I may have spoken too soon about the relatively benign nature of the reactions to Beyonce’s performance (see below): I just read an article and comments in the Guardian that are pretty unforgiving. While I still say the reaction is not nearly as toxic as what Britney or Ashlee have endured, it’s perhaps too early to draw conclusions. I’ll be interested to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.
So, there’s a new “lipsynching scandal” on the block, this time in the form of Beyonce’s apparent lipsynching performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Obama’s inauguration. I’ve been reading and watching the brouhaha (yes, I said brouhaha) surrounding the event. Naturally, I have some thoughts.
The question of authenticity inevitably arises when we talk about lipsynching. The lipsynching witch hunts of recent years which target professional musicians have become increasingly vicious, especially if the performer in question works in an already suspect pop tradition as opposed to “authentic” genres such as rock and hip hop, or attracts an audience that is seen to be primarily young and female, or, most commonly (and venomously), a performer who happens to be young and female herself.
There are exceptions to the young and female rule, of course. Male performers such as 50 cent and Chris Brown have also been outed in recent years, but generally the furor over these events has been short-lived and quickly forgotten. The stigma doesn’t seem to cling to male performers or come to define their careers. Further, discourse about male miming is on the whole less virulent than it is for their female counterparts. A study I’ve conducted of comments posted on YouTube and other social media and networking sites reflects hegemonic gender biases that paint female performers as automatically inauthentic while giving male performers the benefit of the doubt. What’s more, the comments about male performers are more likely to critique the practice, while comments on female performers tend to critique the person (often using sexually explicit insults and even threats). Tracking these differences forms a portion of my current research.
So back to Beyonce. Something different is going on here. On the one hand, many people are expressing outrage, dismay, feelings of betrayal — the usual tropes — but many others are questioning “why it should matter”. The tone of these debates tend to be much more calm and reasonable, less snide, than those surrounding performers like Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson. I’ve yet to see any verbal attacks on Beyonce as a person or as a singer. Her talent remains unquestioned. News programs are featuring “experts” who, in most cases and at length, are defending Beyonce and, somewhat surprisingly, the practice of lipsynching in general. Despite the “breach of public trust” on this occasion, Beyonce’s integrity and authenticity will not be permanently sullied.
This poses some interesting questions. Does this signal among fans and critics a growing acceptance of professional lipsynching — a process of desensitization — as more accounts of the practice are reported? Or is Beyonce — who, in the ‘does she or doesn’t she’ sweeps, is often held up as a woman who cuts it live — placed in a different category of artist than Britney, et al? Or are people more likely to excuse the public “sins” of a woman when her private life is clean?
I don’t have answers, but as someone who has followed such “scandals” for years I think there’s an opportunity with this one to uncover some interesting cultural meat and bone.
And if any of my three loyal subscribers have thoughts about this I’d love to hear them, even if you think my observations are a load of bollocks. Especially then!
And here’s a little gem I came across today. A woman who calls herself GloZell posted her own parody lipsynch of the Star Spangled Banner (a la Queen B) on Youtube. It’s crass for sure, but funny. (Stick with it, it gets better as it goes along).
“GloZell’s” Beyonce Parody
Song is “Somethin’ Stupid” (Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Reprise, 1967). Extreme Narcissism or extreme silliness?
I meant to work on this vid some more before posting: maybe re-shoot it; at the very least clean up green-screen edit. But to heck with perfection! I give you “Somethin’ Stupid” in all its overacted, amateurish charm…
This one is truly an act of possession. The spirit of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins not only inhabits, it infests the body of the lipsyncher, ‘jimmyslo’.
For Steven Connor, voice is space but can also be construed as body, and vice versa. He calls this the ‘Vocalic Body’ and explains:
‘Voices are produced by bodies: but can also themselves produce bodies. The vocalic body is the idea — which can take the form of dream, fantasy, ideal, theological doctrine or hallucination — of a surrogate or secondary body, a projection of a new way of having or being a body, formed and sustained out of the autonomous operations of the voice.’ [Connor, Steven, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 35]
In the so-called ‘age of mechanical reproduction’, even the voices of the dead are capable of forming a new body, a body unimagined by the voice’s originator and formerly unimaginable.
I love this one. Richard Cheese’s version of Sir Mix Alot’s ‘Baby Got Back’ performed by ‘TheObbieShow’. The door in the background is intriguing.
Just because. Just for scuz. I’ve nothing to say. Just enjoy.
The disembodiment and re-embodiment of the voice — a human fascination and pre-occupation for millennia — has become particularly important since the invention of phonography (the mechanically recorded voice) and the resultant ubiquity of recorded song. Steven Connor, writing about ventriloquism specifically and voice more generally, states that ‘[i]dealized voices of all kinds derive their power, prestige, and capacity to give pleasure from [a] willingness to hear other voices as one’s own.’ [Connor, Steven, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 32.] Employing Rick Altman’s idea of ‘The ‘sound hermeneutic’ (which determines that a disembodied — recorded — voice must be habited in a plausible body), Connor observes that ‘the voice seems to colour and model its container’, to give it meaningful form, whether seen or unseen. He states:
‘This [idealized, disembodied] voice then conjures for itself a different kind of body; an imaginary body which may contradict, compete with, replace, or even reshape the actual, visible body of the speaker.’ [Ibid, 31.]
Plausible Body? A teenage girl (‘TheBeatlesToday’ on YouTube) is wearing a red wig styled in a 1960s “flip” as she lipsynchs The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. She regards the camera earnestly (is the camera a mirror or is it us, the audience?). She hold a prop microphone to her mouth as if it were the proverbial hairbrush. We may at first find it implausible that hers is the body that Paul McCartney’s voice conjurs. And yet, however uncanny, the girl provides a body for the iconic voice, and the voice in turn inhabits the body of the girl. Watch it to the end: her “wailing” in the ‘na, na, na, na-na-na-na’ part is wonderful.
My “hit”. I was aiming for a simple, pac-man kind of aesthetic to go with the era and feel of the original song.
p.s., you can also watch this on vimeo.com where it attracted a heap of adulation. Fredasterical is fond of a little adulation.