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On Beyonce, lip-syncing and the public's obsession with outrage

(Note: This post has nothing to do with Baltimore other than the fact the performance discussed took place sort of close to it. And, Beyonce is performing at the Super Bowl this year -- where the Ravens will take on the 49ers. This is more of a rant that I felt needed to be said.)

Congratulations Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o, there's a new national nightmare for everyone to debate ad nauseam.


This one, at least, is simpler: Beyonce. Inauguration. Lip-syncing. Huh, really?

Yes, it's being reported that superstar pop singer Beyonce faked her moving rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at President Barack Obama's inauguration on Monday. A U.S. Marine Band representative said Tuesday that Beyonce changed from performing live to using a recording at the last minute. A higher-ranking spokesman later backtracked the statement a bit, saying the band mimed its performance but could not confirm if Beyonce was singing or not.


Beyonce knows the truth, but she's not saying. She could be embarrassed or she could think a question this innocuous and irrelevant isn't worth a response. Los Angles Times pop music editor Lorraine Ali suggested a detailed explanation would come off like a celebrity making excuses. These reasons seem to make sense.

But really, who cares? There should be no controversy. This isn't much of a news item, and it isn't even surprising, since many artists often choose the safer route of lip-syncing (or singing with a backing track) for any high-profile, the-world-is-watching-and-ready-to-scrutinize live event.

Beyonce defenders have rightfully pointed to Whitney Houston's beloved performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 as an example of believe-it-or-not lip-syncing. The examples, of course, don't end there: Jennifer Hudson wasn't singing live at the Super Bowl in 2009. Madonna likely did the same thing at last year's championship game. Britney Spears charged fans to watch her lip-sync on her "Circus" tour in 2009.

Faking it isn't exclusive to singing, either. Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band used a pre-recorded track at Super Bowl XLIII. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma pretended to play his instrument at Obama's first inauguration.

If you're a defender of "authenticity" and want to proudly wave a banner for "real Artists," then perhaps there's a better person to attack than Beyonce, one of this generation's most gifted vocalists. (She also understands the power of a dramatic gesture, which explains the show-y ripping out of her in-ear monitor mid-performance, even if it wasn't necessary.) At this point in her career, there should be little doubt that Beyonce is capable of staying in key and hitting the right notes. Search some performances on YouTube for further proof.

But the angry mob holding pitchforks in one hand and tweeting their ire with the other are still waiting for an explanation of why Beyonce would lip-sync. Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor performed live at the same event, so why didn't Beyonce?

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These are possible reasons (and not excuses — there's a difference). It was a cold day, which can negatively affect even the strongest vocal cords. The national anthem remains one of the most difficult songs to sing. Ever. Performers, even the biggest stars on the planet, have nerves, too, especially when they've been asked to sing their country's most iconic song in front of the entire world.

Or maybe Beyonce, smartly, didn't want to leave anything to chance. If her voice had cracked while attempting to hit a note, it would have been overly dissected like all very public gaffes are. That would have deflected attention away from the POTUS, which Beyonce — a vocal Obama supporter and casual friend of the president — surely wouldn't have wanted.


And yet, that pretty much happened anyway, because we're living in a time where knee-jerk reactions are the norm, and every new "scandal" dominates TV, the Internet and social media. Spend enough time on Twitter and Facebook, and it becomes clear there's an obsession with outrage that too-often boils over into a boring, cyclical game of who can one-up whom.

But while Armstrong is a deceitful liar who duped millions and Te'o is (likely) merely a gullible fool, Beyonce simply chose a not-very-glamorous option many would've taken in similar circumstances. Is that disappointing? Perhaps slightly if you have a lot of emotion invested in Beyonce.

But is it disgraceful? Not even close. Is it shocking? Same answer.

So if you're that offended Beyonce mouthed lyrics over her own pre-recorded track, during what she'd likely consider one of — if not, the most — important performances of her life, then I have one suggestion: Lighten up.