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It’s a mime field— Washington DC

Preface

How the issue of lip-synching has threatened to overshadow Barack Obama's triumphant inauguration ceremony

Barack Obama, Beyoncé Knowles, Inauguration, Politics, Lip-synching, Miming

24 January 2013

The eyes of the world were on Washington on Tuesday as Barack Obama successfully negotiated his second term inauguration ceremony, without a hitch. No mean feat, given the international scrutiny of the event, allied to plunging temperatures in DC and the general air of public dissatisfaction wafting around the Capitol at the moment. But it seems that while there were no visual aberrations, there may have been a bum note struck after all. Not by the leader of the free world, but by the feeder of a voracious media – Beyoncé Knowles.

For, as you will likely know by now, the singer was alleged to have mimed to a pre-recorded version of “The Star Spangled Banner”.

First a spokesman from the Marine Corps Band, who themselves were pre-recorded to ensure a smooth show in the event of inclement weather, claimed that the singer had lip-synched her number. Later another member of the Corps insisted that none of its members knew whether Beyoncé had sung live or not.

Most television observers were in accord: if the singer had been miming, she did a fantastic job. The verdict seemed to be: “We all know she can belt out a tune, so what does it matter if she recorded it this time?”

The historical precedents are on Beyoncé’s side, too. At Obama’s first inauguration, celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma mimed his performance – a reasonable reaction given the havoc freezing temperatures can wreck upon the fingers of even the most fluent fiddler. Here in London last year, at the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, most of the performances were mimed. Other greats like Aretha Franklin were swift to voice their support for the singer and reveal their own dabblings in the world of the pre-recorded event.

It is important to bear in mind that this was not a gig; the performers were there to sprinkle a little stardust and bring a measure of celebration to a political appointment. Connoisseurs who fixate upon the visceral authenticity of the live music experience have a point, of course, but that was never what the inauguration was supposed to be about.

What worries me is whether questions about the legitimacy of Beyoncé’s performance will be mangled through the more extreme elements of the US media. I can imagine some right-leaning luminaries, for example, suggesting that a lip-synched national anthem is the most apposite accompaniment to a president similarly long on presentation and short on delivery. But they would – once again - be missing the point. For the substance of what you deliver in the name of politics, just like music, is ultimately more important than appearance, whatever the spin doctors or A&R men have to say.

I don’t care whether Beyoncé was singing live or not. Many of the greats have mimed their way through similar occasions. What matters is whether the crowd – even in blissful ignorance – go home happy. Just like politics should be – it’s whether you please the people that’s the measure of a real star.

Oh yes, one last thing before I exit stage right. I should make it absolutely clear, for the avoidance of doubt: this monologue was pre-recorded.

Tom Edwards is Monocle 24's news editor

Monocle 24

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