Lots of people thought Beyoncé did a great job singing the “Star Spangled Banner” to close out President Obama’s second inaugural ceremony. She performed it straight, navigating the song’s famously difficult range of notes with aplomb. There was just the right amount of soul injected into the critical line “proof through the night that our flag was still there," and then her voice went up into the ending, “home of the brave,” and held it for emphasis just long enough, and not a moment longer.
Bette Midler, who should know, said Beyoncé was fantastic.
“The hardest song in any repertoire, the national anthem. She had to remove the in-ear monitor. It’s a bear. She sang beautifully,” Ms. Midler tweeted after the performance.
But it turns out Beyoncé wasn’t singing after all. She was lip-synching. She removed her earpiece because ... well, because it was superfluous to pretend to hear herself when she was moving her lips but nothing was really coming out.
You’re shocked and crushed by this revelation, I know. But it was reported earlier today by the Times of London and confirmed later by CNN. Washingtonian Magazine has a good summary of developments, including the fact that reporters close to the ceremony suspected this to be the case because members of the Marine Band appeared to be mimicking use of their instruments. That’s pretty obvious when your instrument is a tuba.
“It was evident the band wasn’t actually playing during the song,” writes Washingtonian’s Sophie Gilbert.
Does this matter? After all, it’s not unprecedented. It was so cold during Obama’s 2008 inaugural that cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman didn’t risk playing their valuable stringed instruments.
Nor did anyone attempt a coverup, once the question was raised. A Marine Band spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that Beyoncé apparently opted to use a version of the song that the band and she had recorded the day before.
“We don’t know why the decision was made,” said Marine spokeswoman Kristen DuBois, adding that use of pre-recorded stuff “isn’t that unusual” in such circumstances.
Yes, maybe. But by not saying this in advance, Beyoncé has given the voracious 24-minute news cycle of the Internet world an analogy with which to play. Most folks took it light-heartedly – joking that it was OK, she’d privately sung the anthem the day before (that’s a reference to Obama’s Sunday private swearing-in) or that it’s too bad, but federal law now requires her to be punished by rejoining Destiny’s Child.
But a few administration critics took this as an easy way to hit the White House for what they perceive as its overall falsity. And others appeared genuinely unmoored by the revelation.
“The truth is this: It feels like a lie. When luminaries have gathered together in the flesh for an epic, historic event – the inauguration as the first black president serves a second term and swears on a bible – you expect truth,” writes Dodai Stewart on Jezebel.com.
And, if nothing else, this will just solidify the Star-Spangled Banner’s reputation as a jinx of a song. It’s hard to sing. Everybody is standing up and watching. Next thing you know, the words have just gone right out of your head and you’re scatting along with “o’er the hams of the freeze and the loam of the cave” or something like that.
The late Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl rendition of the national anthem in 1991 remains perhaps the definitive performance of the song. It was perfect, no funny stuff on the build-up, and then just Houston’s powerful voice carrying the song over the top at the end.
Of course, she was lip-synching, according to the New York Daily News. But lo those many years ago, nobody in the crowd appeared to care.