How do you solve a problem like Beyoncé?

We write a lot about Grantland here, but I can’t say I’m surprised that it’s one of our readers who first received mention in those e-pages (not counting friend-of-the-site Jalen Rose, of course):

As for any actual official confirmation, the Times said that “a publicist for Beyoncé … did not return several telephone calls and e-mail messages on Wednesday from a reporter requesting information. Matt House, a spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which staged the swearing-in and Beyoncé’s performance, also declined to comment.”

In case your Martin Luther King Day observation took you away from the C-SPAN/ live feed on Monday, Beyoncé sang the national anthem at President Obama’s inauguration, and she did an absolutely marvelous job of it. Citizens responded with some horror, though, when news came out that Destiny’s first daughter had lip-synched the anthem.

Whatever phase we’re on now of the process of coping with this news apparently involves Grantland’s Amos Barshad’s denial staked entirely on the facial expressions of Vice President Biden, which, while trustworthy in most things, seem a little irrelevant here, however heavily Barshad wants to rely on his past experience as a writer for the Arkansas Times. He also relies on “a British audio engineer named Ian Shepherd,” who may be a fictional amalgamation of Ian Stewart, Ian McLagan, Ian MacDonald, and Ian Anderson, but who definitely is British and therefore de facto, de jure, and de bellum unable to critique any presentation of the American national anthem whatsoever in any fashion. Barshad finally comes to rest on a line from Slate: “If she was indeed lip-syncing at the inauguration, give her the Nobel Prize in mime.” Because if there’s one thing that doesn’t creep out the American public, it’s mimes. (Never mind that Chaplin was British himself.)

Also irrelevant is whether this administration has Nobel Prizes to spare, as well as whether weather was a factor. (That “the weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most singers, that is just not good singing weather” is no justification. The Constitution mandates a January inauguration, and absent an acceleration in global warming or a move to an indoor venue, such conditions always will obtain at that time.)

What is relevant is that this aggression towards genuinity shall not stand. Strip away the competing symbolism– political, patriotic, historical, celebritiotic– at work in this setting and acknowledge that this is not acceptable. If you are a singer of songs, then you must sing those songs, and if we are all here together, then you should sing your song here, right now, with us, together.

Otherwise, what’s the point? Just pipe in an acetate of Betsy Ross working out the song on a jaw harp. Save us all a lot of trouble, and save Queen Bey’s voice for the Super Inauguration Bowl next week in tropical New Orleans.

Did Beyoncé phone it in on Monday? We may never know for sure, but we sure do know that if she did, by which we mean she didn’t, that she was in the wrong, and that we would be in the wrong for accepting it.
(And really, truly, the American people are an accepting people, especially when it comes to their celebrities, and if the wind was bad, or the band was bad, or the sound system was bad, or whatever, then we would’ve understood. We wouldn’t have been mad. And we all know that)

UPDATE: The esteemed jazz archivist Monk Rowe has weighed in on this topic. At his Jazz Backstory blog, he writes:

Even now this current controversy seems to have many variations. Beyonce sang live. She didn’t sing live. The band played but the voice was recorded. The whole thing was a recording. She sang live but with a prerecorded track. The most perplexing combination of observations was that she lip synced because there was no opportunity to rehearse with the Marine band. A widely circulated photo showed Beyonce in the recording studio with members of the band. They produced a recording without a rehearsal? My own opinion is that the rather intricate arrangement written for Beyonce was not nearly as straight ahead rhythmically as most of her pop music; that she was concerned about messing up the performance and thus her image. I am aggravated to think with all the technology in this day and age that a singer can’t stand next to the conductor by the Marine band, and have the band play and sing the song. Is this too complicated?

Most people know that lip-syncing is not a new phenomenon in the music business. It was standard practice on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” for years. As a fan of early rock ‘n’ roll, I note that Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the few artists who insisted on performing live during his performance on that show. Thank you Jerry, for not trying to lip sync to your own wild recordings.

Perhaps after a few more inaugurations and Super Bowls, the press will breathlessly write about a diva who had the temerity to sing live, as if she wasn’t concerned enough about the performance to have a recording created to which she could mime. Maybe what we should do is simply honor the practice. The Grammys have an endless list of award categories, a few more wouldn’t hurt. They could hand out a Grammy for “Best Lip Syncing Performance at a Political Event,” “Best Lip Syncing as a Group,” “Best Instrumental Syncing on YouTube,” and so on. Then all the nominees could prerecord their acceptance speeches, lip sync them, and prevent any image-damaging spontaneity. Beyonce could receive a Lifetime Achievement Lip Syncing Award, because one thing is apparent: she does a hell of job at it.

2 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like Beyoncé?

  1. Pingback: Friday Night Bonus Jam | ALDLAND

  2. Pingback: Super Bowl XLVII Recap: Where do you go when the lights go out? | ALDLAND

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