Last week, Beyonce revealed the truth to the rumors that had been circulating – she had lip-synced at President Obama’s Inauguration. She claimed that due to the bad weather, and that she had not had a sound-check, she chose to lip-sync. At the press conference where she announced this, she then sung, totally live and a capella, the national anthem, to prove that she could do it. But she’s still attracting controversy over this because the age-old debate of ‘to lip-sync or not to lip-sync’ is a heated one, and I know my opinion has changed over the years.
For me, although Kelly Clarkson and other singers performing at the Inauguration apparently completely live and perhaps Beyonce was able to do so, I don’t care that she lip-synced. Let’s face it. It’s the President’s Inauguration, you’re set to sing the national anthem, you’re going to be more nervous than you’ve ever been. To add to that, you know it has to be perfect because all the world is watching, and you don’t want career-damaging publicity after a messed-up performance. No matter how much we say we want human mistakes in our live performances, it’s a fact that gossip media will jump on anything they can to criticize stars and knock them from the top. Beyonce can’t risk a perfectly acceptable mistake attracting that kind of attention. In addition, in a way you don’t want to ‘disrespect’ the President by messing up such an important song at his event.
So how does this apply to country music? Well in a genre so focused on authenticity, the question comes up again and again, and more often than not the act of lip-syncing links country music in some people’s minds to the dreaded pop, and the ever-blurring lines between them. When it comes to country music, I prefer my artists to sing live. Perhaps that’s double standards, but let me explain. When it comes to a concert where fans have paid to see their favorite artist, there is no excuse. You sing live and you do your best for those fans who have travelled far and paid the Earth to see you. As for big industry events, appearances, etc, I am a little more lenient. But it all depends on the event, and each situation should be handled separately when deciding whether it’s okay to lip-sync or not. For the Inauguration, I would have accepted a country artist lip-syncing, because of the reasons I outlined above for Beyonce. However country is different from pop, in it that it is still fundamental to appear ‘real’, for while pop has links to fantasy and escapism, country music tends (not always) to appeal to people’s real lives, to be relatable and tell the stories of ordinary people. That’s the reason it’s so loved.
If the point of country is to appear ‘real’, then surely we are far more accepting of human mistakes in live performance, and often welcome it. Due to the nature of pop, however, an imaginary sense of perfection is more valued and that’s simply a fact of genre distinctions. Having said that I’m sure plenty of country artists lip-sync at award shows etc, and they never get found out, because the promise and pressure of perfection is a looming, overbearing one, and the commercial success and presence of pop music cannot be ignored by a country artist who wants to get their music heard and sell records. It’s human nature to always want to be better.
I know that people who are getting paid to sing should not be faking it. That’s fair to say. The fact that it’s an expected practise for much of the music industry is probably a testament to that strive for perfection I just mentioned, and the increasing pressures of the media today that require we be a certain way, have a certain standard in ourselves. On one level I don’t want my artists to lip-sync, but I understand why they do sometimes. It’s not acceptable all the time, of course not, anyone who cannot sing live should not have a career in music particularly in country. However, if we know they can sing live, like for example we know with Beyonce, they are established and for whatever reason it may be safer to sing over a pre-recorded track, I’ll let it slide. It’s okay. We don’t all go to work and do our best every day. Sometimes we don’t do things properly. Sometimes we’re wearing a shirt from the day before because we’ve run out. Sometimes we’re so tired we fall asleep at our desk. It happens and these people who work incredibly hard no matter where they are in the hierarchy of superstardom deserve a break occasionally.
Sometimes higher powers than the artists demand them to lip-sync, even if they don’t want to. The Superbowl made it a requirement after that Garth occurrence, and it’s regularly implemented elsewhere.
So maybe when you go to slam an artist for lip-syncing, perhaps think that it’s your close scrutiny that may have prompted them to lip-sync in the first place.