Feb 1, 2013
So, at her pre-Superbowl press conference today, Beyonce finally answered direct questions about the “mime-gate controversy” – starting by giving a 100% live performance of the American national anthem. You can see the whole thing in the video above.
Answering questions about the lip-syncing allegations, she said:
“I am a perfectionist. One thing about me, I practice until my feet bleed, and I did not have time to rehearse with the orchestra. It was a live television show and a very, very important, emotional show for me – one of my proudest moments. Due to the weather, due to the delay, due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk. It was about the president and the inauguration, and I wanted to make him and my country proud. So I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track , which is very common in the music industry. And I am very proud of my performance.”
So that settles it, right ?
When is a quote not a quote ?
Watching the reporting of this story in the mainstream media over the last ten days has been highly… educational. Seeing the quotes and rumours spreading, being re-quoted and misquoted – a web-wide case of chinese whispers. One article even referred to me as “the engineer who worked at the inauguration” !
(The misunderstanding probably arose because of the way the title of the interview was mis-shortened in a tweet about my interview with MTV.)
Only a handful of news outlets have reported the press conference entirely accurately – and that’s why I’ve bolded two parts of the quote above – because the way they have been used and “interpreted” by the press is interesting.
Instead of “I did not feel comfortable taking a risk“, Beyonce is being widely quoted as having said “I did not feel comfortable singing live“. And the phrase “I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track” has been taken by many to mean “I decided to lip-sync“.
But we already know she sang live, and that we heard her in many, if not all, of the broadcasts. So why are people still saying she lip-synced ?
How live is live ?
Ever since music recording became possible, we’ve lived in a strange era of “not 100% live”. So:
- Milli Vanilli – 100% lip-sync
- Beyonce’s press conference – 100% live
- The Wall Street Journal video – 50% live, 50% tape
- The New York Times video – 75% live ? On balance, the clues still make me think we’re hearing the live vocal
- Some-other-YouTube-clip-I-haven’t-seen-yet which only used her pre-recorded vocal – 25% live ?
The key point for me is that those last three options are all just different perspectives on the same performance.
Virtually every live performance these days involves some kind of pre-recorded element. Deadmau5 famously said that at his gigs he just turns up and hits play. Almost every “live” album or DVD involves re-records and overdubs.
And they’re more satisfying as a result.
Does it really matter ?
Beyonce sang along with a backing track – does that automatically mean she was lip-syncing, even if we heard the live performance ?
Does the fact that she sang a live vocal categorically mean she didn’t lip-sync, even if not everyone got to hear it ?
The fact is, since her mic was live but the pre-record was also on a tape, you could have heard entirely different mixes depending on which network or web feed you were watching. You could have heard the live version or the pre-record, or both at once !
And that means the answer to the question “did she lip-sync” is – it depends.
It depends on the audio mix you heard, and it depends on your point of view.
What is without doubt is that Beyonce has now sung three entirely excellent performances of the American National Anthem, and that she will be singing live at the Superbowl half-time this weekend, whereas countless other singers’ “performances” won’t ever be heard – in front of paying fans at every concert they give.
Is Beyonce really the one we should be giving a hard time ?