The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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?
After presenting the Star-Spangled Banner in a country and pop voice the past few years, the Kentucky Derby will take a soulful turn before this year’s Run for the Roses. Mary J. Blige will sing the national anthem around 5:10 p.m. May 5 in a performance that will be carried live on the national broadcast of the Derby on NBC.
The Derby only recently joined the trend of top national recording artists performing the anthem, previously relying on the University of Louisville band to play the piece on Derby Day. Previous performers of the Star-Spangled Banner have included country stars Leann Rimes in 2009, the first year of anthem singers, and Rascal Flatts the following year. Last year’s singer was 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.
Mary J. Blige, 41, has been a major force in hip hop and R&B in the 20 years since the release of her hit album What’s the 411? In addition, she has enjoyed an active film and TV
career including the upcoming Rock of Ages, a musical made up of 1980s hits, co-starring Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin. She also performed the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in February.
This is the post in which I will actually advance an idea from my sister – trust me, no one will find this more bizarre than her. Anyway, she chimed in on a Facebook chat about the latest horrendous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner by a pop star at a major sporting event – Christina Aguilera’s Cher-channeling, memory-lapsing performance at Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Karen suggested: “Let’s just have the entire stadium sing. It’s much more moving! Isn’t that what they do in other countries?”
That is perfect. In addition to other countries, it is what we often hear at high school sports events and other gatherings where the anthem is played. Yeah, the guy behind you may not be able to carry a tune in a bucket and there may be a woman a row or two over trying to do her best Whitney. But collectively, it is invariably moving to hear a collective rendition of the national anthem, particularly in these days when we can’t seem to be unified in much of anything else.
Whitney Houston’s much-loved rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV in the midst of the Persian Gulf War, is often seen as the event that started the current trend of major sports events trying to book marquee stars to sing the anthem. The Kentucky Derby even got in on the action a couple years ago. But those Whitney-like winning renditions are few and far between. Too often pop singers, who for the most part are not trained singers, are overmatched by the difficult anthem and end up with a black mark on their resume. Aguilera, who not only made an embarassing spectacle of herself but also flubbed the lyrics, is just the newest member of the club.
Sure, there are plenty of people capable of tastefully nailing the anthem. I remember going to a New York Mets game and hearing a Metropolitan Opera soprano blow Shea Stadium away. But, sad to say, events such as the Super Bowl are more interested in star power than musicianship when they book anthem singers.
So, if they are not going to give us a performer who can actually do the anthem justice, how about giving us the sound of tens-of-thousands of people singing The Star-Spangled Banner in unison. That would be kind of spectacular.
For the second straight year, the Kentucky Derby is going to have a celebrity sing the Star-Spangled Banner, and like the inaugural turn last year, a country star will have the honors.
Lexington and Louisville NBC affiliates (WLEX and WAVE, respectively) are reporting chart-topper Rascal Flatts will perform the anthem live at Churchill Downs as part of pre-race festivities shown by NBC. The trio was just on national TV Sunday night performing their current hit Unstoppable, which host Reba McEntire joked was the Toyota theme song, on the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Rascal Flatts’ performance will be shortly after 5 p.m. on Derby day. This is not the group’s first brush with sports, as they recorded the intro for 2008 SEC and ACC football games – Hank Williams’ Monday Night Football style – on Raycom Sports.
Last year, one-time country teen sensation LeAnn Rimes became the first celebrity national anthem singer at the Derby, bringing the Run for the Roses in league with other marquee sporting events that – for better and sometimes worse – hand the mike to chart toppers.
This year, the Kentucky Oaks will get in on the act with Little Big Town singing the anthem before the fillies race on Derby Eve.
Big-time sporting events have long had star musicians perform The Star-Spangled Banner with sometimes spectacular (Jennifer Hudson) and other times less-than-sterling (Roseanne) results.
The Kentucky Derby, however, has avoided that trend, instead hanging its colorful hat on the annual sing along of My Old Kentucky Home, until this year.
LeAnn Rimes will deliver the first live, vocal rendition of the national anthem by a national recording artist on Derby Day in the event’s 135-year history. Rimes is best known as a country singer, though you could also identify her as an author, actor and inspirational artist.
“We believe LeAnn Rimes is the perfect performer to help us begin a 21st century Derby tradition — one
that has been a long-standing and well-accepted part of other major sporting events,” Kevin Flanery, senior vice president of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said in a news release.
According to the release from Churchill Downs, Rimes will sing the anthem shortly after 5 p.m. on Derby Day, May 2, and the performance will be broadcast by NBC. The Fort Knox Army Band, which has traditionally performed the anthem near the start of the day’s race card, will continue to do that, shortly after noon.
And, of course, we all need to be warming up for “The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home . . . ”
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich