Beyoncé has been busted again. Nineteen months after being criticized for lip-syncing during the presidential inauguration, she was caught lip-syncing at a recent concert in Paris (and doing so badly). Look, I understand why Beyonce or any artist lip-syncs in concert. Beyoncé has a $450 million brand to protect. These days, an artist’s every move is watched and recorded, and God help the unfortunate soul whose musical flaws are isolated and mocked for digital eternity. But, let’s also realize this: each time Beyoncé lip syncs, she commits a fraud and damages the authenticity of her precious brand. It is time for artists to start being human. Otherwise, holograms will take their jobs.
The promise of a live event — the reason we’re willing to fork over $300 to see Beyoncé and Jay Z perform together — is that each show is a unique experience. Together, the performer and the audience create a dynamic unique to that concert. The bond forged between the artist and the audience, however illusory and fleeting, feels real at the time. And the live nature of the performance is essential to forming that bond — the inflection in an artist’s voice, the personality she injects into a song through her live interpretation, and the interplay between her vocals, the music, and audience all help convince us to pay a premium price for a show instead of streaming her music on Spotify for a whole lot less money. For instance, during her ArtRave tour, Lady Gaga has turned her anthem “Born This Way” into a more intimate moment of audience interaction by delivering a slower, more soulful version instead of simply duplicating the hit you hear on Born This Way. (Lady Gaga, who has spoken out against lip-syncing, also invites a fan to join her onstage during the song.)
Lip-syncing undercuts the live experience. Instead of singing, the artist becomes a professional dancer or gymnast, carefully orchestrating her every movement with a pre-recorded track — an experience, however impressive, that you can watch for free on YouTube. Moreover, the experience is inauthentic. You really are not hearing Beyoncé sing when she lip-syncs. You are not hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers play music when their instruments are unplugged during a Super Bowl performance. What you get is a musician aping the songs you can stream for free (and, ironically, doing just what the artist wants to avoid — making a glaring mistake — when the artist accidentally falls out of sync with the backing track, as happened with Beyoncé during the Paris concert).
In essence, lip-syncers make their personal brands inauthentic. And inauthentic brands eventually alienate their audience. We live at a time when customers can use social media to challenge and confront brands that fail to deliver on what they say they will deliver. As journalist James Surowiecki wrote in The New Yorker recently, “[B]rands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos.” Marketing expert Scott Monty, an executive vice president at SHIFT Communications, argues that authenticity is essential for brands to succeed in an era when customers can easily smell out a fake. “Authenticity is the quality of being genuine, and ultimately of being trusted,” he wrote recently.
Like savvy, well-informed customers, fans are exposing the fakes with their smart phones and YouTube videos. Beyoncé is far from the only faker. She joins a hall of shame that includes artists as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti to Shakira. Fans don’t like the fakery. And who can blame them? At a minimum, performers owe concertgoers truth in advertising. Don’t advertise a live show if you use prerecorded tracks. Let your fans know what they are buying.
If you cannot be authentic, be honest.