. Garth had just become the the first country artist ever to have three albums listed in the pop top 20 charts in one week. So when it came to handing out Star Spangled Banner duty, Garth was the obvious choice.
Everything leading up to and during the Super Bowl is planned out to the second. With so many people watching, so much money on the line, and so many different events and happenings to coordinate, everything must be carefully choreographed and remain on an uncompromising schedule. That is why the NFL began insisting to it’s Anthem performers that they pre-record their performances, even if just as a backup plan to singing live.
In 1991, Whitney Houston sang the Anthem, and it was considered by some at the time to be one of the best Anthem performances ever. Later it was revealed that Whitney was singing into a dead microphone, and the performance was pre-recorded. When Garth Brooks was asked to make a pre-recording of the Anthem two years later, he refused. Some might have thought that this was because Garth wanted to make sure the performance was live and pure, but as game time neared, Garth’s true motives were revealed.
Garth’s 1992 album The Chase included a song called “We Shall Be Free”, a gospel-esque song that he wrote after spending time in Los Angeles after the race riots following the Rodney King incident. Garth was hoping to debut a video for the song during the Super Bowl that included numerous celebrity cameos from people like Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno, and Patrick Swayze. However NBC, the broadcaster of the game that year, rejected the video because of “content some felt was disturbing imagery.” Along with the celebrity cameos, Garth’s video included clips of flag burnings, cross burnings and the Ku Klux Klan, intravenous drug use, riots, bombings, war scenes, natural disasters, and other questionable content; images that NBC did not want to broadcast to the family-friendly Super Bowl audience.
So Garth, 45 minutes before he was supposed to perform the Anthem, pulled one of the most bold stunts in Super Bowl history to force NBC’s hand: he walked out of the Rose Bowl stadium entirely, refusing to sing unless they aired his video. Producers tried to rationalize with him, explaining that there was no time budgeted for it, but Garth held his ground, and a standoff ensued. This sent NBC and the NFL into full panic mode: with 91 million people tuning in from all around the world, they had no National Anthem performer, and even worse, Garth had had the foresight to not give them a pre-recorded version that they could use as an alternative.
This was the worst case scenario for Super Bowl organizers. An NBC producer spotted John Bon Jovi in the Super Bowl crowd, and began to prep him as a plan B. Garth Brooks had NBC right where he wanted them, and the NFL could see that. So the NFL did something completely unprecedented in Super Bowl history, they moved the kickoff time back to accommodate the airing of the Garth video.
Garth Brooks had won, but in a lot of ways the rest of us lost. According to former NFL executive director Don Weiss in his book The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event, since the Garth incident in 1993, the NFL has made it a requirement that all Anthem singers make a pre-recording of their performances. Last year Jennifer Hudson sang the Anthem, months after members of her family had been killed. She was called “inspiring,” until it was revealed later that she had lip synced.
The Super Bowl’s music director last year, and for 1991 when Whitney Houston sang, and for many other years has been a man named Ricky Minor, who also works for the TV show “American Idol,” where this year’s National Anthem performer Carrie Underwood got her start. Minor explained to The Associated Press after revealing that Hudson had indeed lip synced, that it was on his insistence.
“That’s the right way to do it. There’s too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live, because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance.”
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I’m not a huge fan of National Anthem performances, but the idea behind it is to inspire people, and one of the ways natural talents inspire us all is by working without a net. The American public’s appetite and insistence on perfection and the use of lip syncing and Auto-Tune have taken the inspiration out of live music performance and turned it into pre-recorded puppetry.
I’m not a fan of Carrie Underwood, but I’ve said before that she is an amazingly talented natural singer. But what does that matter if her performance is pre-recorded, and run through pitch benders days before we all hear it?
Give me something REAL over something perfect.
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