Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

(Written by Allison Brown)

It is impossible to separate a critical discussion of Anthem from the incredibly ambitious experiment undertaken by pianist Kris Bowers and producer DJ Dahi. The two have the best intentions in mind in their endeavor to write a new national anthem that better fits the current state of America. Admittedly, it is a hard undertaking where bias and time limitations can affect the result. Bowers and Dahi do a decent job in representing the communities they interact with on their short tour of the country, but there is so much left out. There are an infinite number of cultures in this melting pot having emigrated from all over the world. Choosing to hit only six cities is simply not enough. In the end, their method of approaching the task reads as a handful of focus groups, delving into personal anecdotes and American history, more than an appreciation of musical diversity. It is not clear how much influence Director Peter Nicks had in the direction of this journey, but it feels stunted and rushed. An episodic format over several seasons would have been a much better means to explore such a big idea. With each episode making a stop at two locations or genres, a greater diversity of experience and sound would have a chance to be factored into the new composition.

When analyzed at face value, Anthem teaches us that the Star-Spangled Banner is not original; it is based off a British song. It has heavy roots in war that almost teaches citizens that our country exists to be in a state of conflict. Bowers and Dahi approach their task in flipping the script to create something that brings people together, which is the right tactic. They claim they want to be as inclusive as possible, but as mentioned earlier, either time restrictions or bias led this goal to fall short. When I imagined this prospect, I saw the music production as a real-life model of the Bring It On scene where the squad immerses themselves in every kind of dance imaginable (surely a lot more than six) and puts together an inspired routine worthy of originality and representation. An even more amateur perspective of genre inclusion would be the diversity of 2020’s Trolls World Tour musicality. The actual writing room part of the new anthem’s creation is barely touched on. Lyric selection and conflict of the very limited viewpoints in the room get more airtime than the composition of the music. It feels like that is solely because the music is merely a generic country-esque pop song that has nothing unique or interesting to represent the diversity in our country. With all the musical talent in that room, it is truly a letdown. The actual delivery of the final piece, “We Are America,” would be stronger with some sort of subtitles or even a singalong quality. It is easy to miss some of the lyrics, and that seems to be the most significant part of this process for all involved.

It comes across as a bias in the pair’s backgrounds that leads the trip to focus on the select communities featured, while leaving out others. The only music represented is that of Motown in Detroit, Blues in Mississippi, Country in Nashville, Jazz in New Orleans, Native American in Tulsa, and Latin in San Francisco. There is so much vital musicality starkly absent. Where is the origination of Rock n’ Roll, Rap, Folk, or even an implementation of Classical in our country? The list goes on and on! I assume the inclusion of Native American tribal experience was a result of indigenous voices being suppressed throughout history. However, it feels like the lines begin to get blurred between inclusion of race and inclusion of musical genre variety. Once Native American chants begin to be considered a genre, it feels offensive to leave out other cultures. Asian-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and an infinite number of immigrant groups all have their own cultural music and experience that needs to be considered as well. And although well-meaning, including indigenous spoken word in a language no one will ever be able to pronounce or retain is not going to do anything for the creators’ ultimate goal of widespread adoption. Surely, if they wanted to pay homage to these native tribes, the songwriters could have included some sort of instrumental sound or vocal tone specific to their traditions.

Bowers and Dahi make a point to talk about how any nonpolitical change to our current national anthem is immediately grounds for protest, and they would approach this facet with caution. Yet in “We Are America,” this is completely thrown out the window in their choices for representation. The woman that is selected to primarily represent Latin American music is very liberal with a perspective even divisive among those with a similar political viewpoint. She pushes for the wall to be taken down to let in more Mexicans without any sort of safety checks and for undocumented Americans to have a voice in the national anthem. There is no background provided on Latin culture or historical struggle; nor is there any reference to the different types of beautiful Hispanic music listened to in our country, ranging from Bachata, to Salsa, to Reggaeton, and more.

It is honestly a strange choice in general to even pull Latin representation from San Francisco when places like Miami exist. This genre of music is important to the area, as the Latin American Music Awards even take place here. It feels like San Francisco was only chosen to include this specific woman’s viewpoint or because it was convenient to their origins in Los Angeles. According to the 2022 U.S. Census, the primary makeup of minorities in the city isn’t even Hispanic. 37.2% of the population is Asian, whose culture infuriatingly goes completely ignored in this musical quest; a mere 15.7% are Latin. In a time where America finds it so difficult to be cohesive, and there is such a strong political divide, why risk a situation where few people can relate just to include radical politics? 

Putting this at face value, I can say all I want on how I would have approached this better, and where this team went wrong. The music composition direction, including an appreciation for musical history, that I would have personally found more intriguing and interesting gets lost among politics. Nevertheless, the fact that they chose to try their hand at this, and bring the topic to a public forum is more key than anything. The Star-Spangled Banner really represents no one anymore, and much of the laws left over from the beginnings of our nation could use some work. People need to question what is accepted to make our country better for everyone, and not just a few. I hope Anthem at least makes viewers stop and reflect on the potential of revisiting our national song and approaching it with greater diversity. To be truly democratic, I propose separate committees of Grammy-winning, successful, and diverse American songwriters take on the same journey as Bowers and Dahi separately. Then, we issue a country wide vote on the most representative song. Let the people truly have their voices be heard. Once selected, take advantage of star power to sell it. Have the top American artists perform together or release their own takes on the anthem, and watch the adoption thrive!

Anthem proposes the need for change when it premieres at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, June 11th.

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