Beyonce sings the national anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in for President Obama at the U.S. Capitol on Monday. / Carolyn Kaster, AP
The first scandal of President Obama's second term erupted Tuesday, when reports circulated that Beyonce, who had wowed the nation at the previous morning's inaugural ceremony, may have lip-synced her robust rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.
Master Sgt. Kristin DuBois, a spokesperson for the President's Own United States Marine Band, initially confirmed that the pop superstar had used a prerecorded track, and that the band had been instructed on short notice to pretend to play their instruments. But later, another spokesman backed off that stance, stating that band members weren't in a position to know whether Beyonce had sung live, and simply hadn't had enough rehearsal time with the singer. (Beyonce's representative, Yvette Noel-Schure, did not respond to a request for comment.)
To which the proper response, in 2013, might be: Who cares? Prerecorded tracks have, after all, become standard procedure at such events. Four years ago, at Obama's first inauguration, no less accomplished musicians than cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman opted not to play live, wary of the frigid weather's potential impact on their delicate instruments.
The human voice is an instrument as well, hardly impervious to factors such as cold temperature, lack of sleep and sheer nervousness. True, the most affecting live singing -- certainly in the non-classical arena -- needn't be the most technically supple. Aretha Franklin's rendition of My Country, 'Tis of Thee at that 2009 ceremony was as memorable for its quirks -- the breathy rasp that worked its way into her burnished soprano, her impassioned stab at a few high notes that didn't quite make it -- as it was for reminders of her enduring prowess.
In our modern age of Auto-Tune and other increasingly sophisticated vocal sweeteners, though, such virtues may not be as highly regarded by a mass audience. As far back as 1991, Whitney Houston, a singer of impeccable pitch and peerless tone, used a prerecorded track at the Super Bowl, resulting in what would become one of her most heralded, albeit controversial, performances. Jennifer Hudson, one of Houston's most gifted pop-soul successors, pulled the same trick in 2009.
In other words, lip-syncing, for better or worse, isn't just for Milli Vanilli and Ashlee Simpson anymore. "In a world where the biggest trend in pop is electronic dance music, in which everything is done on computer, this isn't a big deal," says veteran music journalist J.D. Considine, a contributor to Canada's The Globe And Mail.
Considine posits that, if Beyonce did decide not to sing live, it wouldn't necessarily "say anything about her vocal ability -- though it would say quite a lot about her professionalism. She was in a stressful situation and wanted perfection."
Surely, one star can't be blamed for the fact that perfection has come to trump passion and spontaneity, at least for some pop fans and tastemakers. And if such perfection is expected of today's singers -- even as they perform acrobatic dance routines or emote like circus clowns on TV talent shows -- aren't we the ones fooling ourselves?
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Read the original story: Beyonce's national anthem 'scandal' has precedent