Opinion: The Evolution of Lip-Syncing

What once was considered taboo is now fast becoming a regular occurrence. Gone are the days of being obligated to sing live in front of crowds, whether it is at a live concert, sporting event or television studio.

The phenomenon of lip-syncing is advantageous for a singer if they are not up to their usual standard for a variety of reasons, such as feeling unwell, tired or simply requiring vocal rest. However, in the public eye, the art of mimicking lyrics is frowned upon and even in some cases, the subject of defamation.

The most notorious case of lip-syncing came in the form of German duo, Milli Vanilli. The pop stars were publicly revealed to be imposters as the vocals recorded on their debut album, All or Nothing, were not their own. Shortly after the scandal erupted, the popularity of Milli Vanilli dwindled and they never recovered since, even having their Best New Artist Grammy Award stripped from them, back in 19th November, 1990.

The only exception to the rule for lip-syncing is when for an artist or band is required to shoot a video for their new single. But even the realm of television is not safe.

Another big controversy came to light in 2004 when Ashlee Simpson, the younger sister of Jessica Simpson, was caught out after a ‘live’ performance of “Autobiography” on Saturday Night Live, when the audio backing track for “Pieces Of Me” started playing instead and exposed the 27-year-old starlet, causing her to dance around briefly and succumbing to embarrassment as she walked away from the stage. Media backlash and commentary followed soon after, provoking the formation of a parody, created by MADtv. The incident did not affect the songstress, as subsequent album releases fared moderately well.

While American viewers are more forgiving, Australian audiences are less sympathetic as lip-syncing instances have caused a mixed reaction locally, when Britney Spears toured the nation for her “Circus Tour” in November 2009. While some fans defended the actions of their role model, others decided to create a stir by storming out and demanding a refund. This news attracted international media attention and even triggered John Mayer to tweet his support for the “Toxic” singer by stating: “If you’re shocked that Britney was lip-syncing at her concert and want your money back, life may continue to be hard for you.”

In an industry developed over the last ten years, reality television has produced some of the most successful artists, with the likes of Susan Boyle, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Guy Sebastian, to name a few. These artists were chosen by the public based on the consistency and versatility of their vocal abilities.

However, the credibility of reality TV is under scrutiny as lip-syncing made an appearance on the US version of X Factor just over one week ago, with contestant LeRoy Bell singing out-of-sync to his performance of Usher and David Guetta’s “Without You” on a live episode.

The recent spate of events related to lip-syncing has sparked a few open-ended questions. Does lip-syncing change your opinion of an artist and do they lose credibility for taking the easy way out? Is our collective reaction to lip-syncing based on cultural identity or should we be more entitled to react based on our own judgment?