I was young when Ashlee Simpson’s career imploded live on SNL. Ashlee was the edgier version of older sibling, Jessica "chicken of the sea" Simpson, and it seemed like the sisters were gearing up to make a real splash on the West Coast pop scene. Ashlee was slowly building up momentum with catchy tunes like "Pieces of Me" and "La La", and it was only a matter of time before she made her obligatory SNL debut.
But, as luck would have it, something went wrong. The wrong backing track played, a voice sang out on stage, but Ashlee’s lips remained umoving. She’d been busted.
I remember not understanding what the big deal was. So, she wasn't singing live? Who cares? Turns out everyone cared. A lot.
More recently, a defiant Lorde hit back at claims she mimed her latest hit, “Magnets”, during an SNL performance with British production duo, Disclosure.
The accusation is understandable. Lorde’s vocals are flawless throughout the performance and the entire thing goes on without a hitch. Her problem is that the performance was too perfect. Of course, Lorde has responded and denied lip syncing but, if she had, would it really be the worst thing ever?
wow - the fact that some people thought i was lip syncing on snl is an awesome compliment! goes without saying i have never/will never haha— Lorde (@lordemusic) November 15, 2015
Looking back on the portfolio of artists who have dominated popular culture for the last 20 years, not many of them have escaped lip syncing accusations. Beyoncé has had had lip sync scandals, Rihanna has battled the same and even Mariah Carey isn't safe from the harsh glare of "authenticity". Even the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, mimed many of his performances due to health issues and other factors.
The ire is understandable. When you go to a live show you expect the artist to actually be singing - not pretending to sing. However, based on the sheer volume of artists who lip sync their live performances, perhaps we haven't considered something that might offer insight into the epidemic of lip syncing performers: Singing live is super hard. Follow me on this.
The main attraction of something like a Britney Spears concert is not the hope that she will be singing live. It's the costume changes, the theatrics, and the chance to hear the classics. Plenty of people can sing, but not many of them can perform.
A great live performance is always welcome. But a well placed backing track facilitates so many things. Dancing, for instance, rarely happens in tandem with singing without a pre-record, backing track, or back up singers. This is because singing and dancing at the same time is really freaking hard.
It is a widely acknowledged conspiracy theory that Beyoncé mimed her performance during President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration. One cursory look at the facts tell a more forgiving tale. For starters, it was 39 degrees Fahrenheit that day (4 degrees Celsius), aka terrible conditions for singing live outdoors.
And that's not uncommon. Singers often times brave extreme weather, sickness, and other circumstances to make sure fans receive the performance they paid for. Because it's their job to make sure fans get a great performance. If an artist I love wants to sing with the help of a backing track to make sure I get the best possible outcome from my evening, then so be it.
Bring on that lip sync, baby!