Beyond Beyoncegate

Since I complimented Beyonce on her rendition of the national anthem at the inauguration, I feel let down by the news that she may have lip-synced her performance. Although it can hardly be considered a scandal, if true it does signify a lack of professionalism on her part, especially if the other charge that she did not devote enough time for rehearsals also holds up.

I can understand if some unavoidable and unexpected event forces the issue, like in the 2008 inaugural when very cold and windy weather resulted in Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman feeling they couldn’t keep their cello and violin in tune and ended up playing unamplified while a recording of their music came over the speakers. But even there, I think the audience should have been told. There is no shame in going to plan B because of such contingencies.

Stephen Colbert analyzed the issue in great detail.

(This clip was aired on January 23, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. says

    Aretha Franklin said that it was OK. So it is.

    Seriously. Franklin said that the temperature and the winds were such that she’d have pre-recorded it, herself, if she’d been doing it, and that Beyonce was very professional and made the right decision and sync’d with herself extremely well.

    You can’t argue with Aretha Franklin about a topic like that.

  2. Bill Openthalt says

    If she lip-synced with her own performance, she did sing it, only not in the harsh circumstances of the inauguration. Don’t underestimate the complexity of singing (or playing music) in open air – it is incredibly difficult because a lot of the feedback one relies on is absent (as I well know, playing the bass tuba in a brass band). Methinks she did a fine job.

  3. says

    My Gibson Les Paul needed a MAJOR adjustment just driving from Virginia to New Mexico over a couple of days, kept in its case and brought into the hotel room every night. If a change in weather can have a profound effect on wood and metal, then far be it from me to say that a person’s voice wouldn’t be useless in bad weather. Unless Beyonce has a truss rod in her neck and just needs someone to go in there with a wrench and tweak things… which is a whole other scandal in the making.

  4. Mano Singham says

    But don’t singers perform in the open air all the time, in stadiums and such like? And since the weather was typical for that time of year, wouldn’t she have been able to decide whether to accept the offer to sing at all? Or did she cynically plan on lip-syncing all along?

  5. G. Priddy says

    Whether we like to admit it or not, the national anthem at every major nationally televised event likely has a recorded vocal track. The broadcast sound engineer may elect to use the live vocal or the track, or a mixture of both, depending on a number of factors. The stakes are simply too high to do it ‘without a net’.

    In some cases the timing consistency of a recorded track is needed in order to sync up with something like a military jet flyover. In other cases, the audience is just so accustomed to hearing studio-perfect vocals (even when the singer is good enough not to need elaborate studio trickery) that we wouldn’t be satisfied with a ‘natural’ performance.

    The weather is also a factor, as others have said. The only thing worse than being remembered as the person who lip-synced the national anthem at a presidential inauguration, is being remembered as the person who botched the national anthem at a presidential inauguration.

  6. Corvus illustris says

    Are we really making a fuss about this in the second decade of the 21st century? Technical artifices of the kind Beyonce may have used have been available since Berliner, Edison or whoever invented the gramophone. My age cohort (born pre-WWII) is probably the last one that expected to hear purely acoustic sounds–whatever that means–at a “live” musical performance. If she lip-synced under conditions in which Aretha Franklin would have done the same, well done!: she provided her audience with a good performance instead of what might under the circumstances been a mediocre one. And it was all performance: good grief, the real inauguration had taken place on the previous day.

  7. says

    Depends on the venue and the circumstances. As G. Priddy said below, too many factors are difficult to control in the situation. Major recording stars pre-record and lip-sync the national anthem – your local scout from Troop 514 may not be lip-syncing, but you can be sure that Madonna or Beyonce are.

  8. Timothy Warneka says

    I’m in agreement with Bill and Katherine. I would add that large stadiums (and other outdoor venues) are typically set up for musical performances, which, as I understand it, is an art and science in itself. The inauguration setting was not (nor should it have been … setting up audio for speeches vs. setting up audio for musical performances are very different processes.)

    I do not think it is fair to question Beyonce’s professionalism. I think she made the right decision. Yo Yo Ma essentially ‘lip sync’d” in the previous inauguration and I doubt anyone would question his professionalism: (Gender dynamics at play, perhaps?)

    It would have looked far, far less professional had the song fallen apart because of technical difficulties (in hearing the band, etc). With literally the whole world watching, I think Beyonce’s conservative stance in choosing lip syncing was the far better gamble (with far less risk). The other woman who sang at the inauguration (sorry, I can’t recall her name, and I’m horrible at pop culture) had fairly poor audio, if I remember correctly. (Even my wife — who rarely notices such things — commented on this during the inauguration.)

  9. gAytheist says

    As a fan of opera, I think it is cheating whenever amplification is used. Since all pop singers always use amplification they’re all cheating. So it doesn’t bother me in the slightest exactly how Beyonce did it.

  10. jamessweet says

    My understanding is that people who actually know what they are talking about (e.g. sound engineers and professional performers, rather than talking head pundits) say it is highly unlikely she was lip-syncing. There are a lot of signs that both Beyonce and the sound engineer were scrambling in their own way to adjust to the unfavorable conditions during the actual performance, and it would have been weird to have those kind of glitches in the pre-recorded version.

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