Auto Tune and lip synching. The scourge of modern music. It wouldn’t have happened back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, right? People believe music back then was authentic. And great acts like Queen would never mime. Right?
Some of the most blatant miming ever – and still a command performance by Freddie Mercury.
Because that’s what musical performances are. Performances. The goal isn’t to sing well, but to entertain the audience, and actually singing is part of the authenticity – which is only a minor part of the performance. Any time you see a high energy dance routine the artist is almost certainly miming. Almost no one has enough air to do that and sing. One will suffer the singing can be faked so the audience will not be disappointed. Indeed it’s well known that a number of venues insist on miming. Possibly this is better known by Brits than Americans because of the number of musicians who’ve protested Top of the Pops which insisted on miming.
So yes, Britney Spears lip synchs. She couldn’t do otherwise even if she could sing as well as Kristin Chenoweth (although possibly one reason she’s doing it badly is that she has to lip sync there). How about the late, great Lucciano Pavarotti? Oh. The Beatles must have been live? After all they didn’t have Autotune back then? Not always. And there’s a lot to be said for a great live performance, especially an unexpected one.
So lip syncing has been a part of music for decades – although none more notorious than the disgraced Milli Vanilli who revealed after their music skipped that it hadn’t been them singing at all. Ever. Rather than just not performing live. Equipment failures in miming can end careers (as it also did for Ashlee Simpson). But the risks are low, given that there are many people who believe authenticity is bunk, with Warren Ellis’ rant in Doktor Sleepless being a masterpiece in explaining why. And to an extent I agree – and understand where King Charles II was coming from when he called St Pauls artificial as a compliment (the rest of the normal quote seems to be a fabrication).
But there’s another risk in asking bands to mime – it can annoy the band. Which, admittedly, can make for some entertaining performances.
Miming is neither a new thing nor an unexpected one. The only new thing about Autotune is that it’s new. And both miming and autotune lead to better performances from worse singers. Whether this means that an industry darling who can’t carry a tune gets to be the performer or whether it means that you get performers and dancers who can hold an auditorium but aren’t quite so good at singing. But authenticity has value – see my post on Taylor Swift and possibly some future posts.