March 3rd marks the 84th anniversary of the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem of the United States. I know what you’re thinking: “Really, only 84 years?” Yup! America actually didn’t have a national anthem until 1931, which is when Herbert Hoover was like, “Y’know, they already sing this song at baseball games and Independence Day, so we might as well.”
In any case, I think it’s safe to say that the song is outdated. No song that repeatedly uses the word “o’er” can possibly reflect American culture in 2015. We can pronounce the word “over,” we’re not animals. And besides, it’s not even about America, it’s about the American flag. Do we really want other nations to think that there’s nothing more to us than an admittedly well-designed fabric pattern? We need a new national anthem. Here are a couple options that I think fit the bill nicely.
Do they all directly reference America? No. Are most of them not about America in any way? Yes. But “The Star-Spangled Banner” isn’t about America either, so that’s not exactly a solid argument. The most important thing is that they capture the spirit of the United States in this moment: self-important as ever, but also more aware of its flaws than ever, with the perpetual sense that tomorrow the country will finally fall apart.
1) LCD Soundsystem – “North American Scum (Live at Madison Square Garden)”
When I set out to write this article, my first course of action was to search “America” in my iTunes library. Out of over 2200 songs, it returned 22 results. I was surprised there were that many, to be honest, even though most of them were from Jay Z’s American Gangster and were therefore only tangentially patriotic. This LCD Soundsystem track jumped out immediately. It’s self-deprecating and proud of it, wholeheartedly embracing all the reasons America is disliked by other nations. “Yeah, we’re American. Does that make you hate us? Good! We never liked you anyway.” It’s sincerely cynical, or maybe cynically sincere. I can’t tell. In any case, it’s not all that dissimilar from “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Both songs require a large vocal range to perform perfectly, and both are better live. It might sound weird to make the national anthem a specific live performance of a song, rather than the song itself, but man those horns in the chorus are just irresistible.
2) Kanye West – “I Am A God (feat. God)”
You don’t know how difficult it was to pick a single Kanye West song for this list. Not only is he a brilliant musician, he’s an unparalleled innovator and one of the most forward-thinking artists currently working. We want a national anthem that will stand the test of time. Will this track off of West’s 2013 record Yeezus do so? It’s impossible to know, but what’s clear is how well this song captures the current mood of the country. It’s full of exaggerated bravado, yes, but not without hypocrisies, contradictions, and fatalistic paranoia. There’s an awareness of the inevitability of death behind West’s boasts, which fits a nation seemingly convinced that doomsday is right around the corner, whether at the hands of President Obama the Antichrist or careless capitalist tyrants. Most importantly, the sound of the song feels like it’ll be relevant decades from now. This isn’t something that’ll get sung at the beginning of the Super Bowl, but we’re looking for honest assessments here, not boring, redundant jingoism.
3) tUnE-yArDs – “My Country”
Alright, fine, we won’t swerve too far from traditional Americana this time. This one actually begins with “My country tis of thee/sweet land of liberty”, referencing a song which was the de facto national anthem for a while, so it’s definitely the kind of thing that our Founding Fathers would be down with. You just listen to that and tell me that Benjamin Franklin wouldn’t love it. Anyway, this is obviously a satirical take on the eponymous patriotic lyrics, but we live in the age of irony. I’m no great fan of irony myself, but I am a great fan of tUnE-yArDs, and this song in particular. It’s not exactly pro-America, but it is super catchy, so I doubt anyone would notice.
4) Death Grips – “Runway E”
“Josh, this is an instrumental track.” Oh, I know. I was trying to find a Death Grips track that would suit this list, because their whole modus operandi just screams “the deterioration of America by way of modern-day technology.” And I mean “screams” literally, as anyone who’s listened to one of their non-instrumental tracks can attest. I picked “Runway E” because it feels like a deranged deconstruction of the marching drummers you see in Memorial Day parades, their loud pomp and circumstance corrupted and rearranged by some technological monstrosity. And yet it still possesses an upbeat energy that makes it perfect for kicking off sporting events.
5) Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
There are two types of people: The ones who like Taylor Swift, and the ones who are lying to themselves. This has been a pretty misanthropic list, so I wanted to close out with a song I knew had the power unite the country with relentless positivity. It’s the mirror image of “North American Scum”, in that its rejection of outside criticism isn’t an ironic way of accepting it. Swift encourages the listener to not let the haters get to them, to express themselves rather than constantly return their opponents’ volleys, to not let their emotions be dictated by their opponents. The political climate of this country is so toxic, a never-ending series of catfights which spend more time proving the other person wrong than proving themselves right. We need to stop letting our politics come about entirely as a response to the strawman opinions of the “other side” that we construct. Once we figure out how to play nice, the song will have done its work, and we can let it be a celebration of our newfound tolerance for one another. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think the creation of a Swiftopia is possible within my lifetime.