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A review of Space Force's new anthem, 'Semper Supra'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you want to be a branch of the military, there are certain things you have to have. And the Space Force has checked off a lot of them since it launched nearly three years ago. It's got uniforms - dark blue to evoke space. There is a motto - semper, supra - means always above because, you know, spaces up there. It's even got a logo, which looks a lot like the "Star Trek" logo. And there's one more thing that all the other branches have...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) March along, sing our song with the Army of the free.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing, inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #3: (Singing) Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun.

SHAPIRO: ...A song. Those were the official songs for some of the other branches of the military. And Space Force released its song yesterday. Stephen Thompson of NPR Music is here to lend it his critical ear. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I have actually not heard the song yet, so...

THOMPSON: Oh.

SHAPIRO: ...Let's imagine that decades from now, you and I are veterans, grizzled old men, reuniting with the Space Force Guardians who we served with way back when. And at the start of our gathering, we stand up. We put our hands over our hearts, and we hear this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #4: (Singing) We're the mighty watchful eye, Guardians beyond the blue. The invisible front line, warfighters brave and true.

SHAPIRO: Your first reaction, Stephen Thompson?

THOMPSON: My first reaction is that it's a pastiche of so much pop culture, right? Like, you hear the marches, like, kind of news on the march from, like, '40s newsreels. You hear Saturday morning cartoons. You hear so many movies in which military marches are invoked. And in that regard, it certainly fits the brief. I think where it doesn't work as well for me is lyrically. I did find, as somebody who is concerned about the surveillance state, I'm not sure I'm super keen on a branch of military where the first line of their march is we're the mighty watchful eye.

SHAPIRO: Can we review some of these lyrics? We're the mighty watchful eye, Guardians beyond the blue, the invisible front line, warfighters brave and true, boldly reaching into space. There's no limit to our sky, standing guard both night and day. We're the Space Force from on high.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And that even that from on high is just very, very grandiose. The job of most Space Force enlistees is to, like, fix and launch and take care of satellites. You're not Buzz Lightyear.

SHAPIRO: I know. I was hoping we would be like visiting the Pleiades, but I guess as Space Force veterans, we won't have actually been to space.

THOMPSON: We won't. But we will still be grizzled.

SHAPIRO: We'll still be grizzled. The whole vibe of the song is more John Philip Sousa than Jean-Luc Picard. Do you think they should have tried for something more contemporary or more spacey? You know, like, pew-pew, like, laser sounds or something.

THOMPSON: I mean, it depends on what you're going for, right? Like, I looked at, like, OK, there's a new song for the Space Force. My immediate thought went to "Team America: World Police." You know that movie?

SHAPIRO: Like, '90s hair rock or something.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or like something out of, like a "G.I. Joe" cartoon or something. And, like, they're not going to do that. It's a military march. So I don't know what I was expecting in terms of, like, this song is stodgy and old-fashioned. It's a military march. But also, at the same time, you're called the Space Force. A lot of your iconography does evoke so much pop culture. They might as well have leaned into it.

SHAPIRO: Stephen Thompson is one of the hosts of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Stephen, I salute you.

THOMPSON: I salute you, fellow Guardian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)