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Lip-synching in music

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Lip-synching in music

Lip-synching in music is "moving the lips in synchronization with [pre-]recorded speech or song"[1] to give the appearance of a 'live' performance. It is generally considered dishonest, though some producers argue that it needs to be done in some performance contexts. Lip-synching, also called miming, can be used to make it appear as though actors have musical ability (e.g., The Partridge Family) or to misattribute vocals (e.g. Milli Vanilli), to enable them to perform live dance numbers, or to cover for illness or other deficiencies during live performance. The practice of lip synching during live performances is frowned on by some who view it as a crutch only used by lesser talents.

On American Bandstand and most variety shows of the 1960s, vocals and instrumentals were all synced to pre-recorded music.[2] Since the advent of MTV in the 1980s, many artists have focused on visual effects, rather than singing, for their live shows.[3] Artists often lip-sync during strenuous dance numbers in both live and recorded performances.[4] Some singers habitually lip-sync during live performance, both concert and televised, whereas others do lip syncing only for certain songs or types of performances.


Because the film track and music track are recorded separately during the creation of a music video, artists usually lip-synch to their songs and often imitate playing musical instruments as well. Artists also sometimes move their lips at speed faster than that of the track so as to create videos with a slow-motion effect in the final clip, which is widely considered to be complex to achieve.

Notable exceptions to this trend include Bruce Springsteen's hit "Streets of Philadelphia", which only uses the instruments as a backing track while the vocals were recorded with a microphone attached on the singer, giving a different feel to it.

Lip-synching is almost always used in modern musical films (The Rocky Horror Picture Show being an exception) and in biopics such as Ray and La Vie en Rose, where the original recording adds authenticity. But some early musicals usually use live recordings. And when songs appear in non-musical films, however, the actors sing live on set, but later dub their voices in ADR using a "better" performance of the song.

Complex performance

Artists often lip-synch during strenuous dance numbers in both live and recorded performances, due to lung capacity being needed for physical activity (both at once would require incredibly trained lungs). Michael Jackson is an example of this; he performed complex dance routines while lip-syncing and live singing. His performance on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (1983) changed the scope of live stage show. Ian Inglis, author of Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time (2006) notes the fact that "Jackson lip-synced 'Billie Jean' is, in itself, not extraordinary, but the fact that it did not change the impact of the performance is extraordinary; whether the performance was live or lip-synced made no difference to the audience," thus creating an era in which artists recreate the spectacle of music video imagery on stage.[3]

Chris Nelson of Cher, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.[4] Gundersen elaborates: "The most obvious example is Madonna's Blond Ambition World Tour, a visually preoccupied and heavily choreographed spectacle. Madonna lip-syncs the duet 'Now I'm Following You', while a Dick Tracy character mouths Warren Beatty's recorded vocals. On other songs, background singers plump up her voice, strained by the exertion of non-stop dancing."[4]

Billboard editor Thom Duffy commented: "The expectations of fans have changed, and that's the driving force here ... They expect a concert as perfect as what they see on MTV."[4] Rashod D. Ollison of The Baltimore Sun observes: "Since the advent of MTV and other video music channels, pop audiences have been fed elaborate videos thick with jaw-dropping effects, awesome choreography, fabulous clothes, marvelous bodies. And the same level of perfection is expected to extend beyond the video set to the concert stage. So if Britney Spears, Janet Jackson or Madonna sounds shrill and flat without a backing track, fans won't pay up to $300 for a concert ticket."[6] Gundersen comments that while lip-syncing may be used to augment live singing, it has also been used to hide the fact that an artist may have no vocal talent whatsoever, such as Milli Vanilli, who lip-synched vocals other than their own.[4]

Some singers habitually lip-synch during live performances, both concert and televised, over pre-recorded music and mimed backing vocals; this is known as singing over playback. Some artists switch between live singing and lip-synching during performance, particularly during songs that require them to hit particularly high or low notes. Lip-synching these notes ensures that the performer will not be out of tune and that the artist will not strain his or her voice too much during an arduous concert. Once the difficult portion of the song has passed, the artist may continue to lip-synch or may resume singing live. Some artists lip-synch choruses during songs but sing the main verses.

