Singer Alicia Keys. Photo: Getty
THERE'S a disease spreading throughout the United States and I want to avoid it spreading to Australia. I'm calling it ''anthemitis''.
If you watched the Superbowl, you saw one of the more disturbing cases, which struck singer Alicia Keys. The symptoms are horrible - a singer decides to make a national anthem ''their own''. Alicia turned a proud national anthem into a bluesy lounge act. Completely different music, jazzy interludes, long pauses, all made the song unrecognisable.
Altering the actual music is one symptom, but a far more pervasive and disturbing symptom has afflicted most of this country's more famous singers. I'm talking about adding extra notes to a song, to showcase a performer's vocal range. Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera have the worst infections. They can turn a stately symbol of national pride into a marathon of vocal strangulations, rendering any patriotic feelings irrelevant.
This disease thrives on pure, unadulterated ego. ''Look Ma, I can sing 27 notes when only two are required!'' This must end.
Some brainiacs claim the American anthem began as a poem - with music added later, so who cares if the music changes. These people are morons. According to various historic sources, Francis Scott Key wrote the anthem soon after watching the city of Baltimore survive an English bombardment in 1813. He wrote it with the intention of it being sung to the tune of an 18th-century English drinking song called Anacreon in Heaven, which sounds exactly like the US anthem you hear today. He didn't write on his original notes ''play it to any old music you feel like'', and I'm pretty sure that note is not included on today's official sheet music.
Imagine if the same attitude applied to the flag - an equally patriotic symbol. Maybe at every Superbowl they let a fashion designer ''interpret'' the flag. Add some sparkles, replace that gaudy red with a lovely purple. Out with the stripes, in with neon circles. There'd be rioting. But the anthem - have your way. I say no more!
Before every minor league ice hockey, baseball, soccer, you-name-it local sport, they usually trot out some would-be American Idol contestant to sing the anthem. These fine people look to Alicia Keys and Ms Carey for inspiration, and the results are … well … painful. It's like watching a novice skier attempt an Olympic slalom course - painful for participant and really awkward for viewer/listener.
Here's a simple rule moving forward … making an anthem ''your own'' doesn't make it better. Ever.
Australia isn't immune. I've heard a few dreadfully stylised renditions of whatever our anthem is, but it's not too late. Next grand final, throw out the boy band's 24-minute harmonised rap version, and bring in the Salvation Army band. Make the song something we can all sing along to - even when we don't know the words - and feel united in our common love for our country, at least our common love of listening to a national anthem being sung the way it was written. Please.
Tim is a writer, TV producer and proud former Canberra resident who has lived in Los Angeles since 1997. Twitter @timschildberger