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Ashlee Simpson Not Alone

Acts from Britney to Kiss use prerecorded music

November 2, 2004 12:00 AM ET
When Ashlee Simpson was caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live on October 23rd, it was an embarrassment for the singer and the show. But the use of backing tracks in concerts and TV performances is hardly the shock it was when Milli Vanilli was revealed to have lip-synced in 1990.

"In the long run, it's about performance," says Alexandre Magno, a choreographer on Madonna's 1993 Girlie Show Tour. Madonna did most of the vocals live, he says, but some were prerecorded to play back during complex dance numbers. "If you're up there and you know what you're doing, it doesn't matter if you're lip-syncing or you're singing live," says Magno.

"It's extremely common," says Simpson, who maintains she was unable to sing because she was ill with acid reflux. "You go to people's tours, and you see them dancing extremely hard -- do you really think they're singing that well all the time? You try it. You'd be gasping for breath. At awards shows they're singing so perfect, and it's definitely not just them."

Reviews of Britney Spears throughout her career often mention lip-syncing. Spears has denied the allegations, although earlier this year her then manager, Larry Rudolph, told the New York Times that she occasionally lip-syncs while dancing.

Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels was unavailable for comment, but he told AP Radio that artists have lip-synced on the show before. (Eminem's camp has been denying speculation that the rapper lip-synced during his SNL set this past weekend.) Adds Kid Kelly, a Top Forty-radio veteran who oversees pop programming for Sirius Satellite Radio, "Just about every band that's playing live TV has an accompanying track -- with the possible exception of a jam band."

Many rock bands use backing tracks in concert, too, to re-create the studio sound of their albums. "A lot of the heavy acts do that -- they thicken up the guitar sounds when they play live," says a concert-industry source. "Kiss has backing tracks galore." And bands aren't embarrassed by it. "When you go into the recording studio you have layers and layers of guitars," says Evanescence manager Dennis Rider. "Unless you have three or four guitar players onstage, you can't duplicate that. And people want to hear the record they bought."

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