Did Zooey Deschanel Sing the Least Inspired National Anthem Ever?

Jay Caspian Kang: Can we collectively agree to never, ever, ever desecrate the national anthem in the name of promoting bad television? I understand that Zooey Deschanel is currently starring in a show on Fox and that Fox is carrying the World Series and that at some point in her career of having bangs, smiling coquettishly, and being the complicated girl in independent film, Zooey D has found it necessary to share her vocal talents with the world. But this does not mean that America’s forever pixie has earned the right to sing the national anthem, especially on such a massive stage.

So forgive me for pontificating here, but if we are to respect the national anthem, stand and reflect on our citizenship, don’t the network executives bear the responsibility of presenting us with a version of the song that falls somewhere outside the very easily traceable lines of ratings and intra-platform promotion? And if we are cynical enough to say, “Well, that’s business and you should just grow up,” can’t we at least demand that those same network executives, who, by the way, produce a news network that argues passionately for consecrating American traditions, at least give us a network star who can actually sing?

And if even that’s no longer an option and we are looking at a future in which the winner of America’s Next Top Model: Cycle 47 will sing “Gold Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch with Jessica Rabbit: REMIX!, can we at least send out the following plea: “Dear Fox. I understand the times we live in now. But PLEASE. Anyone but Zooey D. I’d have rather watched Dubya sing “Cotton Eye Joe.”

What is there to really say about Zooey D? She, through no act of her own, has convinced a generation of lonely men that she somehow means more than all the other actresses in Hollywood. Big eyes, bangs, and that monotone voice have somehow turned her into America’s new amalgam of Susan Sontag, Sylvia Plath, and Nico from the Velvet Underground.

Natasha, your thoughts?

Natasha Vargas-Cooper: No! No! I cannot believe this took place! Why not slap some googly eyes on a popsicle stick and prop it up to a microphone instead? What did baseball and America do to deserve this? Jesus Christ, what if this sort of pallid spectacle has come to represent our cultural arrested development? I’m not ready for this sexless sort of knock-kneed kiddie bullshit. I thought Fox would be our beachhead in unapologetic American bravado! The national anthem should be sung by someone with swagger, drama, a full-boom voice that stirs even the most numbed-out bro to take off his damn backwards hat.

Where is the drama of a sweat-drenched Whitney Houston, steeped in struggle, unhinging her jaw to bellow out Our Song? The drums of war echo in her crack-ravaged throat! What the fuck has Zooey DeeDee earned the right to do besides twirl around in a baby doll dress with her face slathered in gluten-free cupcake frosting?

Where have our divas gone? There is no strife in ZoZo’s lily-white aesthetic. No sex, no violence, just tweeting. What a tepid and sniveling symbol she is. She has nothing to draw on, nothing to find resonance in. She’s not even fit for our time. Give us a beleaguered icon. Someone trying to maintain their imperial draw even though they’ve grown bloated and waterlogged with age. I want to hear the sounds of a woman who has known loss and triumph, not the pubescent squeaks of a flinching sitcom star with cute bangs and a stupid blog.

Jay: Beleaguered and waterlogged? How about Barbra Streisand? That would have been perfect, especially with Dubya striding up to the mound to throw out the first pitch. It could have been like when old Aretha sang “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammys.

Now, that was a performance! And with ratings for the World Series at an all-time low, why not try to create a memorable moment and not immediately kowtow to catastrophic corporate thinking?

Here’s my list of five people who should always be on standby to sing the national anthem.

    1. Brian McKnight
    2. Garth Brooks
    3. Mariah Carey
    4. Jennifer Hudson
    5. Boyz II Men

I don’t want to jinx a last Aretha performance that could stand in as a metaphor for these troubled economic times — the strongest voice in the history of the country gathering herself up for one last go — but after last night’s debacle, Fox owes us at least the possibility of redemption via Aretha.

Final thoughts, Natasha?

Natasha: Babs would have been perfect. An icon, a bloated one, but with the face of an immigrant and the ostentation (and nails) of a true American icon. Gorgeous. Why not stick with the Broadway-baby theme and put someone like Trey Parker up there? He can actually sing, has been anointed by Stephen Sondheim, and has built an American institution while still remaining hip. See? I should be in charge of Fox. I’m like a less jowly Murdoch who would only read your e-mails, not your sexts. OK, let’s agree that Zooey is so distasteful and juvenile that she’s almost beneath contempt. Almost!

My list is:

    1. A choir of underprivileged children
    2. Prince
    3. Kelly Clarkson
    4. En Vogue reunion
    5. Patti Lupone

Just to cleanse everyone’s ears and eyes of Zooey D, here are some of the Great National Anthems of All Time:

Marvin Gaye 1983 NBA All-Star Game

Steve Vai

Jennifer Hudson

Mary J Blige

R. Kelly

Finally, many thanks to YouTube user MartyThomaslovesyou for putting together this amazing video.

Jay Caspian Kang: And of course, the greatest rendition of any song ever sung ever.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is a journalist living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and GQ. Follow her on Twitter at @natashavc.

Jay Caspian Kang is an editor at Grantland. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, will be published by Hogarth/Random House in Summer 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @jaycaspiankang.

Filed Under: Fox, Music, World Series, Zooey Deschanel