Just one day after the inauguration, the internet is abuzz with rumors (and now confirmation) that the fiercer than fierce Beyoncé Knowles let down a nation by lip-synching the national anthem. The reactions to her 'Bey-trayal,' as it's been so snarkily dubbed, are something akin to finding out late in life that you were, indeed, adopted.
From an audience perspective Beyoncé's rendition was flawless. She perfectly pulled off our notoriously tricky anthem, she added in some signature Bey flair, and she made us all feel totally American, and patriotic, and dedicated to the wonder that is Beyoncé.
The internet quickly swaddled her performance in praise, lauding everything from her glorious high notes, to her hypnotizing power over Chuck Schumer.
But today, the online community is filled with anger and no more awe. An article in The Washingtonian first reported that the singer lip-synched her performance saying, "To close observers, it appeared the performer was not singing live. To press seated just below the podium, in from of the "President's Own" Marine Corps Band, it was evident that the band wasn't actually playing during the song — even though band director Colonol Michael J. Colburn was conducting energetically and the band members mimicked blowing into their instruments."
This morning a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Band confirmed the story saying, "We don't know why Beyoncé decided to use prerecorded music. All music [for inaugural ceremonies] is prerecorded as a matter of course, and that's something we've done for years and years. The Marine Band did perform live throughout the ceremony but we received last minute word that Beyonce wanted to use the recording."
The origin of these rumors was all sparked from Beyoncé herself with accusers pointing to photos Beyoncé instagramed from a recording studio which show her holding sheet music to the national anthem.
In this day and age, lip-synching has become something of a dirty word. Singers are lambasted for faux live performances, and it's unclear whether it's the falsity or the star in question that is more harshly attacked.
As the Marine Corps Ball spokesperson indicated, Beyoncé is not the first artist to pre-record her inauguration performance. In fact, everyone does it. She is also not the first to use that pre-recorded music at the inauguration yet for some reason her betrayal stings that much harsher. At the 2009 inauguration cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman performed alongside a recording; the weather was too cold and the wind too harsh for the men to count on their hands staying nimble. That choice, at least by internet audiences, was more easily understood.
What seems to be troubling people about the Beyoncé debacle is the pretense and the expectation for truth at such a high-profile, historic event. The artist's image is constructed around an air of regal perfection. Fans expect their 'Queen Bey' to be better than lip-synching, especially at the inauguration; they consider her a force so inherently perfect that guaranteed, pre-recorded, perfection is just not needed. Beyoncé's prerecorded performance takes the air out of all those expectations. Not only does it emerge as a chink in her near perfect armor, it marrs the historic nature of an inauguration day performance. Due to the over-the-top nature of the performance it also labels Beyoncé as something far more unsavory: a liar.
There is still a camp that believes Beyoncé didn't lip synch. You can hear her breathing through the microphone; at one point her neck bulges to display a "singing vein"; and, of course, there was the dramatic moment where she diva-liciously ripped out her earpiece. But now, there emerges the unsavory truth that this all might just have been part of a really good show.
When you look at this lip-synching episode from a human angle, there are reasons to sympathize with Beyoncé's choice. This was a massive event, perhaps one of the most important moments of her career, and an unforgivingly difficult song. She wanted to do her best; she wanted a performance that would be remembered; she wanted to give the American people the perfect version of Beyoncé we've come to expect. From the perspective of a fan and an inauguration viewer, this was a time to celebrate what is real; a historic president, the future of our country, and the showcase of talent that defines this country's popular culture. Lip-synching, in a sense, stains that history. Performing as if she were really singing her heart out? That stains Beyoncé.