Everyone seems to do it every now and then, reluctantly or not: Selena Gomez does it, Justin Bieber does it, Beyoncé does it, and even the Foo Fighters have done it. I bet most musicians have done it at some point in their career. In the music industry, sometimes lip-syncing goes well and you don’t really notice, and sometimes it goes horribly wrong. But isn’t it sort of cheating your audience as well as yourself as an artist? When I go see an artist perform live, I assume they are actually performing live. That’s what I’m paying for in the end.
Some people say that artists, like Britney Spears, who put on a show with very heavy dancing, have to lip-sync because it’s difficult to sing and dance at the same time. I know Britney can sing and I know she can dance. But doing both to the degree the audience expects is near impossible, except maybe when you are Pink. But Pink basically is superwoman. Celine Dion rightly says that shows have become more acrobatic — but if an artist can’t do both to a good standard, why not simply have professional acrobats and dancers? 30 Seconds to Mars, for instance, put on quite an intense show and Jared Leto’s voice does suffer sometimes because of that, but the heavy acrobatics are left to others so that he can sing live.
The music industry as well as music listeners seem to have placed certain standards and expectations when it comes to live performances. It has to be perfect otherwise we won’t like it and it won’t sell. That’s the typical idea. However, isn’t perfection boring and emotionless? Personally, I want to feel like I am paying for more than a recording that can be repeated every single night. I want to pay for a singular moment in time, where me, the rest of the audience, and the artist experience something real. I want to hear how an artist puts their entire body and soul into a song or a single note. I want to hear them waver, pause, mess up the lyrics, or maybe even choke up with emotion. I like the element of surprise. Perhaps we would understand if you waver a bit when you shake fans’ hands when trying to sing. Beyoncé didn’t waver, because Beyoncé was lip-syncing. But lip-syncing means you cannot stop even if you fall, faint, or vomit.
Celine again has a point when she mentions that lip syncing has existed for a long time and that it will keep on existing. For many large events it seems like artists have no other choice than to mime the words to their songs, and even have the band play recorded music. And other times the logistics of an event make it better to lip-sync. But that doesn’t mean you have to play the game. When Lifehouse performed at Macy’s Parade, they obviously lip-synced. Jason Wade was not feeling it and Bryce’s gloves feel like a statement. Nirvana rebelled when they couldn’t play completely live at a Top of The Pop gig and changed their vocals and backing tape.
Sometimes, an artist might want to save their voice for a tour, or a big event and lip-sync for a smaller television performance. Whereas I think that this is a smart decision, I applaud artists who dare to sing live during a TV performance, even if it’s not always on key. At least it’s real. When The Script performed on a Dutch Late Night show, Danny O’Donoghue was off key quite a bit, but at least he had the guts to sing live. Whereas Beyoncé doesn’t trust her voice enough to sing live in front of the president. Then again, perhaps some music listeners want to keep believing that artists are perfect all the time and miming is a way to keep that dream alive.
But there is one important rule: If you are going to do lip-sync, do it well. Do it so horrifyingly well that no one notices. It’s an art if you can lip-sync without anyone noticing, and Britney Spears is quite good at it. It’s probably also an art to be horribly bad at it. We don’t want another Ashlee Simpson.
Lip-syncing won’t ever fully fade away, but let’s keep it to a bare minimum. Occasionally, it is acceptable, on your own tour it most definitely is not, let alone lip-syncing in front of the president.