I do not enjoy cringing, or basking in the humiliation of others, or poorly executed jazz scatting, or radical deconstructions of the national anthem. (Though there are exceptions.) And so I spent most of Monday very aggressively not clicking on footage of Fergie singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game. Forget it. I’ve got enough problems and enough complicated feelings about flamboyant public displays of patriotism.
And yet the internet beckoned, with wild tales of this particular performance’s cataclysmic horror, miniature hot takes from the likes of Roseanne (she’s wrong), and amusing memes. Clearly, this had bloomed into another one of those socio-cultural events of such outsized national importance that I would be forced against my will to monitor, as with the presidential debates or Game of Thrones.
Fine. Fine. I’m doing this, I decided. For the culture. I am, however, taking you all with me. We’re doing this. Here, now, is a brief rundown of how many times I had to pause this video to recompose myself.
0:00 to 0:45. I am, quite frankly, impressed with myself for lasting way longer than I expected. Granted, the first 18 seconds consist of the arena announcer’s gushing intro (Fergie has won eight Grammys?) and her slow sashay up the microphone, which is wildly inappropriate in a way that is, you have to admit, Totally Fergie.
Let’s make clear at the onset that Fergie’s whole shtick is a complete lack of nuance or capacity for embarrassment: Everything Fergie does is designed to send you on a whiplash journey from Oh, no to Oh, wow to Oh, fine. This is the human who single-handedly transformed the Black Eyed Peas from chin-stroking conscious rappers to imperial cornball pop stars, whose previous meme-worthy low/high point was the time she wet herself onstage, who sang one of the worst songs that I nonetheless unreservedly love. It would disappoint me greatly if Fergie aged gracefully, or did anything gracefully other than maybe vape, or if she ever treated the national anthem with any delicacy whatsoever. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote (not about Fergie), “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
That said, yes, OK, she sounds like she just jumped out of a cake, and the jazz-scat overtones are very threatening and discomfiting indeed, and the tempo suggests this rendition is gonna be, like, 10 minutes long. I don’t see the problem yet, but I can see that it will present itself very soon.
0:46 to 1:07. OK, yeah, here we go. The bunker-busting syllable-by-syllable shrapnel of perilous alone, yikes. She sounds like Miley Cyrus spoofing Amy Winehouse on an SNL episode that I am not watching no matter how outsized its national importance. But I tough it out, only hammering the pause button again when Chance the Rapper’s face blooms into a sunburst smile as Fergie throttles the word raaaaaamparts until it confesses treason.
1:08 to 1:41. The camera lovingly spins around her during the “rockets red glare / bombs bursting in air” section, giving this a queasy, surreal Hitchcockian quality, and I am for serious scanning the court surface for crumbs of the cake she jumped out of. I pause the video again preemptively, just girding myself for The Big Finish.
[Drinks extra-large glass of iced coffee.]
[Me, not Fergie, though you never know.]
1:42 to 1:44. WHOOOOAOAOAHHHOOOAH SAYYY. Pause. All right. Now I’m unhappy.
1:45 to 2:02. I do my best to power through the boudoir breathiness of ba-han-nuhr-hur yeh-het wayyy-haayyve, but I lose it when Draymond Green does.
But the worst part, by far, is the pregnant pause she throws in before throwing herself on the pyre of “the land of the free,” a brief moment of near-silence that the arena crowd fills in by laughing. Oh, God. In 2018, the national anthem has a laugh track. This is immediately followed by a shot of Jimmy Kimmel, who looks bemused and jovial as usual, suggesting that this whole thing was another work. But this was a prank even if it wasn’t conceived as a prank, a naked plea for Mariah Carey–on–New Year’s Eve–type virality and embarrassment-as-triumph, a raucous success as a total artistic disaster. It is no worse than we deserve, and certainly no better. God bless America; I will not listen to Fergie sing “God Bless America.”
2:03 to 2:39 (end). [Reaction not available.] [I am hiding under my desk.]