Star Spangled Controversy

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This past Monday we honored Martin Luther King, Jr., which for many of us meant a vacation day from work during which we (hopefully) reflected on the life of the great Dr. King and the lasting effect he had on civil rights in our nation. What it also meant on this particular year was a chance to watch our incumbent President get inaugurated for his second term – a ceremony that I, for one, was very eager to witness. Although it wasn’t quite as emotional as the first time around, there was something still chill-inducing about many aspects of the ceremonial inauguration, including of course the President being sworn in alongside his loving wife and beautiful daughters, his emotional and historic speech, the sheer number of people gathered to witness the event, and last but not least, the heartfelt and incredibly delivered performances of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Beyonce, and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” by Kelly Clarkson. (Sorry, James Taylor, while you also sounded great, it didn’t have quite the same effect on me). I think I may have rewatched both ladies’ renditions with my 3 year old daughter about 10 times throughout the day and into the night and every time, I invariably got chills when each of the talented songstresses belted such perfect notes and poured such passion into their performances. I was awe-struck by them both and couldn’t stop raving about how amazing they had been.

Until yesterday.

Suddenly the internet was all a flutter over a comment made by the leader of the U.S. Marine Corp Marching Band (that had been accompanying the singers) essentially stating that *brace yourself* Beyonce had actually lip-synced her performance. My mouth was a gasp when I heard my colleague announce the news and I literally ran into her office to immediately launch a thorough investigation. The notion was simply incomprehensible, and considering the tremendous talent Beyonce undeniably possesses, it just made no sense. One link led to another led to another and they all pointed to articles confirming that she had, in fact, been singing to a backing track, that the band was not accompanying her live and that her vocals had been pre-recorded. The same questions kept running through my mind… How could it be? And why? But more importantly, why??

Now as anyone could probably tell, Beyonce was definitely singing and not simply “lip-syncing” in the traditional sense – the question was, could anybody hear her? Was she amplified, or was everyone simply listening to her pre-recorded performance? I get that for such a high profile event, especially in an outdoor environment where weather conditions could cause all sorts of technical issues, that it would be foolish not to have a backup in place, but I’m still dying to know if anyone aside from the handful of people standing near her actually did hear her sing. I certainly feel cheated knowing that the version pumped through my cable box that I’d been admiring all day was most certainly the pre-recorded track, but somehow I think I’d be less bitter about it if the million plus people standing out in the cold got to witness the real thing.

Either way, pre-recorded or not, it’s still an incredible rendition of what to me is one of the most beautiful compositions of all time. And while everyone is busy accusing Beyonce of doing the unthinkable, my web searches have led me to all sorts of discoveries that made me realize this is probably more common practice than one might imagine. And again, I get it – as a singer, the thought of trying to belt out the anthem, one of hardest songs to sing, while thousands of people noisily stand by, and in some cases, jets are literally flying overhead, it’s suddenly implausible NOT to be singing to a backing track. Believe it or not, even Whitney may have been lip-syncing at the Super Bowl back in 1991 when she sang what to many people (including me) is the all time greatest rendition of the song.  (I’m not done with my research, but it’s a real possibility!)

In the end, we are all still entertained, and as I said earlier, in Beyonce’s case (unlike, say, Ashlee Simpson’s) it’s not a question of whether or not she can actually sing. The woman has pipes and if she chose to sing over a track, it was certainly not because she was worried so much about her own ability as she probably was about the unpredictability of a live outdoor event. That said, kudos must be given to Kelly who threw caution to the wind and sang entirely live, delivering the most amazing rendition of “My Country…” that I’ve ever heard.

Now voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us, in honor of President Obama’s recent inauguration, Whose performance of the national anthem is your favorite?

Beyonce (Presidential Inauguration 2013)
Dixie Chicks (Super Bowl 2003)
Whitney Houston (Super Bowl 1991)

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