Grab your snacks and settle in! Viewers may tune in for the big game and epic halftime show — but the Super Bowl’s night full of entertainment starts much earlier than that.
Performing the national anthem at the Super Bowl is a long-standing tradition and a signifier that the big game is about to begin. Over the years, it has been sung by some of music’s most impressive vocalists — from Lady Gaga to Mariah Carey — and each artist has put their own spin on America’s theme song.
Some, however, have made history with their iconic performances. Whitney Houston stopped the country in its tracks when she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV in January 1991. At the time, she was the first artist in history to have seven consecutive singles go to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“If you were there, you could feel the intensity,” Houston, who died in 2012, said during an interview for her greatest hits album in 2000. “We were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for our country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up.”
The Bodyguard star explained that for the audience — and for her — the traditional tune was filled with “hope” to “bring our babies home” from overseas.
“That’s what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible,” she reminisced about the experience.
Houston wasn’t the only one to leave her mark on the famously difficult piece of music. Kelly Clarkson belted out a near-flawless live rendition of the song at the 2012 Super Bowl — giving friend and fellow songwriter Pink advice about how to nail the moment when she took the stage the following year.
“Definitely make sure you’re wearing in-ear [monitors] because boy, that two- or three-second delay [in the stadium speakers] can really screw ya,” the American Idol alum told Minnesota’s Star Tribune in 2013. “It can end up being the longest version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ ever.”
Pink for her part, told the outlet at the time that there was “so much pressure” to get the national anthem right. “When you screw it up, people never let you forget,” she explained.
While some ultimately criticized the “Perfect” singer’s 2013 delivery, she later revealed the reason why things didn’t sound as flawless as she planned — she had been battling an illness.
“Trying to practice the flu away,” Pink wrote via Instagram at the time. “I’ve been waiting to sing this song [“The Star-Spangled Banner”] since 1991 when I saw my idol, Whitney Houston, own this song. And now, my chance has finally come. And it just so happens that this chance comes when I have two small Petri dish kids who literally cough INTO MY MOUTH and rub their snot on my cheek. You can’t write this stuff I swear! And here we are.”
Watch all the best Super Bowl national anthem performances in the video above and keep scrolling for a little of the all-time greatest performances.