Earlier this year, President Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as The President of The United States. Amid all the pageantry and celebration, we were treated to pop star Beyoncé Knowles’ stunning rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It sounded great. The only problem is…she didn’t actually sing it. To be clear, what we heard was indeed her voice. She just wasn’t singing it live. It turns out that what we heard coming from the speakers and through our television sets was a version that she had recorded in a studio at an earlier time…a version that was edited and mixed to perfection. In other words, she lip-synched it.

When word of this got out, it set off a bit of a firestorm. On one hand, you have the people who were appalled that someone could go up there and lip-synch on a national stage in front of millions on such an occasion. Yet, there seemed to be just as many people out there defending her. Those in support justified her actions by saying that she didn’t have enough time to practice with the band and wanted the occasion to go off without a hitch, preventing distraction from the ceremony she was there to celebrate. Plus, the cold weather and large setting, such as it was, makes singing live extremely difficult. (Although, both Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor managed to make it through their respective songs ahead of her.) Needless to say, this performance has become a polarizing issue.

Whether you agree with lip-synching or not, it seems that people are, for better or worse, gradually becoming more accepting of the practice. This is a marked change from a time not so long ago when lip-synching was not only looked down upon, but it was viewed as a career killer. (see Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson, etc.). Recently, other popular artists such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, 50 Cent, and Katy Perry have all been caught doing the same thing with little to no effect on their careers or the public’s perception of them. The more commonplace this becomes, the more accepting people are of it. But where does it stop? Which leads me to this…

During the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, 7-year old Yang Peiyi was chosen to sing the famous Chinese patriotic song “Ode to the Motherland.” However, because her looks weren’t up to the standards the organizers wanted, another young girl, who was considered more attractive, was asked to lip-synch over Peiyi’s vocal track. The organizers explained the reasoning behind this by saying they wanted the best voice and the best performer for the occasion in order to achieve “the most theatrical effect.”  Is this really what people want? Is the appearance of perfection that important?

I guess it’s really just a matter of taste. If you know what you are getting into and are entertained regardless, the question of whether they are really singing or not doesn’t matter. If you enjoy the spectacle of a “live” show despite the fact the performer is not singing, then it is money and time well spent for you. However, there are still those of us who like to go to concerts to hear people actually perform live that are a little disheartened by this trend. I can listen to a CD anytime without paying to go see it “live”. To me, the subtle nuances and the imperfections of the performance make it more human, enjoyable, and real. The uniqueness of each show is what makes them great. There is a kind of fearlessness in the musicians who put themselves and their talents out there…exposing their vulnerability by not hiding behind a backing track. Although, I admit, I have seen (and played in) some pretty terrible live shows… That’s just how it is sometimes.

Beyoncé Knowles is a gifted performer, and her version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was beautiful and well done. I just wonder what it would have sounded like live…

– Submitted by David Sheyda, Music Design