We now know, for real, that Beyoncé lip-synced her way through the national anthem at President Obama’s second inauguration.
This makes me sad.
During the course of last two weeks, we’ve seen/heard a range of reactions to the suggestion that her outstanding performance was pre-taped, from witch-hunty Fox News coverage to the dug-in defense that even if she did fake it, it doesn’t matter, because her recorded rendition was so good that it’s still worth celebrating. While I think there’s some validity to the latter – it’s a damn good rendition, after all – I think the truth does matter in this case.
I’m a Beyoncé fan. I listen to “Countdown” like every other day, and I look up to her relationship with Jay-Z in a way that’s probably not altogether healthy. I was on her team before this episode, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But lip-syncing is a red line for me.
We live in a weird time, when it comes to the integrity of live music. On any given night, you can go see traditional artists playing everything live, traditional artists who play everything live except for the occasional sample, artists who use live sampling to build songs as they go, artists who combine live performance and electronic percussion, artists who play sampling pads like instruments, artists who don’t seem to do much more than pump their fists in the air while MacBook Pros do the heavy lifting… it’s the Wild West out there. I’m certainly not here to complain about the current climate – you’re talking to a guy who went to a concert last week, spent half the time trying to distinguish which sample was coming from which machine, and loved every minute of it – but it can feel a little directionless, especially when it feels like things are going in every possible direction all at once. But there’s one direction that remains a non-starter, despite the creativity, technological developments and attitude adjustments that have brought us to this exciting and confusing state of concert-going affairs, and that’s lip-syncing.
I acknowledge that a presidential inauguration is a unique breed of performance, vastly different from a regular gig, where the performer is given top billing. With that in mind, we shouldn’t totally freak out about Beyoncé deciding to go the safe route and let her pre-recorded track ring out over the National Mall. I suppose my own sadness is derived from the fact that after watching the YouTube video, I thought I’d just seen the greatest national anthem performance ever – a perfect combination of notes, gestures, occasion and messenger. At the time, I was stunned. Now, not so much.
But there’s a pretty significant silver lining here — people still care about lip-syncing. That’s a good thing! It makes me happy to think that advances in technology haven’t moved that red line. And as bummed as it makes me to see someone I respect at the center of the storm, it’s precisely her respectability that makes the conversation worth having. Even Beyoncé can’t move that line. Whether people can actually sing still matters. Humanity can now give itself a well-earned high five.
There’s another silver lining here — less than two weeks later, we got to see Beyoncé perform on a different, somehow even grander stage, at halftime of last night’s Super Bowl. Was she actually singing? Yes. Was it spectacular? Of course it was. She’s Beyoncé. I can’t think of a single person on Earth who could have done a better job with that halftime show. Seriously — watch the video here and try to think of someone who could improve on what she did. From “Crazy In Love” to the Destiny’s Child reunion to “Halo,” it was as perfect as that type of spectacle could hope to be, like when an Olympian navigates an event so proficiently that you stop rooting for or against countries and simply relish watching this human being who seems temporarily magical.
Validation of my heroine worship isn’t all I gained from her halftime show. Tucked in between bigger hits “Crazy In Love” and “Baby Boy” was a snippet of “End Of Time” — a track from 4 I haven’t spent as much time on. I’m enjoying it even more now, and I encourage you to check it out below if you’re similarly unfamiliar with it.
Beyoncé — “End Of Time” [Spotify/iTunes]
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