The simple fact that someone would lip-synch “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a presidential inauguration — as a Marine Corps Band spokeswoman said pop star Beyonce did Monday — isn’t all that scandalous. An outdoor performance in the winter can be punishing to the voice and other instruments; that’s why cellist Yo-Yo Ma played along to a prerecorded track at the 2009 inaugural. (“It was wicked cold,” Ma told The New York Times back then.) And it’s not as though Beyonce had never sung her version of the national anthem; she knew her own phrasing well enough to match it impressively when the time came.
What has opened the singer to outsize fury — beside the fact that Kelly Clarkson apparently managed to sing “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” live — was the dramatic mid-song moment when Beyonce tore off her earpiece, and seemed to be singing without being able to hear the backing music. As of Tuesday evening, she hadn’t explained the gesture. At the time, it looked to some viewers like showboating but to many Beyonce fans as proof of her superior talent. Once the artifice was reported, though, the move seemed the ultimate in self-aggrandizing fakery. And it called attention to a moment that, frankly, wasn’t supposed to be about Beyonce.
There’s a lesson here for inauguration planners: When you bring celebrity culture to Washington, you may get the glamour, but also the dirty secrets of show business — which can include lip-synching. There’s also a lesson for celebrity performers: A little humility befits a grand event.