Let's Go Easy on Beyoncé

The Atlantic Wire

Pop culture passionates are abuzz today about the news that Beyoncé, brave and bold queen of America, might have lip-synced her much-lauded performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at yesterday's presidential inauguration. Yes, there are reports that she decided to use a dreaded pre-recorded backing track rather than sing live, which is alternately breaking hearts and confirming suspicions the nation over. But really, why should we be upset? It still sounded great, didn't it?

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As has been pointed out today, Whitney Houston's famous nailing of our national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl was, in fact, a pre-recorded track, and we still hold that as the best-ever performance of that tricky song. Granted that performance was long enough ago, and from a more blissfully ignorant time, that many of us can choose to willfully ignore the cruel fact of her lip-syncing. This very recent case, though, here in a post-pillorying of Ashlee Simpson world, might be harder to sweep under the rug. Still, at most all that's lost is the silly notion that Beyoncé is some sort of superhuman — one supremely confident enough to risk slipping up on a notoriously difficult song in front of millions of people, one of whom happens to be the President of the United States. I'm pretty sure most of us would do the same thing were we in her position. That "red glare" and the "land of the free" are pretty hard to get to, so maybe if you knocked them out of the park earlier in the weekend you might just want to use that recording.

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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, she just didn't want to risk sullying the American political system's most celebratory day with a janky note. Of course some might argue that now it is sullied anyway, because we know (or think we know, at least) that her performance wasn't one hundred percent in-the-moment and authentic. Some might then go on to say that she further tarnished the moment by theatrically pulling out her ear piece at a dramatic part of the song, but then we get into conspiracy theory and wild speculation and we should all be better than that.

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It's nice that people wanted to believe in a true and beautiful American Moment. And of course it's disappointing that there was some artifice in a setting that was supposed to be a genuine expression of American togetherness and hope. But, uh, let's remind ourselves that while Beyoncé was up there, or while Kelly Clarkson giggled goofily or Malia Obama danced cutely, they were surrounded by many, many people with guns, they were behind thick bullet-proof glass, that all of this was carefully choreographed down to the tiniest detail, and that this is all as much a show of the American government's might than it is about E pluribus unum. So, one empirically talented singer taking the cautious route wasn't really the show's biggest, or potentially even most insulting, act of pretend.

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Yesterday we heard Beyoncé sing a spirited and crystal-clear version of America's most treasured song. (After "Single Ladies," of course.) That's the important part. When she actually sang it should be of lesser importance. Let's be grateful for the nice feelings the moment gave us — reverence, a little awe, a little hope — and move on. We've got her Super Bowl performance to fixate on, after all. And, uh, guys? Just so we don't have to go through this again? Those things are pretty much always lip-synced too.

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