Is it possible that Beyoncé sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" live at President Obama’s inauguration, after all? Or that she sang some of it live and let a prerecorded tape carry the rest?
This comes up because the Marine Band has backed off a statement that the ex-Destiny’s Child singer lip-synced the song all the way through. Right now the situation seems to be this: The sound of the Marine Band under the national anthem was a prerecorded track. Musicians did not have enough time to practice with Beyoncé before the inauguration to do otherwise.
But the Marine Band has no idea what Beyoncé herself did.
“Regarding Ms. Knowles-Carter’s vocal performance, no one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or pre-recorded,” said a statement from Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Gregory Wolf.
Read carefully, this does not say she didn’t lip-sync, of course. So previous reports that she did just that may be right. It simply unconfirms something that the journalists and the Twitterverse at large had been treating as established fact. Beyoncé herself has yet to weigh in on the matter.
Still, the debate rages on whether it matters if she did mouth “O say can you see” instead of sing it. In some ways, it’s a clash of cultures. On one side is a political world in which authenticity is seen as important and the inauguration is a ritual as important as any America has, while on the other is show business, where surface is everything and singers routinely auto-tune and/or lip-sync their performances.
Music legend Aretha Franklin expressed both sides of this equation Wednesday, saying she “laughed” when she heard about the controversy. She sang live at the 2009 Obama inaugural, despite the cold. “I wanted to give people the real thing,” she told ABC News.
Still, as a professional she can understand why Beyoncé lip-synced. If that’s what she did.
“The weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees, and for most singers that is just not good singing weather,” Ms. Franklin told ABC.
Given the historic nature of inaugurations, many people appeared outraged that Beyoncé had presented something as a live performance that may not have been. The New York Daily News headline may have best expressed this point of view: “Star Spangled Scammer.”
The Daily News story quoted one disappointed fan as saying, “It’s like when I found out that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
Well, we can understand this, up to a certain point. Beyoncé was focusing on making herself look good on a day when she really was performing in a supporting role.
But we’ve got a couple of points here. One: The inauguration itself was kind of lip-synced. Remember, Mr. Obama was sworn in privately on Sunday, since that was the day his second term legally began. Monday’s swearing-in was a reenactment.
Yes, that was announced ahead of time, so in that sense it was different. But how many people watching at home thought the moment of truth was when Obama raised his right hand in Monday’s cold? We’d bet a majority.
Here’s our second point: Congress does it, too. They have a mass swearing-in for new members at the start of each congressional session. Senators are sworn in by fours.
But all those touching pictures in local media that show the local member, surrounded by his family and friends, taking the oath from the speaker? Those are fake. It’s an official reenactment for the cameras that allows the moment to appear more personal.
Oh, and the Bibles that members place their hands upon? Those are props. There is nothing in law that requires them to swear upon anything. They are simply allowed to hold items of personal importance in their left hands while they raise their right.
“Some Senators [and Representatives] have held nothing, and nothing is required,” says a Congressional Research Service guide to the first day of a new Congress.
So before we get all huffy about Beyoncé potentially defiling a sacred ceremony, let’s remember that artifice and politics go together like Simon and Garfunkel, Loggins and Messina, or Peaches and Herb.