You’ll get more than 57 million Google results from the search query “Beyoncé lip sync.” The singer’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at President Obama’s second inaugural incited–if not a furor–then lots of opportunistic analogies about how fake everything is these days, especially pageantry. (You don’t say.) Beyoncé tried to quell the so-called controversy by performing the song live last week at a press conference promoting her Super Bowl performance and, it turns out, she can sing it. Not too surprising. Neither was the fact that she chose to get a little help from a pre-recorded track on the inauguration stage. Things can go wrong up there under pressure; just ask Chief Justice John Roberts. But are pop stars like Beyoncé given less latitude than artists of the more high-brow persuasion? Surely, the inauguration of a democratically elected president is no place for snobbery.
But at Obama’s first inauguration, which despite frigid temperatures was a much hotter ticket than his second, composer John Williams contributed a chamber piece called “Air and Simple Gifts.” It was performed–sort of–by an illustrious quartet of classical music superstars, Anthony McGill, Gabriella Montero, Itzhak Perlman and the coolest guy in any room, virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Turns out what we heard was recorded two days before, but the musicians attacked their instruments with great pantomimed passion while playing along to the recording. The subsequent revelation about not playing live was widely excused because of the delicacy of the classical operation: hey it was damn cold and they could have broken a string! Not to mention pitch problems in the deep freeze. Beyoncé’s voice, also a delicate and enormously valuable instrument (it has earned her $350 million), was not accorded the same respect. The Marine Band, by the way, played both occasions live and unassisted, as did the poets.