Yesterday, the mini-scandal dropped: R&B sensation Beyoncé brazenly lip-synched her way through "The Star-Spangled Banner" at President Obama's ceremonial inauguration — even dramatically pulling out her ear piece — perpetrating a massive fraud on the watching nation and world. And then, things got weird. The air-tight case against Beyoncé rested on the word of Master Sgt. Kristin duBois, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marine Band — or as you might know them, Beyoncé's backup ensemble at the inauguration. DuBois told at least two media outlets, for whatever reason, that the band played live but the singer had decided at the last minute to use a vocal track she had recorded the night before. But by Tuesday evening, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Gregory Wolf told The Associated Press that the band didn't play live, but "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."
So, what do we really know about Beyoncé's performance? First, that every inaugural singer, Beyoncé included, recorded a just-in-case version of their songs, as did the Marine Band, and that the other two vocalists — James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson — insist they sang (and played, in Taylor's case) live. Second, that there's precedent for both pre-taping and mimicking your performance at an Obama inauguration (Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman in 2009) and lip-synching perfect renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl). And third, according to a higher-ranking Marine Band spokesman, Capt. Eric Flanagan, the band did not play their instruments during the National Anthem and really has no idea if Beyoncé sang live or not.
"So who does know?" say Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger at The Washington Post. According to Flanagan, "only Beyoncé and the sound editors at the [Presidential Inaugural Committee]." But that doesn't mean people haven't taken sides.
The New York Post, one of the first news outlets to report on lip-sync-gate, doubles down on the allegation, quoting anonymous sources "close to the Obamas" and inauguration insiders calling Beyoncé's faked performance a disaster. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the head of the inauguration committee, "promised Beyoncé, but he delivered Milli Vanilli instead," a Republican congressional aide quipped to The Post. Then there's the inevitable speculation on whether Beyoncé (or her White House friends) intimidated the Marine Band into walking back the lip-sync charge. Even Aretha Franklin, who sang at Obama's first inauguration, got in on the fun. "When I heard the news this evening that she was pre-recorded I really laughed," the Queen of Soul tells ABC News. "I thought it was really funny, but she did a beautiful job with the pre-record."
But there's a growing number of Beyoncé apologists, contrarians, and armchair media critics who believe that everybody was too quick to jump on the lip-sync bandwagon.
Amazed how the internet has declared Beyonce's Anthem a lip sync. It wasn't. She was singing live to prerecorded music in earpiece. #WebFAIL
— Barton Bishoff (@BartonBishoff) January 22, 2013
And a "tipster" sent this pretty convincing video evidence to Jezebel — now appended at the bottom of a pretty tough story about Beyoncé's betrayal — that she is singing live, with the warning, "don't believe the Beytheists." The video below "isn't using the official mic-feed," the tipster writes. The camera operator is close enough to capture "Beyoncé's actual voice" and the mic feed over the speaker. "That echo is the feedback, which is why she took her ear piece out."
But by far the most vocal group weighing in on Beyoncé lip-synching controversy is the one that can't believe we are still talking about the Beyoncé lip-synching controversy.
If you're still tweeting about Beyonce, reassess your priorities please!
— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) January 23, 2013
They're right, of course. But they're also the most annoying group. New York's Dan Amira explains:
Why are we talking about Beyonce when Syria/jobs/drones/racism/hunger/Afghanistan??? We need to talk about only those things 24/7
— Dan Amira (@DanAmira) January 23, 2013
It's true: Whether Beyoncé sang live or not isn't a matter of national or global importance. And aside from the triviality of the scandal, nobody is disputing that it's Beyoncé singing, live or canned, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons a world-class vocalist might not want to sing in 40 degree weather before a global audience. But at the same time, says Dodai Stewart at Jezebel, "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." And fair or not, lip-synching "feels like a lie." So until Beyoncé (inevitably?) tells us — or at least Oprah — the truth, feel free to speculate without remorse.