Monday, October 8, 2012

Is Lip-Syncing Such a Bad Thing?

Quick! Name one criticism both AKB48 and Perfume both frequently receive! Did you guess lip-syncing? I really hope you did because that's what I'm talking about today!

Ah, lip-syncing. I always die a little inside when anyone brings this topic up. When people think of lip-syncing, they tend to think of it as an unholy evil only used by the lowest form of muck, the souls who are damned to hell for all eternity for their failure to sing live- okay, maybe they don't think that but lip-syncing is right up there with Autotune in terms of how many people hate it. And I can see why. How often do you read on other blogs "Oh yeah, I cant' stand [insert group here] because they always lip sync at their lives,"? Common consensus about lip-syncing is that it's a lazy and cheap route in place of singing live. People criticize that it doesn't make a live performance really live, how it's an attempt to hide how bad a singer sounds in real life, how it makes the performances feel less genuine, I'm sure you can find plenty of criticisms out there on the Internet. Go forth and come back and tell me how much people hate lip-syncing.

Bottom line is lip-syncing is pretty frowned upon by a lot of people. And honestly, if you had asked me a few years ago, I probably would have been in the same boat with them. I thought lip-syncing was the worst abomination to ever plague the world of music! It made me feel cheated out of a real performance; I still remember the first (and only actually...) concert I ever went to: Hilary Duff. Go ahead and laugh but I was stoked to see my childhood idol up on the stage performing cheesy teen pop. Then she lip synced and the whole experience was ruined for me. Before my Perfume-craze, I was very against lip-syncing and even when I became a fan of Perfume I still side-eyed it. So what changed my outlook on it? Well, to fully explain why I'm going to tell you a little story from my own personal life. And yes, I know you probably care about my personal life as much as I care about the musical content Super Girls release but I promise there's a point I'm trying to make!

So a little over a year ago, before this blog even existed, I was spending all my time at an arts school with a name that's not important to this story for the summer. Anyways, at this school, I was there to develop my education in the dramatic arts and all that jazz and for one of our assignments, our vocal and dance classes were combined to work on a musical number. We were split into two groups and we were given a song; we then had to learn that song, choreograph a dance for that song, and finally perform the finished number for the other group. For my group, we were assigned You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray. And if you don't know that song, here's a link so you can hear how upbeat this particular song is. The song was easy enough to sing even for a crow like me but when we started dancing and adding choreography to it, I swear it became one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

Everyone, including myself, was constantly out of breath during the song because of the energetic dancing we had to do hence our vocals were incredibly strained and our dancing grew increasingly sloppy as we got increasingly tired. Somehow we managed to pull off a pretty dazzling number but I'm fairly certain that afterward we all collapsed into one giant heap of sweat and exhaustion. And this was one musical number with choreography nowhere near as complicated as the dances you see from 95% of K-pop groups whose names I don't bother to remember. But it was so hard. I really can't emphasize how hard this was for me to do and how physically exhausted and winded I was after the performance was over. But I'm glad I did that because I had never really understood the difficulty of staging a full-fledged performance until I had done one myself. Now that I have, I think I have a better understanding of why certain artists like AKB48 and Perfume lip-sync.

Let's start with Perfume because Perfume is simply the bomb. However, not everyone agrees with that opinion and one of the biggest criticisms Perfume has always received is "Why the hell don't they sing live?" And that's putting it nicely. Aside from the obvious reason that the vocoders used for their songs would make 90% of their live performances sound like crap, with a group like Perfume, it isn't just about singing. Hell, concerts in general aren't about just singing; that's what recording studios are for. Don't get me wrong, vocals are an extremely important factor to concerts but there are a myriad of other things that add to a good performance such as dancing, costuming, effects, MCs, on-stage personalities, etc. A concert is an experience that transcends only singing and it should pull you in to this different world of the music of an artist you love. Why else do you think famous artists incorporate so many themes and effects into concerts? It's so catch our attention, to separate itself from a mere recording of the song you could pick up on iTunes.

