Many popular artists, millennial era female pop singers in particular, have gotten a very bad rap for lip syncing. Some of them have been at the receiving end of bitter vitriol, having things said to them like “they have no actual talent,” or “they’re completely inauthentic,” or “they’re not ‘real’ musicians,” etc. etc.
The fact is, though, that lip syncing – and “fake playing a long” for that matter (called mime playing) – is actually quite a lot more common than many people realize. And it’s often done by singers and players who absolutely can sing and play well, and often do actually sing and play well live.
You’d probably be surprised at some singers and bands who have lip synced and/or mime played at some point in their careers.
But why would they choose to do this when they seemingly don’t have to and there’s such negative public opinion against it? Well, there are a lot of legit reasons, some of which someone who isn’t an industry veteran might not even think of.
Sometimes artists literally have to lip sync and/or mime play
When we say “have to,” we mean that in the truest literal sense in that artists are sometimes contractually obligated to lip sync and/or mime play. You might think: why on earth would anyone *require* lip syncing and/or mime playing, especially if the singer and/or band in question is legitimately good?
The answer is precision – some shows need to be planned exactly, like literally to the second, and the only way to realistically do that is by using a pre-recorded version. The Super Bowl is a great example – it’s one of the most watched events on TV, and the value of its advertising time is absolutely massive, and if even mere seconds are lost it could cause major problems.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who pretty much everyone agrees are highly musically talented, were one such band who was contractually required to mime-play if they wanted to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2014.
Here’s what Michael “Flea” Balzary, their long time bassist, had to say about it:
[We] ordinarily refuse to [mime play,] but … the Super Bowl halftime show [was] a … once in a life time crazy thing to do,” [so] the band decided to make a lone exception.” (source)
The band was actually “outed” and had to subsequently “come clean” because their instruments were not plugged in, which you can obviously see in the video. But it turns out they actually did that on purpose so as not to “pretend.” Interesting for sure, and most likely true because not plugging in their guitars would be a pretty blatant oversight. They were probably actually playing in fact, just unamplified and behind the prerecorded track.
Sometimes singing well enough live isn’t realistically possible
For many singers and their fans, concerts have become extravagant and theatrical visual performances as much as musical performances. This often involves a lot of physically demanding choreography, which, while it may look cool, can obviously cause problems if you’re trying to share your breath with singing at the same time, much less singing well and on-par with being a professional musician for that matter.
Brittany Spears is one such millennial pop star who drew a lot of unjustified ire for, among many other things, being one of those “talentless lip syncers.” Her live shows at the time, though, really pushed the envelope with what people thought was possible with live musical choreography.
You can’t serve two masters, as they say, and sometimes compromises have to be made to give the fans the visual spectacle that they want to see.
Beyond that, there are a multitude of potentially limiting factors when performing live. Maybe the singer can’t hear themselves if they can’t get the monitoring set up right or adequately. Maybe it starts raining and live electronics are no longer contractually or legally allowed on stage. Maybe there’s too much wind or crowd feedback clogging up a hot mic. And so on and so on…
Sometimes singers simply can’t sing at the moment but have to perform anyway
Tour schedules can be very demanding, and even our favorite super performers are just as merely human as the rest of us. Singers can get sick, or over exert and strain their vocal chords, or any other number of annoying real life scenarios can get in the way of singing live.
Things inevitably happen, but as they say sometimes, the show must go on. It’s not so easy and simple as cancelling a sold out arena show at the last minute because you have a scratchy throat. There’s a lot at stake at many of these live performances, and contingencies need to be planned, one of which is sometimes partial or just full on lip syncing, no matter how good a singer you actually are.