So. Beyoncé, former child of destiny, current star of this generation’s impossibly cool couple, GQ cover model and steamrolling pop star, lip-synched her rendition of the National Anthem at President Obama’s second inauguration yesterday.
The Internet was not happy. At. All. Yes, her performance, hailed up and down the press and Twitter and Facebook and mother’s text messages, was prerecorded (and wrong-headedly compared to Whitney Houston’s sky-breaking opus, which was...lip-synched). But before we raise the pitchforks and decry Beyoncé as conniving and deceptive and begin hurling those inflammatory hashtags, let’s ask: But what if we all calmed down?
Because who cares if she didn’t actually sing live?
Does it come across as hypocritical of the singer, who bats about as many look-at-me-while-I-nail-this-note facial expressions as she does dance moves? Sure. But I’d wager it was probably smarter for Beyoncé to lip-synch. Imagine the hell she’d pay for flubbing a lyric or note. Imagine both scenarios had they been performed by a male artist. There’s no question Beyoncé can sing (Exhibit A), so why does it matter so much that she chose to work smarter and not harder?
Really, the outcry and debate and hand-wringing about Beyoncé’s singing has more to do with pop culture’s long, uncomfortable relationship with ideas of authenticity, and what the hell it even means. I’d argue that her song was authentic, because it felt authentic. However it came together, however it was constructed, shouldn’t matter.
Moments where pop music moves you to feel something are rare and fleeting — why ruin them, then, with an impossible, punishing standard of authenticity? Because if we hold pop to technical standards of authenticity, and weird principles of what makes certain kinds of music better than others, then everything would be disappointing.
This whole incident, oddly enough, reminds me of the conversation being had exactly a year ago, with Lana Del Rey, and this masterfully succinct notion from New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones:
Why is pop music the only art form that still inspires such arrantly stupid discussion? The debates that surround authenticity have no relationship to popular music as it’s been practiced for more than a century. Artists write material, alone or with assistance, revise it, and then present a final work created with the help of professionals who are trained for specific and relevant production tasks. This makes popular music similar to film, television, visual art, books, dance, and related areas like food and fashion. And yet no movie review begins, "Meryl Streep, despite not being a Prime Minister, is reasonably convincing in The Iron Lady."
Should this revelation shatter Beyoncé’s image as an inspiring, enjoyable pop singer? Only if you let it.