When Ashlee Simpson was caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night
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
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."