In Defense of Lip-Syncing


I need to begin with an aside. I know, bad writing, whatever.

For this post’s opening pic, I typed “lip-sync” into Google Images, expecting a bajilion pictures of Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Ashlee Simpson, etc etc etc. I got all of them, but my first results were nightmarish forays into the (apparently complex) art of moving animated lips.

Is it weird...

Is it weird…

...that I find these images...

…that I find these images…

...very, very frightening?

…very, very frightening?

But maybe that’s just some latent, irrational fear of lips. Another topic, another time.



Today, I need to talk about the much-less-creepy, much-more-whined-about human-type lip-syncing. My poor hyphen key…

As of my writing this, Beyoncé recently sang at the inauguration. Or “sang.” Or… hm, how do I express real and fake with punctuation? “s”an”g”? Never mind, let’s just start over.

Beyoncé apparently sang and “sang.” She sang along with a Beyoncé song, like drunk 20-somethings on karaoke night. To put it simply, she prerecorded her song, played it back, and sang along. At least, that’s what audio expert Ian Shepherd told MTV News and the Daily Mail. Here are some of his reasons, according to Examiner writer Ruth Houston:

  • When Beyoncé starts singing, her vocals are hard to hear because the microphone is set too low, an issue the sound person quickly corrects. If it were a recording, this issue would not be audible.
  • Beyonce removes her earpiece, which some people say is proof that she was lip synching. However, Shepherd told MTV News that this is evidence Beyonce was trying to hear what her voice was doing in the “real” world as she kept the audio feed of the recording in the other.
  • Beyoncé smiles, and Shepherd says you can “hear” that in her voice.

I know it’s true, but “hearing smiles” seems like a Care Bear power, doesn’t it?

Houston elaborates how famous singers frequently perform with tapes, especially at major events with challenging venues. She writes, “the bottom line is that either way, it was still Beyoncé’s voice that you heard.”

Many performers have come to Beyoncé’s defense, including Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Lopez and LeAnn Rimes. Even Katy Perry commented on the controversy, simply saying “she didn’t lip sync.” And if you’ve seen Katy Perry perform live, you know how she never lip-syncs.

Also, never sounds good.

Also, never sounds good.

But I’m not here to defend Beyoncé. I want to talk about lip-syncing.

Vocal coach Al Koehn writes a series about voice performance, blogging about everything from Why Singers Should Inhale Through the Nose to Dropping Your “Adam’s Apple” to Extend Your High Singing Range. I’ve been trying to figure out how to “drop” my “Adam’s Apple” all morning, to no avail.

But Koehn brings up a good point in a post about lip-syncing. Do you prefer your stars to sound good, or do you prefer them to be real? The obvious answer is both, but no one can be 100% all the time. Which one is more important in the moment?

For Beyoncé at the inauguration, sounding good was likely more important. Beyoncé is talented enough to do both, but she gave herself a bit of a safety net. If the combination of cold air and bad venue caused a slight vocal slip, she would have been run out of town in flames. It’s understandable for that venue.

Kelly Clarkson also sang at the inauguration. Notice the complete lack of quotation marks in that sentence. She didn’t lip sync, but sounded great regardless. She deserves extra praise, because she took a huge risk and it paid off.

Would you say that Kelly Clarkson is better than Beyoncé? I wouldn’t. One may have been braver, but the other had higher stakes (The National Anthem is more known and more difficult than “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”). Regardless, both singers are fantastic. Lip-syncing, in this case, is not an accurate measure of talent.

Now if it was a fist fight, I'd bet on Sasha Fierce.

Now if it was a fist fight, I’d bet on Sasha Fierce.

And this is actually true in most cases.

Chris Brown often lip-syncs, but the man is more about dancing (and being a general douchebag, but I digress). For him, lip-syncing does not hinder his performance in any sizable way. If anything, it makes the dancing better. Talent is still present.

But lip-syncing’s poster child is Ashlee Simpson, the girl who got booed off the SNL concert stage in 2006. But even in her case, the voice was still hers. If anything, we should laugh at her inability to lip-sync, not the fact that she did so. You should be good at faking it if you’re gonna fake it.

But is lip-syncing considered bad because it is false? We live in a world where girlfriends can be fake. Why does it matter if a singer sang before we think she sang? It’s still the singer singing. I’d prefer real and good, but if I pay $120 to go to a concert… I’d probably pick goodness and let the realism fade if need be. I don’t mind giving singers a break from time to time if absolutely necessary.

As long as we don’t lose the human component completely. Imagine those blue people singing in robotic chorus…

 ...aah, nightmares.

…aah, nightmares.


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