Let's not beat around the bush: Singing the national anthem is hard. Some of the best singers in the country have tried to take it on, and quite a few have failed.
That's why, when big names step up to the podium at the Super Bowl — or, in Beyoncé's case, President Obama's second inauguration on Monday — they almost always pre-record a backup track in case something goes wrong.
Beyoncé certainly did an amazing job selling her performance, but stories abounded Tuesday (January 22) of pundits, fans and reporters who were shocked that the Queen Bey might not have sang live in front of the more than 600,000 people assembled on the National Mall, not to mention the dais full of dignitaries and countless millions watching at home. (Neither Beyoncé nor her reps have spoken publicly about the lip-synching reports at press time.)
"It's a big deal because somebody decides to make it a big deal," said Robert Thompson, professor and pop-culture expert from Syracuse University's SI Newhouse School of Public Communications. "The one thing you can sink your teeth into is that something is being presented as X and it is really Y."
Thompson said the revelation, which came in the form of a New York Times interview with a spokeswoman for the Marine Band who said the version was recorded Sunday night, should not be a big deal because lip synching has been going on for decades. From variety shows to the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, artists often perform to pre-recorded tracks as a hedge against weather, nerves, musical missed cues or any other variety of factors that could mar a performance in an unpredictable environment.
Later in the day, a different Marine Corps representative walked back the initial statement, saying that Bey did not have time to properly rehearse with the band. "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) requested that the Marine Band accompany Beyonce Knowles-Carter in the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the 2013 Inaugural Ceremony. However, there was no opportunity for Ms. Knowles-Carter to rehearse with the Marine Band before the Inauguration so it was determined that a live performance by the band was ill-advised for such a high-profile event. Each piece of music scheduled for performance in the Inauguration is pre-recorded for use in case of freezing temperatures, equipment failure, or extenuating circumstances. Regarding Ms. Knowles-Carter's vocal performance, no one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or pre-recorded."
"At the bottom of it is this idea that you're being presented with something that is actually something else," he said. "When you're lip-synching, people aren't supposed to know about it, and you're making it look like you're performing something right there when you're really faking it."
In fact, one of the most famous performances of the national anthem in history, Whitney Houston's unforgettable rendition at Super Bowl XXV was pre-recorded, as was Jennifer Hudson's inspiring 2009 version.
At the time of the "scandal" over Hudson's lip-synch, "Tonight Show" bandleader Rickey Minor, formerly of "American Idol" and Super Bowl music director for Houston and Hudson, explained, "That's the right way to do it. There's too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live, because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance."
When it comes to the Super Bowl, this has been the case since 1993, when Garth Brooks left the NFL in a pickle when he insisted producers show his controversial new music video for his single "We Shall Be Free." He left the stadium less than an hour before kickoff, with no backup recording available, sending producers scrambling and resulting in the kickoff's delay.
Strangely, the Marine Corps spokeswoman told the Times that all the other performers at the inauguration, including Kelly Clarkson, were able to sing and play their music live, but word came down at the last minute that the Beyoncé performance would use the recording.
"We don't know why," Master Sergeant Kristin duBois said. "But that is what we were instructed to do so that is what we did. It's not because Beyoncé can't sing. We all know Beyoncé can sing. We all know the Marine Band can play."
Thompson said we shouldn't hold Beyoncé to a different standard than any other performer who has taken on the national anthem. "If Milli Vanilli had recorded the national anthem and Beyoncé pretended it was her voice, that's another thing entirely," he said. "But she recorded it, and it's not like she was lip-synching to [a recording from] when she was 18 years old. She recorded it Sunday, and she was lip-synching to her own voice. The fact remains, though, that the reason for this to potentially become a scandal every time it happens is that in the end there is an element of fakery to it."
If Beyoncé lip-synched the national anthem, does it make a difference? Let us know in the comments below!