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?
“This will be their last song,” I said, as The Who wound into “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” during their Super Bowl halftime performance on Sunday night.
“Why?” my daughter asked.
“Because it’s one of their biggest songs, one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history,” I replied, making a statement I firmly defend.
First off, it is a song that has everything going on. You initially hear it through the authority of Pete Townshend’s power-chord lead guitar and the pulsating synthesizer that are trademarks of the song. But imagine it without the late John Entwistle’s intricate bass roll, particularly in the chorus, or the late Keith Moon’s train-wreck drumming that sounds random until you focus on it and see the wonderful rhythm in it.
And then there’s Roger Daltrey. Yes, 90 percent of the vocals are more valuable in the actual lyric than the performance. But that “YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAH!” coming out of the bridge — gotta tell you, I was praying for that on Sunday night, because The Who song lives or dies on that word being delivered with force, authority and passion. I put it up there with — I know to some, I am committing blasphemy here — the baritone “Freude!” in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” It must be there, it must be perfect, or else, why bother? Really? Go home. Fortunately, Daltrey nailed it Sunday.
But back to those lyrics. This 1971 song sprang out of a time of pretty wide-eyed idealism that was starting to realize change wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Hmmmmm. Some people may find that a little relevant today, judging by what you read in progressive media. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” is the key lyric in this song that the National Review named as the No. 1 conservative rock song of all time in 2006, and liberal provocateur Michael Moore wanted to use as the lead-off track in his 2004 anti-Bush polemic “Fahrenheit 9/11″ — his request was rejected. One form of authority ain’t much different than the other, Townshend said, and seems to continue to say. How rock ‘n’ roll.
Pair that with one of the most exhilarating performances in history, and a deceptively simple sounding song, and you have one for the ages.
Were the kids alright with it?
Well, I didn’t hear grumbling about how old The Who looked like I did in 2006 when the Rolling Stones played the halftime show. I’d credit that to them for not trying to act like they were still in their 20s while showing that these days, the mid-60s rock – Daltrey is 65 and Townshend is 64. In fact, my son picked up his Guitar Hero controller and played along, and my daughter was vigorously defending the band against charges of lip syncing some of her friends were texting around.
The Who may not trump Green Day — Who-like in spirit, I’d say — or Lady Gaga among their faves. And there was some grumbling of why can’t a current chart-topper play the Super Bowl half time show. But this year’s did provide a moment of music appreciation.
Jan16Filed under: American Idol, Television; Tagged as: 24, Ally McBeal, American Idol, America’s Most Wanted, Beverly Hills 90210, Big Brother, Bones, CBS, Conan O’Brien, COPS, Dateline NBC, Fear Factor, Glee, In Living Color, Jamie Foxx, Jay Leno, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, Lie to Me, Married ... with Children, Melrose Place, National Football League, News Corp., Nielsen ratings, second-rate Fox, Super Bowl, Temptation Island, The Simpsons, The Tracy Ullman Show, To Catch a Predator, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, Wife Swap
The first time Jay Leno addressed the cancellation of his prime-time NBC talk show, he said, “I understand that Fox is beautiful this time of year.”
And all week, in the drama surrounding NBC’s boneheaded moves with its late-night programming, the Fox network has been mentioned as a primary suitor for Leno or Conan O’Brien, whichever one of its late-night stars ultimately leaves NBC.
Still, while two of the most powerful personalities in television cast longing glances toward Fox, there were references to “second-rate Fox” sprinkled around the Internet.
I thought about “second-rate Fox” last Sunday night while watching “The Simpsons’” 20th-anniversary specials.
The first family of Springfield emerged when Fox was indeed a second-rate network, programming just two hours of prime-time shows three nights a week. Homer and family, in fact, made history for Fox as its first show to break the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings.
As much as entertainment hounds like me loved “The Simpsons,” a spinoff of “The Tracy Ullman Show” and some of the network’s other options, the idea that it would compete with the Big Three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — seemed far-fetched in the late 1980s.
How could you do that with only two hours of programming a few nights a week?
How could you do that with crazy stuff like a prime-time cartoon, that raunchy “Married … with Children” thing and that “reality show” COPS?
And where was the news, any news? Most of Fox’s stations were previously independent channels, and once 10 p.m. came, they went back to running syndicated shows, infomercials and other stuff. It seemed like a “network” only in the loosest sense of the term.
Then, things started happening.
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