On New Year’s Eve the Internet loudly declared that Mariah Carey’s performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in Times Square was the last tragedy of 2016. The singer suffered from technical difficulties with her in-ear monitors resulting in Carey being unable to hear the music. Although Carey stopped singing, her voice carried on without her, revealing obviously that she was lip syncing.
Lip syncing, short for lip synchronization, is a hotly debated issue as various performers, including Beyonce, Britney Spears, Madonna and most recently Mariah Carey, have been caught red-handed and red-faced as they blundered through their own songs at live performances. Many people see these displays as acts of betrayal, artists who don’t value their art enough to give fans the real thing. However, in an era of glamorous pop performances, lip syncing may be excusable when it serves to further the grandeur of performances.
In the case of lip syncing, I believe that context matters a lot. In many musical genres “faking it” would inherently be a career-ruining act of treachery, but modern pop music concerts are about so much more than the music. As concertgoers can attest, the concert experience is about the surging crowd, the choreography, the flashing lights and the booming music that makes listeners feel wholly present. The performance as a whole transcends the isolated musical experience, and might allow for lip syncing when it allows artists more range of movement and freedom to express themselves. On the other hand, if you’re at the concert simply to hear the vocals from the mouth of a favorite artist, finding out that it was the same music you could get from your stereo can be a big let-down.
On one point I am firm: the spectacle should be impressive. I’m in the audience for the transcendent experience, and few things pull back to reality like noticing that the artist is a little foggy on their own lyrics, even if the voice coming from the speakers is spot-on. If there’s lip syncing, I don’t want to see it.