Let’s be real — I’m tired of the national anthem.
For most of us, our most intimate experiences with the national anthem usually revolve around its butchering on both the local and national stage. I can’t count how many times I’ve logged onto Twitter to see another celebrity roasted for their spirited rendition of the song; I can only assume it rivals the number of times in high school my friends and I hid under the bleachers so whatever poor SOB choir student had been sacrificed to the mob didn’t see us laugh in their faces.
In the wake of the international Black Lives Matter protests, which, if anything, have proved that every vocal white person in America owes Colin Kaepernick a drink, it’s clear that there are other pillars in our community that need toppling. With all this instability, I totally understand why white people are feeling oddly protective over the treasured cultural institutions they’ve taken for granted, like racist grandparents and *checks notes* a national anthem whose last notes they can’t even hit. But we can’t ignore what’s right in front of our faces.
If you need a reminder, Francis Scott Key, author of our Star Spangled Banner, was also a slave owner and ruthless lawyer who prosecuted slavery violators and early abolitionists to the fullest extent of the law. In Snow-Storm In August, a historical novel focusing on Key’s involvement in one of America’s first race riots, he is quoted as saying that freed slaves fighting for the British were from “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”
But his derision for the autonomy of freed slaves affected more than just his politics — it’s almost embedded into the heart of his most famous song. Let’s look at this verse one more time:
No refuge could save the hireling & slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave.
While these verses were struck from the more popular version of this song so as not to offend the British, their existence in the canon makes yet another case for a new national anthem. But if it took a month of daily protests to get white people to order White Fragility, I’m sure it’ll be awhile before I never have to hear “The Star Spangled Banner” again.
So in the meantime, here are 14 other national anthems to stream instead…
14) “Chromatica II into 911,” Lady Gaga
Okay, so this isn’t technically a song, but this transition is still better than anything written by a racist.
13) “Gives You Hell,” The All-American Rejects
The tenets of a great anthem should be as follows: not racist and able to be blasted on the top of your neighbor’s house, seconds before you all wife swap. “Gives You Hell” fulfills all of these requirements.
If you don’t know all of the words to a song, does it even really count as a national anthem? Lucky for us, I’ve never heard a drunk LES crowd miss a beat on this one, which gives you no excuse either. What do you say? Destiny is calling.
11) “Motion Sickness,” Phoebe Bridgers
I just really like this song, and I really don’t like Francis Scott Key. It’s my article — I can do what I want.
10) “Nina Cried Power,” Hozier
When compared to the entirety of Hozier’s discography, “Nina Cried Power” clearly isn’t his most popular song. But its exploration of protest songs and the activist/singers that wrote them makes it far better than any boring song about some fireworks.
9) “Watermelon Sugar,” Harry Styles
Look, this is clearly already the song of the summer. And while it hasn’t been explicitly confirmed by Styles himself, it’s very clearly about the joys of eating a girl out. So why not also make it the song of our country?
8) “Motivation,” Normani
What can I say? This bop comes with its own wardrobe and basketball choreography. That alone puts it in the running. The added fact that Normani never got the recognition she deserved for keeping Fifth Harmony out of obscurity earns it its place.
7) “I Say A Little Prayer,” Aretha Franklin
In honor of the Queen of Soul, “I Say A Little Prayer” is the perfect replacement for a dusty old tune. If you have any R-E-S-P-E-C-T at all, you’ll stream this instead.
6) “Killer Queen,” Queen
In my head, Pride goes all year round. And nothing says Pride like the bi-icon Freddie Mercury warning audiences about the dangers of a seductive, high-class call girl. If you agree, then this is the new anthem for you. “Killer Queen” has everything: the dulcet tones of a musical legend, no less than three separate guitar riffs and a genre that Wikipedia calls “art glam rock power pop art pop rock.”
5) “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Rick Astley
Imagine if we made the anthem of rickrolling the song of our entire country. Maybe we could end racism AND they’d let us participate in Eurovision again. Unfortunately, this is what happened last time.
4) “Side to Side,” Ariana Grande (ft. Nicki Minaj)
Dick bicycle. I rest my case.
3) “Do It,” Chloe x Halle
In order for real institutional change to be made, we have to challenge the things that we accept as normal. And if that means switching out our time-honored song for something written by Chloe x Halle, I say: Do It.
2) “Wild Thoughts,” DJ Khaled (ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)
I’d rather only listen to Rihnna’s verse in this song for the rest of time than go to another public sporting event and hear the enduring legacy of Francis Scott Key blast over crackling loudspeakers. It’s time for a new vanguard, and maybe this would finally make Rihanna drop her new album.
1) “Savage Remix,” Megan Thee Stallion (ft. Beyonce)
Finally, if you’re just as tired of racism as I am, you’ll stream the “Savage” remix, which is turning out to be the unexpected song of the year. Incredibly complicated TikTok dance aside, the song’s proceeds are going to Bread of Life, a Houston nonprofit leading the fight against hunger during COVID-19 and beyond.
I, obviously, don’t have the power to change the national anthem. But alone, I don’t have the power to do much at all. If the past four weeks have proven anything, it’s that we’re at the beginning of a monumental sea change; one that requires a collective force. Together, protests have already proven that a body of voters can effect change, not only at the ground level, but beyond. This country is shaking under the false foundation it was built on, and maybe the next time the ground shakes under the national anthem, people in charge will listen.
Until then, these alternatives work pretty well. Play on, my friends.