The practice of synching also occurs in musical theater, for much the same purpose as for musicians. A production may include a mix of lip-synched and live musical numbers. In long-running shows, this may be done to help protect the performer's voice from strain and damage, as well as to maintain a high caliber of production. A notable example of using lip-synching as a special effect includes performances of The Phantom of the Opera, with swing actors in the same costumes as the lead actors give the illusion of the characters moving around the stage with some mystery. Artists may also lip-synch in situations in which their backup bands and sound systems cannot be accommodated, such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which features popular singers lip-synching while riding floats.

Some artists may choose to lip-synch during live performance because of stage fright or perceptions of inadequacy. Unlike studio recording, live performance provides only one chance to sing each song correctly. An artist may worry that his or her voice is not strong enough, that it will sound noticeably different from recorded versions or that he or she will hit a wrong note. Sometimes lip-synching is falsely identified by fans sitting in the back of a stadium seeing a drummer hit a kit before they actually hear the sound; the delay can be mistaken for poor synchronization.

For irony and effect

New York drag performer and reality star Dallas DuBois posing in a photoshoot for a show ad

Lip-synching, as a form of musical pantomime – in which the performer moves his or her mouth to a recording – is often performed by drag queens and, more recently, drag kings; Lypsinka has starred in movies and several touring shows. Other artists have chosen to lip-synch quite obviously for comedic value. During short, pre-recorded performances, such as guest appearances on a TV show, some artists purposely include in-jokes like swapping instruments among band members or desynching their instruments in obviously erroneous ways, as a protest against being requested to lip-synch a performance. A famous example is an Iron Maiden appearance on a German TV show in 1986.[7]

A number of artists, such as Nirvana, Oasis, Muse and Travis, have also made similar mock performances in the British TV show Top of the Pops.

Legal and ethical aspects

In the Australian state of New South Wales, the government is considering new laws that would require pop singers to print disclaimers on tickets "to alert fans if [the singers] intend on miming throughout their shows". Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge stated that "Let's be clear – live means live." Minister Judge stated that "If you are spending up to $200 [on concert tickets], I think you deserve better than a film clip". She indicated that "The NSW Government would be happy to look at options, such as a disclaimer on a ticket which would warn consumers a performance is completely pre-recorded."[8]

A writer on ethics calls lip-syncing an "affront to all legitimate live performers who risk lyric mistakes and cracking voices to give an authentic performance". The author argues that lip-syncing in live concerts will "...destroy our ability to enjoy great live performances the way we once could, thrilling to the certain knowledge that we are witnessing something extraordinary from a great talent". The author argues that this "...makes lip-syncing in public performances wrong. Not only is the audience being lied to; it is being made cynical".[9]

Notable occurrences

Britney Spears

Spears performing in 2009's world tour The Circus Starring Britney Spears

In 2009, US pop singer Britney Spears was "'extremely upset' over the savaging she has received after lip-synching at her Australian shows", where ABC News Australia reported that "[d]isappointed fans ...stormed out of Perth's Burswood Dome after only a few songs".[10] Reuters reports that Britney Spears "is, and always has been, about blatant, unapologetic lip-synching". The article claims that "at the New York stop of her anticipated comeback tour, Spears used her actual vocal chords only three times – twice to thank the crowd, and once to sing a ballad (though the vocals during that number were questionable, as well)".[11] Rolling Stone magazine stated that "Though some reports indicate Spears did some live singing [in her 2009 concerts], the L.A. Times Ann Powers notes that the show was dominated by backing tracks (which granted, is not the same thing as miming)".[12]

Luciano Pavarotti at the 2006 Winter Olympics

On February 10, 2006, Luciano Pavarotti sang "Nessun Dorma" at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was prerecorded weeks earlier.[13] "The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful," he wrote. Pavarotti's manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee's invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the sub-zero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by pre-recording the song.

