A new buzz swarming Beyoncé’s lip-synching

by | Feb 3, 2013 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Here’s why people get so upset at lip-synching. When I was a teenager, I was in a band. One summer we got a “gig” (translation: any performance outside my parents’ basement). It was an outdoor party, on a beach not far from Atlantic City, N.J.

I won’t bother telling you about the roar of the surf, the 100 yards worth of extension cords, or carrying a Fender Rhodes piano across the sand.

What I will say is, halfway through the first song, our band was attacked by bees. And we had to keep singing. They swarmed around. And we had to keep singing. We swatted with one hand, strummed guitars or hit a drum with the other. And we had to keep singing.

I am sure we sounded terrible. We didn’t sound very good without insects. But the point was, live performance was live performance. If we were allowed to lip-synch, we could have used both hands to spray bug repellent and still sounded better than we did.

So tonight, when Beyoncé performs her halftime show at the Super Bowl, appreciate the fact the she has promised to do the whole thing live.

Unlike what she did at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Feet doing the work, not vocal chords

“I am a perfectionist,” Beyoncé told the news media at a Super Bowl news conference Thursday. “I did not have time to rehearse with the orchestra…. Due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk.

“It was about the president and the inauguration, and I wanted to make him and my country proud, so I decided to sing along with my prerecorded track, which is very common in the music industry.”

Now, there seems to be some confusion here, because singing along with a music track is not lip-synching, it’s karaoke. And if that’s what Beyoncé did at the inauguration, the only people angry should be the U.S. Marine Corps Band, which had to stand there listening instead of playing.

But whether Beyoncé sang over a track or mouthed over her own voice, the lip-synching issue seems to arise fairly often around big events. Remember Faith Hill and Jennifer Hudson at the 2009 Super Bowl? Or the Beijing Olympics, when China used a lip-synching 7-year-old during the Opening Ceremonies, because the actual singer wasn’t considered cute enough? (Pretty sure Beyoncé doesn’t have to worry about that.)

Personally, I blame dancing. Much of the time, when you see lip-synched performances, it’s because the singers are so busy hoofing it up, they have no wind left to actually sing. If you really heard them, in the midst of all those twists, jumps and violent body shakes, it would sound like, “I… huh-huh-huh… love… whoo-whoo… grnnnzy… gasp, ehhhhh, gasp…”

Even Beyoncé admitted to the news media, “I practice until my feet bleed.”

Since when did singers say that?

One more time, without the tape

It was easier in the old days. In the old days, you had a lead singer and backup singers, and the backups did all the dance moves, while the lead just, well, sang. Think Gladys Knight and the Pips. The Pips twirled, dipped, spun in place and got back just in time to sing, “Whoo… whoo… whoo…”

You never expected Gladys to do that.

But today, singers from Madonna to Jennifer Lopez to Rihanna give such an aerobic workout, you want to throw them a towel, not a starting note. It’s the reason so few of these acts use regular microphones anymore, opting for those around-the-ear types that look like they’re trying to land a plane at LaGuardia.

The thing about using prerecorded vocals is that even vocals aren’t true vocals anymore. When singers record in a studio today, everything from echo to pitch correction to doubling or tripling the voice is done by engineers who – with current equipment – could make Tiny Tim sound like Barry White.

So when you lip-synch to your own voice, you’re still getting the benefit of all that electronic assistance. It’s like throwing down some pepperoni and claiming you made the whole pizza.

Having said all this, let’s be clear: There is no doubt Beyoncé can sing her lungs out. She did an a capella performance at the Super Bowl news conference just to prove she’s capable of an au naturel national anthem. Why she didn’t do it that way for the president is beyond me.

But tonight, I’m sure, she will demonstrate her amazing talent. The true test, however, will not be how Beyoncé sounds while dancing, shaking or staring out at 112 million TV viewers around the world.

The true test comes when and if they release those bees.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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