“I’m Not a Singer, But I Play One on TV”

When Mariah Carey had an epic lip sync fail at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival this past January, . . .

. . . people just laughed and made fun of her.

However, when Milli Vanilli had their lip sync fail in 1989 . . .

. . . it was the first step in their precipitous downfall. By the end of 1990, they and their record company were defendants in a copyright infringement suit and a class action suit:

As usual, the real winners were the lawyers. While the consumers were due refunds of $1 to $3 for Milli Vanilli tapes, records or CDs (my review of the album) and up to $2.50 for concert tickets, the lawyers “earned” $675,000.

Also in 1990, the New York and New Jersey state legislatures considered instituting truth in advertising laws that would require artists to give prior notice if their vocals were lip synced. Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson were among the artists alleged to employ backing tapes. I happened to see Janet Jackson in concert around that time, so I entered the Capital Centre asking myself, “Is it Janet or is it Memorex?”:

(If, like me, you’re old enough to remember those ads, you are indeed old.)

I watched the telescreen pretty intently and quickly figured out she was singing along with backing tapes and the mix depended upon the exertion required during a given song. During the slow songs, it seemed to be mostly Janet, but during the upbeat numbers, during which she needed her breath for the intense Rhythm Nation step routines, . . .

. . . it was mostly Memorex. And I was fine with that. I just don’t get too worked up about singers, especially those with athletic stage acts, who use studio recordings of themselves to augment their performance. For some artists I pay for the musical performance; for others I pay for the show. Janet Jackson fell within the latter category and she put on quite a show.

This is exactly how Britney Spears’s manager defends his client’s reliance on backing tapes in her Las Vegas shows:

“To put on the show that she puts on, it’s virtually impossible to sing the entire time and do what she does. She ‘s singing on every song, basically, when she has the ability to sing. There’s no way you can dance for 90 minutes straight and sing the entire time.”

Uh, so she’s actually singing, except when she’s not?

Still, her reps denied she lip synced to Sia‘s voice on “Perfume” (which Sia co-wrote):

Billboard‘s Colin Stutz speculated that Sia’s vocals might have been used as a “guide track” that was accidentally run through the on-stage speakers instead of just Britney’s earphones.

Of course, we’d never know if Sia were to lip sync, as she so seldom faces the audience while singing.

There was plenty of speculation surrounding Beyoncé’s performance of the national anthem at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration:

But “Beyoncé-gate” quickly subsided when she admitted she had sung along to a prerecorded tape to ensure her performance would be perfect, and sang the anthem live at a press conference (so the press are more worthy of a live performance than the prez?).

In 2004, Ashlee Simpson had an epic fail on SNL when the wrong track was played behind her:

It probably would not have been an issue if it had been her sister, but Ashlee was supposed to be the “authentic” Simpson (for more on authenticity, see my essay at SDLU).

Maybe these artists should compete in the “Lip Sync Battle” segment sometimes featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

Though judging by their fails, maybe not.

And now the segment has been spun off into its own show on Spike. LL Cool J will be the host,  which he’ll surely be “doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well.”

One last note — I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took an unapologetic punster like myself to recognize the true meaning of the band name Lipps Inc.

 


Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the actual singer receiving credit, which is why I wholly support Martha Wash’s campaign to get proper credit (and compensation) for the vocals she supplied to hits like C + C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and Black Box’s “Everybody Everybody” (in the videos of which younger, thinner black women lip synced her songs, as with Milli Vanilli).

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2 thoughts on ““I’m Not a Singer, But I Play One on TV”

  1. Pingback: In Defense of Milli Vanilli - Sit Down/Listen Up

  2. Pingback: Mariah Carey: Another “Live” Performance, Another Lip Sync Fail | Societe Anonyme Inc

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