I don’t know if The Kinks ever lip-synced a performance of their song Predictable, but it would have been appropriate considering the reaction any time a high-profile, big-arena performance is done with pre-recorded help.
The latest brouhaha comes following Beyoncé’s rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama. The reaction in my house was pretty much the same as everywhere else: Wow! Nailed it! Right up there with Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl! Of course, we know the lifespan of unmitigated praise in 21st-century culture is about a day.
The backlash, it seems, started in earnest about 24 hours after Beyoncé’s final notes faded across the Washington Mall.
The former Destiny’s Child member recorded the performance Sunday night and possibly lip-synced to the track Monday afternoon. (As I get ready to hit “publish” on this post, the story is in flux.)
The news was touted with headlines like E! Online’s “Inauguration Shocker!” Even NPR was covering this in its top-of-the-hour newscasts Tuesday afternoon.
OK. If you have followed this sort of thing for any length of time, you should not be shocked — you do follow these things, don’t you, E!? Big-arena performances like Super Bowls and inaugurations are usually pre-recorded, sometimes with the full intent of performing to the track, sometimes as a backup. These are very high-stakes, high-profile, unpredictable venues, and people are wary of risking a big embarrassment if something goes wrong artistically or technically.
According to available reports, it appears that this was a backup that someone might have decided to go with at the final second. Who knows why? Maybe Beyoncé or someone directing the production listened to James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson struggle with a few bum notes in the massive, open, chilly venue and decided not to risk the finale. Maybe after sitting quiet in the open air for more than an hour, Beyoncé decided she wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent without a warmup. Reports say she never rehearsed with the Marine Band, which appeared to play with her Monday, although she did record her track to the band’s recorded performance.
(Her dramatic removal of her inner-ear monitor does make me wonder whether this was a live performance, because artists usually do that when what they’re getting in the monitor is detracting from their performance.)
If she did lip-sync, forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about this and declare it further evidence of the decay of our culture.
There are times when I will be less forgiving of Memorex performances. Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live non-performance was ridiculous. If you bill yourself as a live performer, you should be able to go into a venue like SNL’s Studio 8H and sing live — even though artists as big as Paul McCartney and Kanye West have struggled on that stage.
Then there have been moments when artists maybe discovered that a track might have been a good idea. Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy found herself out of breath during an aerobic, live performance of her single Giddy On Up during the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Ideally, every performance we see would be live, because it is certainly most satisfying to watch someone excel while hanging it all out there when everything is on the line. Maybe that’s what Beyoncé will do Feb. 3 as the halftime act for the Super Bowl, along with a reunion of Destiny’s Child.
Live would have been ideal and a bit more impressive, but that still was Beyoncé’s performance Monday. It was not as if someone else recorded the song and she just went out there and looked good mouthing it. This was not Milli Vanilli. And it was a tasteful, beautiful rendition of our national anthem, with just enough ornamentation to make it distinctly hers, not one of those travesties we so often see from pop stars.
So if she lip-ynced, so what?