Column: The Critical Curmudgeon
Beyonce's Live Lip-Syncing Slip-Up
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:01
During Beyonce’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the inauguration yesterday, the only thing the viewers saw by the dawn’s early light was a big, fat phony. Originally, Knowles had impressed sources with her alleged chutzpa when she removed her headpiece mid-“bombs bursting in air,” but the meddling Marine Band (and their stupid dog, too!) later revealed that she’d actually lip-synced the entire piece. The beloved songstress decided to pre-record at the last second before showing up to deliver her dazzling mouthing of our nation’s anthem. Whether or not Beyonce removed her headpiece to add bogus flair to her rendition is unknown. Personally, I like to think some bitter purist like myself got a hold of her frequency and was furiously whispering the words “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” in her ear. For shame, Beyonce!
Or is it? After the news got out, the online media was seized by an apparent epidemic of wishy-washiness. The pop blogosphere’s been flooded with headlines like “Is it Really a Big Deal?,” “She’s Not the First,” “C’mon It Was Really Cold Out,” and “Boy, I Sure am A Brown-Noser,” all postulating basically the same pro-Beyonce argument: artists lip-sync big venues all the time, so we should cut the woman some slack. After all, she still sang, right? She just did it 12 hours before she needed to. Heck, she over-achieved!
When a notorious hack like Ashley Simpson botches an SNL take, no one hesitates to be indignant. It gets trickier for people when it’s someone as immensely popular as the mighty Beyonce. No one wants to turn around on the music they’ve been throwing Grammies at since the ’90s. Granted, if your band starts playing the wrong song entirely and you respond by doing a jig, then you deserve more than the standard amount of flak. Still, the crime is the same: when a musician goes on stage under the pretense of a live display of talent, how can it be acceptable that they’ve got a studio recording being funneled through the amplifiers?
This was neither the first nor last instance of a high-profile artist miming at a high-profile event. In 2009, Jennifer Hudson also lip-synced the national anthem at the same Super Bowl where Faith Hill lip-synced “America the Beautiful.” Pop artists of all shapes and sizes have been getting caught in this fib for ages now, from Milli Vanilli’s record skipping during an MTV concert to 50 Cent wandering around stage aimlessly when the wrong version of “Amusement Park” started playing. The best gloriously awkward moment from that latter one is when the hype-man, apparently not in on the whole lip-syncing bizz, started to question, “Yo, what’s up, Fif’? Fiddy responds, “I’m just trying to figure out where everybody at!”, still strutting in wild anticipation of his voice to come on, to which the hype-man counters: “Um…We’re all right here, Fif.”
Screw-ups like these are embarrassing for plenty of obvious reasons, but even if the singer gets through his fakery without a hitch, shouldn’t he be embarrassed anyway that he couldn’t accomplish what he’s supposed to do for a living? I understand that singing live in a stadium is far from easy. A great deal could go wrong, and it takes a real gift to make it happen, but…isn’t that the whole point? The live show is the acid test of an artist’s merit, far from the comforts of the studio, the editing and the second takes. It’s what separates the boys from the men in the industry, the producer-driven cannon fodder from the real cream of the crop. Lip-syncing is just cheating at your job, no matter how you slice it. It’s just like using steroids in sports…in fact, lip-syncing is arguably even worse than getting sauced, because if every professional athlete was a juiced-up superhuman going ’roid-rage berserk, then at least golf would be watchable.
No matter how nice it sounds being belted out through the speakers, lip-syncing instantly turns a great concert into a farce. If you want to say the technical or climate conditions won’t allow for an authentic performance, I’m still intensely skeptical. Cut it short if you must, but, for Christ’s sake, don’t fake it!