Although President Barack Obama left Vietnam last week, singer My Linh’s performance of the Vietnamese national anthem before his speech at a meeting in Hanoi has remained controversial.
At the meeting with 2,000 people on May 24 in Hanoi where the American president addressed progress in Vietnam-U.S. relations and shared his vision for mutual development, singer My Linh, dubbed a diva by her fans, gave a performance of the Vietnamese national anthem titled ‘Tien Quan Ca’ before Obama’s speech.
The U.S. president arrived in Vietnam on May 22 and left for Japan on May 25 during a historic visit, where business deals worth tens of billions of dollars between Vietnamese and American firms were signed and Washington announced the lifting of a decades-old ban on sales of lethal weapons to Hanoi.
In her performance, the singer, who was wearing a traditional 'ao dai' dress, delivered an acapella version of the anthem that was different from traditional versions of group singing along to background music.
She said that she was very focused when singing because “this was an important mission.”
“I stood there singing alone without music or the orchestra, so the feeling was very special,” she said.
‘Tien Quan Ca’ was composed by late musician Van Cao in 1944 and officially became the national anthem of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.
The performance of My Linh shared on YouTube
Linh’s performance met with strong criticism from many people who said her singing ignored the heroic spirit of the national anthem, which was written to encourage the Vietnamese revolutionary army.
Some others also said that she made an opera version of the song to show off her singing technique and did not care about the spirit of the musical piece.
“Why did she have to sing like she was groaning?” one stressed.
Musician Nguyen Nghiem Bang, son of the song’s late author Van Cao, also expressed his dismay at the performance.
“I heard people saying that My Linh’s performance of ‘Tien Quan Ca’ didn’t reflect the spirit of the national anthem,” he said. “I think a national anthem must be sung differently from a love ballad, maybe because My Linh was used to singing ballads.”
“The national anthem is the spirit of our people, it’s a song for flag ceremonies,” Van Thao, another child of Van Cao, added, saying that people should not experiment with the sacred song.
“Once the national anthem was sung, the national flag was raised, so it has to reflect a level of majesty,” he said.
However, the singer has also had some supporters.
Journalist Nguyen Manh Ha said the performance was completely fine, or in another way, it was good singing.
According to him, Linh’s semi-classical singing of the song was appropriate to the event.
Meanwhile, music arranger Vu Huyen Trung said the national anthem is often performed at solemn ceremonies, but that does not mean there is only one way to perform it.
Trung also gave examples of creative performances of national anthems around the world, namely the rock versions of Queen’s Brian May on the British national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ in 2002, or of Jimi Hendrix on the American national anthem ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in 1969.
According to him, the American national anthem has often been performed in acapella, pop ballad, or R&B styles by Demi Lovato, Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Jessica Sanchez, Cam Anthony, Glee and Miley Cyrus.
There is also a way to perform national anthems called Gospel which is similar to how My Linh sang, he added.
Not only in other countries, but in Vietnam, rock band Ngu Cung once provided a rock version of ‘Tien Quan Ca.’
“It’s hard to see the heroic or solemn spirit of those performances but we cannot say that they have ruined their national anthems,” Trung said.
According musician Pham Toan Thang, the judgment is unnecessary because Linh’s singing was a performance in front of an audience, not a flag ceremony.
“As a solo performance without background music, I personally think My Linh finished her job in the most appropriate way,” he said.
The singer's responses
The singer said she delivered the performance that way because she wanted to “sing with a message of peace, the spirit of healing and sharing love, as well as closing the past and looking forward to the future.”
The 41-year-old singer confirmed that she did not make an opera version of the song like people said.
“A slow performance of the song is not familiar to many people since they have been acquainted with the national anthem performed another way, so the way they’ve reacted is understandable,” she explained.
“Earlier, I made the same performance for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and I was requested to submit the recording file of the performance before singing it in front of President Barack Obama,” Linh added.
However, she also admitted that the performance was an “occupational accident.”
“To be honest, I feel regretful because my performance did not satisfy my audiences, and that I could have done the performance better like I did at rehearsal,” she said. “The tone I sang was a bit low, maybe I was a bit nervous.”
"I understand that nobody can satisfy everybody and it’s always hard for people to accept new things. Artists will always accept being lonely, but at the end, artists like me live for audiences. That they have not embraced it doesn’t mean they will never do. As an artist, I have to wait.”
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