If there’s one thing WWE loves, it’s blind-ass patriotism. This company was built off the idea of the big, strong American fighting off the evil foreigner (or, in the case of Sgt. Slaughter, something even worse — a defector). So it’s no surprise that its annual Tribute To The Troops has existed in one form or another since 2003.
Originally, WWE would send its stars to military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, then in 2010, they realized, “Oh, hey, we’re sending our A-list talent to actual war zones, maybe we should slow our roll a smidge.” It was at that point that the idea of special musical guests entered the equation. And hoo boy, have some of these performances been special.
With the 2017 edition of Tribute To The Troops, featuring MGK (presumably not being powerbombed off the stage by Kevin Owens, so who cares), airing this Thursday on USA Network as part of the annual WWE Week, what better time to revisit every musical performance in the show’s history? We’ll start off with the best and (very quickly) move onto the worst.
Mary J Blige, 2011
This song is, as the teens say, a bop. Furthermore, there’s no way I’m gonna say a bad word about the queen of hip-hop soul. Anyone who collaborated with the Notorious B.I.G. is A-OK with me. Plus, her live band here has a killer groove going on. Congrats, MJB, you’re far and away the best musical guest in the history of Tribute To The Troops.
Diddy ft. Dirty Money, 2010
Speaking of Biggie Smalls, here’s a man who literally wouldn’t have a career were it not for his friend’s success and untimely death two decades ago. Despite how weird it is that Puff Daddy continues to profit off Biggie’s life and death, this performance of “I’ll Be Missing You” (featuring Dirty Money vocalists Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper instead of Faith Evans) is still good enough to keep him out of the cellar on this list.
Kid Rock, 2012
I mean, listen: Artistic merit and street cred of one Robert James Richie aside, if you’re gonna pop a crowd full of enlisted men and women, there’s probably no better way to do it than by playing “Born Free.” So sure, Kid Rock sucks, but it’s a pretty manageable amount of suckage, especially considering what’s to come on this list.
There’s a bit from comedian Shane Torres making the rounds on social media lately in which he defends celebrity chef and human personification of a cheese fry Guy Fieri, whom the internet has collectively decided to ridicule forever. In that bit, he randomly tosses in the line, “Everybody sh*ts all over this dude like he’s a member of Nickelback — and by the way, what the hell did Nickelback ever do? They made 40 million bros happy!”
Sadly, Torres is right. Nickelback, as easy of a punching bag as they are, are just a plain ol’ rock band. They write dumb, catchy riffs and yell lyrics like “ALL IN! BALLS OUT!” and they can stand in an arena with flames shooting off behind them and it looks kinda cool, and goddamnit, I can’t believe I’m defending Nickelback, but this isn’t terrible.
Flo Rida, 2012
Fewer bonds are stronger than the ones that have been forged between Flo Rida and WWE. Dude has been a bigger part of WWE programming in the past half-decade than half their undercard, even though he very clearly lost a rap battle in the middle of the ring and should have had his push halted because of it. But as much as I want to clown on the guy, this performance of “Wild One” is completely passable, though it loses points for having a random Gwen Stefani look-alike with pink hair singing the hook instead of Sia.
Chris Daughtry is one of the most personality-free rock musicians in the world, so what better way to make an arena full of soldiers care about his presence than by having Santino Marella announce him both before and after his performance? I have literally never heard the Daughtry song “Waiting For Superman” until right now, and I am supremely disappointed that it wasn’t a Flaming Lips cover.
Trace Adkins, 2010
Trace Adkins’s career pre-dates the bro-country movement that has made the genre even more unlistenable in recent years, but you’d be hard-pressed to know that if you listen to this 2007 single, “I Got My Game On.” What a bland-ass song, y’all. Points for Adkins’ voice being lower than Curt Hawkins’ place on the card, though. Last question: Has anyone ever seen Trace Adkins and James Storm in the same room together? I think not.
Train. Oh lord, Train. Where to start? During this eight-and-a-half-minute(!!!) performance, Train covers “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade, before playing the eternally obnoxious “Drops Of Jupiter,” soy lattes and all. The only reason why this performance isn’t any lower on this list is because it thankfully avoids “Hey Soul Sister” and “Play That Song,” two of the dirt-worst pop songs of the past decade.
Florida Georgia Line, 2014
In case you were wondering where WWE’s pyro budget has evaporated to, watch this two-minute clip of Florida Georgia Line “playing” their “songs” in front of an “excited” audience — there’s a new explosion onstage every 15 seconds or so. Sorry, Brock Lesnar, but we had to divert all funds into Florida Georgia Line’s live show!
What’s really offensive about this is just how overdubbed and studio-sweetened this performance is. Not that I want to be the one responsible for making anyone purposely listen to Florida Georgia Line, but press “play” real quick and see just how over-the-top everything sounds: That is not the sound of a band performing live. Wack. (Side note: It’s kind of weird that Scott Stapp sings for this band; I’m guessing he’s Florida and the other guy is Georgia?)