Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
Let's ignore the question of whether or not Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem at Monday's Inauguration and assume she did. Let's ignore the question of who cares or should we care and assume we should. The underlying discussion here is one of morality. Is it dishonest to lip-sync, or is it a necessary evil of modern music?
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Every legitimate, successful singer has lip-synced at one point in his/her career. That's just what you do when you make a music video, meaning everyone from Michael Stipe to Shakira to John Gallagher from Dying Fetus is guilty. I am not playing the "everybody else is doing it" card to justify, because there's nothing to justify. This is part of music as we know it, and lip-syncing is a byproduct of music entering into realms where it might not necessarily belong.
There are scenarios in which lip syncing equates to lying. If Chris Martin mouths the words to a recording next time Coldplay is on Saturday Night Live, that would be immoral. It would also probably sound better. The practice was initially developed out of practicality, and it is today generally used in situations that are not conducive to live performance. It is not a cheat, it's a compromise.
One such practicality was discussed by Jennifer Lopez on Tuesday's The Daily Show. Asked about lip-syncing, she talked briefly about the phenomenon of "slapback," and it went a bit over Jon Stewart's head. Lopez was referring to the delay that occurs between a sound leaving a singer's mouth and the sound echoing from the venue's speakers. Even with efficient in-ear monitoring, this can be distracting. Sound travels roughly 1,000 feet per second; if Beyonce hears an echo from 1,000 feet away, she is hearing a full second of delay. One second can be an eternity in musical terms. Pre-recording the performance is a safeguard against such technical roadblocks.
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