After most pundits and critics (me included) fell all over themselves praising Beyonce’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Monday’s presidential inauguration, word comes today that she was lip-syncing, according to the Times of London.
In the ever-evolving story, first U.S. Marine Band spokeswoman Kristen DuBois stated that Beyonce decided to lip-synch to a recording of her own voice at the last minute on Monday. We know Beyonce recorded a version because she sent an Instagram photo of herself reviewing the music the day before and footage of the recording leaked out by Monday morning.
After the attendant brouhaha, the Marine Corps (which accompanied Beyonce and were also, apparently, on tape) walked back the statement, as they say in government speak, releasing a statement that said they weren’t sure what had happened and that they, according to CNN, weren’t in a position “to assess whether [Beyonce’s vocal performance] was live or pre-recorded.”
The Marine Corps statement went on to explain that the musical pieces are always pre-recorded to allow for extenuating circumstances. For example, four years ago, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played to a pre-recorded track because it was too cold for his fingers to do what he needed them to do to sound good.
But then, Jezebel linked to this version, which is a different feed than the one run by the networks, to indicate that she was singing live and the sound we hear is the echo, not her singing along to her own pre-recorded vocal.
The bigger question is does it matter? It’s clearly her singing, so what’s the harm if it’s not live?
As we learned from Watergate and from practically every political scandal since, it isn’t so much the crime as the cover-up. When Beyonce pulled out one of her in-ear monitors mid-performance, whether intentional or not, that was a signal that she was singing live and needed to adjust the arrangement she was hearing in her ears in order to sing to the best of her ability. If she was lip-syncing all along, why make that kind of gesture?
The gold standard by which all other versions of the National Anthem are judged is Whitney Houston’s version at the 1992 Super Bowl. Following her blockbuster performance came word that she too was lip-synching. It’s too hard a song to sing and there are too many variables when performing outside, especially in cold weather, to mess around with it.
After the initial uproar, and after the Super Bowl folks explained that they always pre-tape the National Anthem just in case, the furor died down and 20 years later, Houston’s version is now seen as the definitive.
Beyonce’s representative, whom we reached out to, has declined to comment to anyone. But as the story began trending today, a new theory emerged, which is that Beyonce was singing live to her own taped version and that is why she pulled out the ear piece.
I honestly don’t know if it matters. What I do know is that the pressure put on performers to be perfect live is unrealistic, especially in a setting such as Mondays: very, very cold temperatures that can play havoc with vocal chords and nerves that can trip the finest artist up. When an artist does sing live and muffles it, such as Christina Aguilera did at the Super Bowl a few years ago, they never hear the end of it. When they lip-sync to their own voice so there won’t be any mistakes, they get criticized for that too.
The weird thing about Beyonce’s performance and part of what makes it so hard to tell, is that she starts off softly and a little wobbly, so it seems like if she was lip-syncing, they would have made her intro stronger.
All I know is no one seems to know for sure. There’s a hot debate going on on a top music producer’s page on Facebook and even the studio cats can’t seem to decide for sure . (Both Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor’s reps have gone on the record stating that they were singing live).
The one thing I definitely know: Beyonce is not the main story we should be taking away from yesterday’s festivities.
Do you think she was singing live? Does it matter?