If Beyoncé lip synced, it's in part because America only wants perfection or train wrecks.
We don't know for sure whether Beyoncé Knowles lip synced to a prerecorded rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Monday's inauguration, as a Marine Corps Band spokeswoman alleged Tuesday. We shouldn't be surprised if she did. We should, though, take a moment to question the cost of America's unforgiving attitude toward the singing of the national anthem.
Beyoncé shouldn't feel much shame if she used a recording. Event organizers these days don't even attempt to keep secret that lip-syncing has become something like standard practice among the divas who sing anthems at high-pressure occasions. Whitney Houston's untouchable rendition was prerecorded. Jennifer Hudson's memorable version at the Superbowl XLIII was as well.
Indeed, The NFL has regularly asked performers for prerecorded tracks since 1993, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The variables at the big-stakes moment are simply too risky, event organizers say, for a genuinely live performance.
And yet, every time the truth comes out about a prerecorded rendition, it's greeted by disappointment from media and fans. Beyoncé certainly received plenty of that yesterday. In such instances, there's often a common defense. Of Whitney Houston's performance, John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "Lip-synced, but she'd sung it somewhere." The Atlantic Wire's Richard Lawson makes a similar argument for Beyoncé:
I mean, she did still sing the song. It just wasn't live-live. It was live to tape. No one's saying she auto-tuned herself or anything. Let's cut the lady some slack. She can sing that song, we all know she can sing that song.
Sullivan and Lawson have a point. Give most Americans unlimited access to a recording studio for a year, and it's unlikely they'd turn in anything like Beyoncé's rendition, not without the help of some heavy-handed sound engineering, anyway.