It never ceases to amaze me how many people have no problem with—and will actually defend—major recording artists lip-syncing.
When Madonna showed up at the Super Bowl last year, all I read on Facebook that night, and all I saw on tv the next day, were all these compliments about how well she performed. Well she performed? What did she perform? She certainly wasn’t singing. She spent the whole time simply moving around. Heck, Brady and Manning themselves could’ve done that.
Now there’s the story about Beyoncé—oh, our beloved Beyoncé—lip-syncing her own rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at President Obama’s second inauguration. This incident puts the Madonna one to shame. This one actually says something horrible about the direction of our country.
Now I’ve already heard all the excuses, and no doubt, by now, if you’ve paid any attention, you’ve heard them all, too. “It was cold outside. She couldn’t sing right.” “She was singing along to her own recording.” None of these excuse the fact that this was billed as a live performance, then became an exhibition in lip-moving and hand-waving by a legitimately talented singer.
Lip-syncing is common with pop stars today, but it’s among the most sickening trends in music. Lip-syncing is a pure image move—a suggestion that the art means absolutely nothing, and that all that matters is a slick, polished, sellable product. Sometimes the use of this technique is mindless, like when they use it on American Idol, a show whose whole purpose is to show live performances. Other times, it bothers you but can almost understand it, like when it happens at one of these pop star’s own concerts. (People are there to see that finished product, in which case they’re getting exactly what they paid for—even if it is wholly sanitized and soulless.)
What you can’t understand is why this would happen in a place like the one where Beyoncé did it. And this is the thing that bothers me about this Beyoncé business. If lip-syncing is an image-is-everything move (and it is), then what does that say about our society when Beyoncé, one of our most popular entertainers, would feel the need to do it at an inauguration? That the only thing that matters at an inauguration is image?
Think about this for a moment here, because it all goes together, hand in hand, when you assess what she did in the setting where she did it. The whole event—the swearing-in of a democratically elected official—was treated like one giant Hollywood red carpet award show. All the cameras. All the press. The thousands of adoring fans gathered ‘round. The live music. The commentators commenting on tv. How many minutes did the media waste assessing how old the Obamas’ kids have gotten? How many precious broadcast hours were spent talking about the designer of Michelle Obama’s dress? This is what matters? The first lady’s clothing? Is this an inauguration or the Joan Rivers Hour? And how is it possible that we spent so much time drooling over a woman’s wardrobe, but so little time talking about, say, drones?
There was a time in this country when you could walk in the White House unannounced without even knocking. There was a time—more recent, but still quite some time ago—when normal people, folks like you and me, would actually camp out like Star Wars fans at a theater for tickets to White House New Years Eve parties. There was a time, to put it simply, when the president was accessible, a time when the president was simply a person, albeit one with a notable job.
Now? He’s a show. And his office is a show. Replete with pomp and circumstance. And pageantry.
I don’t know that the president was ever supposed to be a “man of the people,” per se, but he was supposed to be a man elected by the people to sign the paperwork put together by larger groups of elected people. Now he’s The Leader. Now he’s a rock star. Now we celebrate the election results that he bought with live music that doesn’t even have the decency of being performed live.
What kind of show is this that we’re watching? Is it one that’s fit for a president, or a king?
You know what I wish I could’ve seen this week? I wish I could’ve seen Beyoncé go out there and blow it. Just blow it. Stink. Sing terribly, horribly. Not because I hate her and want to see her fail, but because it would’ve meant, in this whole sea of fakeness, there was at least one person, one real human person, capable of doing something not mass produced and polished. Just one person capable of failing. Just one person making a mistake.
I’m afraid we’ve moved past that—way, way past that—to a point where the only way to make the show better is to cancel it altogether.
Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture, available now for Kindle and Nook, as well as in paperback. Send him mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.