Queen at Sanremo Festival 1984

The band Queen used playback at a 1984 performance at the Sanremo Festival in the Ariston Theatre in Sanremo, Italy when they performed the song Radio Ga Ga from their album The Works.[14][15]

Ashlee Simpson Saturday Night Live appearance in 2004

Ashlee Simpson in 2009

Ashlee Simpson appeared as a musical guest on Episode 568 of Saturday Night Live (October 23–24, 2004), and, as is customary for the show's format, she was scheduled to perform two songs. Her first song, "Pieces of Me", was performed without problems. However, when she began her second song, "Autobiography", the vocals for the song "Pieces of Me" were heard once again, before she had raised the microphone to her mouth. Simpson began to dance, but then left the stage while the band (not a recording) continued playing.[16][17][18]

During her performance, "she was revealed to apparently be lip-synching". According to "her manager-father[,]...his daughter needed the help because acid reflux disease had made her voice hoarse." Her manager stated that "Just like any artist in America, she has a backing track that she pushes so you don’t have to hear her croak through a song on national television." During the incident, vocal parts from a previously-performed song began to sound while the singer was "holding her microphone at her waist"; she made "some exaggerated hopping dance moves, then walked off the stage".[19]

Milli Vanilli

Milli Vanilli in 1990

In 1990, during a live performance recorded by MTV at the Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol, Connecticut, the recording of Milli Vanilli's song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the partial line "Girl, you know it's..." over and over. Due to rising public questions regarding the source of talent in the group, owner Frank Farian confessed to reporters on November 12, 1990, that Morvan and Pilatus did not actually sing on the records. As a result of American media pressure, Milli Vanilli's Grammy was withdrawn four days later,[20] and Arista Records dropped the act from its roster and deleted their album and its masters from their catalog, taking Girl You Know It's True out of print.

After these details emerged, at least 26 different lawsuits were filed under various U.S. consumer fraud protection laws.[21] On August 28, a settlement was approved that refunded those who attended concerts along with those who bought Milli Vanilli recordings.[22] An estimated 10 million buyers were eligible to claim a refund.

2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony

In the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the song "Ode to the Motherland" appeared to be sung by Lin Miaoke at the ceremony, but it emerged that she mimed her performance to a recording by another girl, Yang Peiyi, who actually won the audition. It was a last minute decision to use lip-synching, following a Politburo member's objection to Yang's physical appearance.[23][24][25][26] International Olympic Committee executive director Gilbert Felli defended the use of a more photogenic double.[27] [28]

Indian cinema

Indian cinema relies heavily on lip synching. Lip synching by a Playback Singer is almost exclusively used in Indian cinema, where actors perform song and dance sequences in movies while lip-synching to the song that is sung by playback singers. The playback singers are officially recognised, and have gained much fame in their careers. Some notables among them are Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Muhammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle, and many more.


  • Celine Dion has frequently been accused of lip syncing portions of her songs during her Las Vegas residencies and television performances. Videos online show identical sounding 'live' performances of several of her songs mixed together as proof
  • 50 Cent was caught lip synching live on stage at the BET awards, watched by millions of people when DJ Whoo Kidd played the instrumental version of the hit song "Amusement Park."[29]
  • 1980's rock band Journey lead singer Steve Augeri was suspected of lip-syncing during many concerts from 2004-2006. Journey never confirmed or denied the accusations of lip-syncing, but Augeri left the band in mid-2006 due to an acute throat infection, furthering the suspicions of lip-syncing.
  • During a concert at Madison Square Garden, the R & B singer R. Kelly put down his microphone in the middle of a song and let his recorded vocals keep singing.[2]
  • In 1989, a New York Times article claimed that "Bananarama's recent concert at the Palladium", the "first song had a big beat, layered vocal harmonies and a dance move for every line of lyrics", but "the drum kit was untouched until five songs into the set, or that the backup vocals (and, it seemed, some of the lead vocals as well-a hybrid lead performance) were on tape along with the beat". The article also claims that "British band Depeche Mode, ...add vocals and a few keyboard lines to taped backup onstage".[30]
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Janet Jackson "one of pop's most notorious onstage lip synchers" in a 2001 article on lip synching.[31]
  • During the 2009 Super Bowl, "Jennifer Hudson's performance of the national anthem" was "lip-synched a previously recorded track, and apparently so did Faith Hill who performed before her". The singers lip-synched " the request of Rickey Minor, the pregame show producer", who argued that "There's too many variables to go live."[32]
  • Whitney Houston's rendition of the anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl was also reported to have been lip-synched.[32]

