Following Mickey Guyton in 2022 and Eric Church’s rendition of the National Anthem in a duet with R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan the year before, Chris Stapleton’s performance of the National Anthem at Super Bowl LVII marked the third consecutive year that a country artist performed all or a portion of the pre-game song. Stapleton, on the other hand, reiterated what many of his fans already knew: that he is at least as much a classic blues singer as a country artist.
Despite or maybe because of Stapleton’s extraordinarily bad performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” cameras were able to cut to openly weeping reaction shots among the game’s participants. Both coach Nick Sirianni, who was saving the fighting for the battlefield, and Eagles lineman Jason Kelce, who seemed to be holding back tears, were in full spigot mode.
Before a game (and maybe a Rihanna performance) focused much more on the notion of teamwork, the sight of Stapleton standing alone at centre field with nothing but a Fender Telecaster, a small mic-ed amp, and a few speakers was a symbol of American uniqueness. Even though there have been many fantastic performances of this song throughout the years, Stapleton’s delivery of it as something alone and inward stood in creative contrast to the sturm und drang with which it is often played.
Before the main event, the other two musical performances provided an intriguing contrast study. Babyface delivered the least belt-y performance of “America the Beautiful” in memory, opting for a quiet-storm approach to patriotism. He also played guitar, albeit an acoustic one with a full, pre-recorded backing track, and was much less pretentious than Stapleton.
Sheryl Lee Ralph, on the other hand, had an extremely emotive rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” including moments when she marched in place while singing. This song is currently recognised as the Black national anthem. Ralph was the most beautiful and colourfully costumed singer in recent Super Bowl history, with a red train trailing behind her on the white stage that was clearly not meant to imply any favouritism for the Chiefs. Stapleton and Babyface both wore black to the occasion.
Although “Lift Every Voice” had previously been used in multiple NFL games, this was the third year in a row that it had been featured in the pre-Bowl programme as part of a musical triple play. Despite the fact that certain right-wing voices may have began to pay notice because the game aired on Fox and the network’s website hyped up the controversy around it, the Black national anthem has now become a solid tradition.
Conservative outlaw Kevin Sorbo called the song’s performance “racist” against white people, while Lauren Boebert tweeted, “America only has ONE National Anthem. Why is the NFL playing many games to try to divide us? Play football, not mindfulness. Boebert undoubtedly feels the same way about “America the Beautiful” for detracting from Frances Scott Key’s creative output, but hasn’t gotten around to criticising it yet.
Stapleton’s performance of the National Anthem sounds like it was influenced by a great American Black music artform, which is a success for the majority of non-troll America regardless of how Rihanna’s halftime show is viewed. Stapleton is a unifier rather than a divider.
And for those who are wondering about what happened to guitars in the pop world… The performances of Babyface and Stapleton this year, together with Eric Church and H.E.R.’s earlier visits, make it look that they will continue to gravitate towards the Super Bowl year after year.