Ok, it’s been over a week since Beyonce sang the Star Spangled Banner on the Capital steps in celebration of the historical second inauguration of President Barack Obama. The following day of the event it was revealed that she lip-synched her performance on such a momentous occasion, which set off a firestorm of commentary and opinions that ranged from it being the best performance of her life to so what! Well, the following is my commentary and opinion of her performance and most likely not the last public discharge on the happening before Beyonce’s next performance: the Superbowl Halftime Show.
So what is it that I have to say that has not already been said? Well I hope to put into context the reason Beyonce decided to lip sync the tune and the reason we were all talking about it.
First let me say that to me her performance was not surprising. During her live performance, I thought it was just good. It wasn’t spectacular or all that! Just good. I’ve heard better. The next day, when I heard she might have lip-synched her performance I thought, “Ok, I’m not surprised.” Please understand the Star Spangled Banner is a relatively easy song to sing. I can sing it (albeit it may not be pleasing to your ears). Its melody, which has it’s origins in an 1800 century English social club was composed no doubt while inebriated, is catchy and memorable which is why you can hum along when you forget Francis Scott Key’s words, which he scribed almost a century later. Although it is an easy song to sing, what makes its performance special lies in the ability of the singer. Here is the reason why shower singers or alone-in-the-car singers like me will never be asked to sing the song in public. The song’s simple melody provides plenty of space for the gifted singer to seemingly perform vocal miracles at will. Not many can do this. Able gifted singers are free to explore the boundaries of their gift with this song. The ability to perform at this level is what makes it an amazing anthem and exciting to listen to, especially when sung by someone who is indeed capable. Enter Bey.
Let me be clear here, I’m not hating on her, she is simply neither capable nor gifted enough to perform the song in a spectacular manner. And for that matter a lot of folks are not either. Bey’s vocal prowess is limited. She lacks the range and power needed to create a memorable performance. A few articles, penned in her defense last week, announced she was one of the greatest singers of all time. Ha, this is laughable. Her mentors are still around, right? She possesses nowhere near the vocal talent of Patti, Chaka, Gladys, Anita, and certainly not Aretha. These truly gifted singers at Bey’s age were unrivaled in their talent. Bey, to no fault of her own, does not have what it takes in terms of her physical voice to match any performance of her mentors.
Aretha at around Bey’s age, 30.
Even in comparison to her contemporaries such as Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and I’ll throw in the untouchable and seasoned Rachelle Ferrell just to f**k with the curve, she falls extremely short of the mark.
What Bey did was not unprecedented. That day the choir, not the soloist, lip-synched to a prerecorded track. Also in 2009, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist Itzhak Perlman “string-synched” their performance because string instruments are notoriously temperamental in cold weather. They did this because they had no physical control over their instrument . . . like Bey.
Ok knowing this about her lack of ability, it’s great she did in fact lip sync her performance. Can you imagine what it might have sounded like?
So, why was this a scandal if others have in essence faked their performance as well? It’s the expectation created by the event. We the people expect the best when it comes to such events like the Presidential inauguration. For decades the best and most significant/impact-ful singers, poets, writers, and politicians were gathered together to help set the tone of the up coming Presidency. With this type of talent we the people expect the best. Bey’s lip synching performance was not the best for the American people. Of course her fans beg to differ or simply shrug it off and say, “so!” Along with the fact that most Americans hold high expectations of all portions of the inauguration we also expected the best from Bey, which would have been a live, sincere, and authentic performance. However, when it comes to the singing talent of Bey, I feel most of the world has been duped into believing what she is not. I believe we have confused her ability to entertain with the ability to sing. These are two very different things. Let’s not get it twisted, Bey is not a singer and never has been a singer. As mentioned, she is not physically capable of sangin’. What I mean by this is I doubt she can belt out any tune in my living room sans a mic with enough power, conviction, skill, or emotion to move me. Please realize this, I refer to my vocal luminaries to guide me in the direction of a person who is truly gifted in voice. [a few of my vocal luminaries in terms of women are of course Patti, Chaka, Aretha, Rachelle, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson, Whitney Houston, and again Jennifer Hudson . . .] I recognize and embrace those singers who match my vocal luminaries and move me. I will never embrace anyone who falls short of this high bar as a singer. Why would I accept anything less or mediocre? Bey can indeed hold a tune, but so can many others. Bey is mediocre. Rather than a singer I define her as an extremely successful entertainer. She possesses many abilities to entertain her fans and even me. An entertainer does it all to appeal to a mass audience. She can hold a tune, dance, and act. Bey is an entertainer! I like entertainers; I like being entertained. Ben Vereen and Sammy Davis, Jr. were entertainers who were also in the top ten of the list in all those categories that define an entertainer. They could sing, dance, and act on a high level.
Unlike Vereen and Davis, I believe Bey being mediocre in all of these is still able to dupe the American public into thinking she is a singer on a high level. She is not the best singer, she is not the best dancer, and she is not the best actor by any stretch of the imagination. Today’s entertainer does it all and is categorized wrongly as a singer. And it is because of this wrongly placed moniker Bey, an entertainer, was chosen and expected to do the work of a singer at the Presidential inauguration. I believe this was made a scandal because we expected Bey to be that amazing singer and she failed us.
Furthermore, I believe Bey knows she can’t sing on that level. According to all the reports and articles, Bey at the last minute decided to lip sync her performance. Why? Was she nervous? Did she forget the words? I think not! She has sung the Star Spangled Banner many times before both live and lip-synched. I believe she did not feel capable of creating a memorable performance with her knowingly limited skill. I can imagine her saying to H.O.V.A., “I know I’m not going to be able to sing anything better than what I did in the studio yesterday not to mention I have not practiced with the Marine Band.” She lacked the ability and with this lacked the confidence to even try. In so many words she had no guts, no courage, no gumption . . . in essence no Balls! This is completely expected when you don’t believe in your own talent. Bey demonstrated pure fear. Any stellar singer worth anything would have marched out on the steps of the Capital and did the damn thang! Four years ago Aretha Franklin sang her ass off in colder weather and very little warm up time. In an interview about her spectacular performance she commented that she wished she had more time to warm up because her performance would have been better . . . Balls! Oh and she also commented she wanted to give this historical occasion an atmosphere of authenticity. However when you are unsure of you own instrument or lack the ability you will fold like a wet noodle. Luckily Bey recorded a stand in the day before and tagged out of the task.
With all this being said I feel Bey’s credibility, as a singer is unchanged in my mind. I didn’t expect her to do anything more. Hell, if anything it should have been better, after all, she recorded in near perfect conditions in a studio the day before. In the end, I hope you can understand the context of Bey’s performance or lack there of. She is a physically limited singer, which she is fully aware of who lacks the self-confidence to perform on the grandest of stages all while an audience who has been duped into believing she is a singer who can create something amazing!
Oh, the scandal!
This coming Sunday when you are watching the Superbowl Halftime Show remember you are watching an entertainer and not a singer, so don’t expect to be amazed much by her vocal performance. However you will be greatly entertained.