Photo Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
When Beyonce nailed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, it sent patriotic shivers down the nation's spine. Everyone was talking about it. A day later, we're still talking about it, but for a different reason: It seems that Beyonce was lip-synching.
Yes, according to several reports, that amazing live performance wasn't actually live at all. "All music is pre-recorded for the ceremony because there are so many eventualities and conditions that day," a representative from the U.S. Marine Corps Band, which accompanied Beyonce, told the New York Post's Page Six. "We performed, live, the band. But we received last-minute word that Beyonce was going to use the pre-recorded vocal track. Those were the instructions we were given. We don’t know...the reason why."
We think the reason is actually pretty obvious: Beyonce is a perfectionist. She was reportedly underrehearsed because she was busy prepping for the Super Bowl; she wasn't singing with her usual musicians; the entire country was watching her; and the cold weather can wreak havoc on a singer's vocal cords. There were a lot of variables, and Beyonce seems like a person who doesn't like things to be unpredictable. Given that her performance was literally historical, she took the safe route and used a prerecorded vocal track. Maybe she panicked. Maybe she was legitimately sick. Or maybe she intended to lip-synch all along.
Beyonce and her camp have not yet commented on the issue, so we can't be entirely sure what happened or why. Still, the revelation that she wasn't singing live seems to have devastated her fans. (This is a typical reaction.) That dramatic moment when she ripped out her ear piece has been exposed as pure showmanship, not Beyonce flying without a net. That hug from the President wasn't thanks for a job well done; it was thanks for showing up and looking good. People feel betrayed, as if they were duped into experiencing something that wasn't real: a pre-recorded touchdown.
But let's get some perspective here. Beyonce is not the first singer to lip-sync the national anthem during a major live event. Remember Whitney Houston's 1991 rendition, so popular that it became a best-selling single and was played on mainstream pop radio? She was lip-synching. Jennifer Hudson's triumphant Super Bowl comeback performance in 2009? Also pre-recorded. As Billboard editor Robert Levine told ABC News after Hudson's performance, "If Bruce Springsteen flubs a line on 'Born to Run' only his fans will notice. If Jennifer Hudson flubs on the national anthem, people are going to get upset. People want it to be technically perfect as well as emotionally inspiring. Can you guarantee that live? Maybe. But it's good to have insurance."
It's true that flubbing "The Star Spangled Banner" isn't easy to live down, and it's a notoriously challenging song to sing well. Remember when Christina Aguilera got the words wrong in 2011? That's the risk of a live performance. It's a risk musicians take every time they step onstage, but it's clear that singing the national anthem in front of the whole country rattles even the strongest singers.
Incidentally, a recording of Beyonce's soundcheck, in which she did sing live, has been leaked online. Listen below if you want to compare the two versions.
We wonder if Beyonce would have performed live, had it been any other song. For what it's worth, Kelly Clarkson's version of "My Country Tis of Thee" (listen below) was as live as it appeared.