If any of you did your patriotic duties last week of (1) watching the Super bowl and (2) reading my column, you’re aware that Chad Smith’s announcement last week that Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) would cover Led Zeppelin at the Halftime Show was, as I suspected, a prank. So, yeah: chalk one up for Heights’investigative journalism.
What I did not foresee, however, was that Red Hot Chili Peppers would be playing without its instruments plugged in.
On Monday, some insufferably uptight people like myself started noticing in stillframes of the show that Flea and Josh Klinghoffer’s respective bass and guitar weren’t connected to the amplifiers, meaning that the instrumentals of “Give it Away” were prerecorded. Drummer Chad Smith was also fakin’ it: all of this was admitted in a letter that Flea wrote in response to those petulant Internet super-sleuths. It’s definitely true. Anthony Kiedis’s vocals, however, are supposedly real, and nothing has been said yet as to whether Bruno Mars’ performance was also staged (although it’s been confirmed that he knew the NFL had mandated a pre-recording for the Peppers). All in all, the band has been rather upfront about the fact that its Super Bowl performance (which broke record viewership levels) was thoroughly mimed.
I feel the need to write the same article every time this happens. Whether it’s Beyonce lip-syncing the national anthem at the inauguration, Chris Brown drowning himself out at the Billboard Awards, or any other phonies out there who prerecord “live” performances, I’ve always taken the opportunity to get on my soapbox and say why I think it’s so wrong that some people shirk the responsibilities of performance art for the path of least resistance. Shame them!
But this time, it’s a little different. See, perceivable lip-syncing used to be an embarrassing faux pas for pop music celebrities. You could dismiss someone as over-the-hill, write them off as “all show,” or in the rather unique case of Ashlee Simpson, literally ignore the rest of their attempts at a career. Granted, most of these celebrities could distract themselves from their embarrassment by, say, taking a relaxing money bath, but at least it seemed understood that lip-syncing was the mark of a mediocre talent. Now, however, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. More and more “legitimate” artists are admitting to lip-syncing shows with a wide variety of excuses for why, frequently involving cold weather or fear of technical difficulties. It’s less of a faux pas at this point and more an accepted truth among the producers and performers at huge venue shows.
Many people have pointed out that just because an artist fakes risky performances doesn’t mean they don’t have incredible talent. Even in his 50s, there’s no question that Flea can rock the bass with the absolute best of them. Beyonce responded to her critics regarding the inauguration by performing an impromptu performance of “Star Spangled Banner” to prove, without a doubt, that she can sing the song without help. So yes, lipsyncing isn’t always a matter of not having the talent. But isn’t performing the song at the actual performance sort of … the point?
This particular case is further complicated by the fact that Red Hot Chili Peppers was one of the many punk/alternative groups who swore it would never mime a performance as part of its career. In his Tuesday letter, Flea referenced the band’s infamous “Top of the Pops” show, wherein the Peppers protested the fakeness of the prerecorded “live” performance by having a wrestling match, playing its instruments with shoes, and otherwise blatantly not participating in the act. These artists aren’t the only ones to do that: Nirvana also flipped “Top of the Pops” the proverbial bird on live television with a surreally out-of-tune and sarcastic rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Apparently, “Top of the Pops” not only didn’t learn its lesson the first time but also figured it’d be a good idea to try the same exact thing with the pioneers of Seattle Grunge. More recently, Muse protested the prerecording of a televised live appearance in Italy by switching instruments with each other. What makes that joke funnier is that no one in the audience really noticed.
So what changed? Is it okay with people that RHCP goes back on its promise like that? I’ll leave that question out there for you folks to decide. Personally, I’ll write in favor of the live performance every single time.