See also


  1. ^ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
  2. ^ a b nelson (February 1, 2004). "MUSIC; Lip-Synching Gets Real". nytimes. Retrieved February 6, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Inglis, Ian (2006). Performance and popular music: history, place and time. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 119, 127.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Edna Gundersen (May 25, 1990), "Style Over Sound: Pop stars take canned music on tour",  
  5. ^ Nelson, Chris (February 1, 2004). "Lip-Synching Gets Real". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2010. 
  6. ^ Ollison, Rashod (October 26, 2004). "The pressure to be perfect singing live ; Audiences expect CD-quality sound; Observation".  
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Lip-sync Ethics (8/17/2008)
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Reinvigorated, lip-synching Spears wows N.Y. fans". Reuters. March 14, 2009. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Kington, Tom (April 7, 2008). "Pavarotti mimed at final performance". The Guardian (London). Retrieved April 7, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Queen mimed performance in San Remo Festival at february 3rd 1984YouTube – QUEEN RADIO GA GA IN SAN REMO FESTIVAL 1984. "
  15. ^ .... A: Yes I was in San Remo – no it’s not true Freddie wouldn’t perform – they always knew it would be a mimed performance.)Were you working with the band in 1984 when they were guests at the San Remo Festival, in Italy? Is it true that when the band discovered that they couldn't play live but only in playback, Freddie at first didn't want to perform?QueenItalia – The Italian Queen Community | Specials | Q&A with Peter Hince... (citation:
  16. ^ "USA Today: Did 'Saturday Night Live' expose Ashlee Simpson's extra help?". October 24, 2004. Retrieved January 8, 2009. 
  17. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (October 25, 2004). "Ashlee Blames Gastric Distress For 'SNL' Lip-Synch Snafu". MTV News. 
  18. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (October 31, 2004). "Rap Against Rockism". New York Times. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Milli Vanilli Meltdown Angers Former Fans," Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1990. Retrieved March 26, 2006.
  21. ^ "Judge Rejects Milli Vanilli Refund Plan", New York Times, August 13, 1991. Retrieved March 21, 2006.
  22. ^ "Small Victory for Milli Vanilli Fans", New York Times, August 31, 1991. Retrieved September 14, 2008.
  23. ^ "The radio interview of the music director Chen Qigang". 
  24. ^ Spencer, Richard (August 12, 2008). "Beijing Olympics Faking scandal over girl who sang in opening ceremony". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ Bristow, Michael (August 12, 2008). "China Olympic ceremony star mimed". BBC News. 
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ Yardley, Jim (August 13, 2008). "In Grand Olympic Show, Some Sleight of Voice". New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2009. Under pressure from the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party to find the perfect face and voice, the ceremonies’ production team concluded that the best solution was to use two girls instead of one. 
  29. ^ "50 Cent busted lip syncing". The Daily Telegraph. June 28, 2007. Retrieved February 7, 2009. 
  30. ^ POP VIEW; That Synching Feeling By Jon Pareles Published: April 9, 1989. New York Times
  31. ^ Thor Christensen. Saturday, September 15, 2001.,1712425
  32. ^ a b Hudson's Super Bowl Lip-Sync No Surprise to Insiders Super Bowl Producers Asked Jennifer Hudson, Faith Hill to Lip-Sync By LUCHINA FISHER and SHEILA MARIKAR Feb 3, 2009
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