To someone in the audience, a good concert probably looks like it has a lot of stuff going on but to the artists performing on stage it feels like even more and it's incredibly exhausting to execute a "good" performanceSo it doesn't surprise me that Perfume, a group that has live concerts filled with all sorts of different effects, dances, and eye-catching things, would decide to lip-sync for a majority of their performances. And honestly? I'd rather watch an artist who lip-syncs pull of an amazing and entrancing concert than pay to see another artist who does sing live just stand in front of a microphone. Look at Lana Del Rey. She's got a lovely voice but her live performances are boring as hell because she spends most of them standing and occasionally swaying to her right or left. What Perfume may lack in live vocals they make up for in complex, intricate dancing, stunning visual effects, strong personalities projecting from each of the girls, and simply such an amazing stage presence that watching one of their lives on a computer screen makes me feel like I'm actually at one of their concerts.

And then there's AKB48. When they're not being criticized for prancing around bikinis, one of the most vocal (Get it? Vocal?) criticisms about them is how much they lip-sync. And yeah, they do it a lot, especially in televised performances. Stage shows, I'm a little less sure about but from what I've heard they lip-sync a lot during their stage shows as well. Now there choreography isn't anywhere near as complicated as Perfume's; what excuse could they possibly have? Just... okay, pretend you're a member of AKB48. Not just any member, one of the most popular members; for this scenario, let's say you're Kashiwagi Yuki; she's bland enough that anyone with a black wig could be her anyways. As Kashiwagi Yuki, you lead a very busy life in AKB48 ranging from promoting the latest single to rehearsing stage songs to posing for photo shoots to live events like handshakes or autograph signings. In layman's terms, you have a very busy and tightly scheduled life that is physically grueling and strenuous because you're so high in demand. Not only are you expected to be an idol, you're expected to be a top idol and live up to the expectations your wide fanbase has for you. Being an idol isn't just about singing; it's about image. But what do you know; just when you think you're done of the day, you still have the daily stage show to perform in! By this point, you are completely wiped out from the busy day you've had. So the options for you are either a) Perform live at the cost of sounding exhausted and strained because of all the dancing that accompanies their songs or b) Take the easier option and lip-sync, lifting much of the pressure and difficulty of.

These girls are constantly doing stage shows every night and twice a day on weekends, and the more popular girls have even more obligations like shoots, CMs, broadcast performances, music videos to record, TV shows like AKBingo!, etc., etc. AKB48 as a whole is the top idol group as of 2012 and even the most unpopular members are still probably in somewhat high demand for stage shows, handshake events, and the likes. To have such a continuously busy schedule is exhausting. And let me tell you, when you're exhausted, your singing is shit. But that doesn't matter to the fans who most likely don't have that schedule; they're just happy they won tickets and are most likely praying that the AKB48 stage shows are everything they hoped for in their wildest dreams. They expect some level of quality combined with the fanservice that comes from any idol performance and no matter how tired or exhausted these girls are, they have to deliver that quality. So what better option to take than the one that will lift a lot of stress of these girls shoulders when doing big group numbers and upbeat songs that require a lot of physical and vocal energy than to lip-sync?

So does this automatically mean that any famous artist with a stressful schedule will lip-sync for convenience's sake? Absolutely not! There are a few subversions I know about and if you dig around, I'm certain there are plenty of famous artists who don't lip sync. But for this post's sake (and my own accuracy), I'm going to use the woman in the above picture as an example. This is Mizuki Nana. She sings live. A lot. Now I don't know what your vocal preferences are but I think a general amount of people can agree that she has a pretty good and well-developed voice that doesn't sound strained live. And if you bothered to look at any of those links above, then you'd also notice that her movements don't take a toll on her voice; she isn't dancing as much as groups like Perfume and Morning Musume are but she's still moving a good deal and constantly engaging the audience. Do you want to know why Mizuki Nana is able to pull this off so smoothly? She's been training since she was five; just to give you an idea of how long she's been singing, Mizuki Nana is currently 32 years old.

Another more idol-related example is C-ute. I have a lot of respect for C-ute because they have such complicated dances but they still manage to sound amazing live. Just look at their lives! And again, that's because they've been doing this for ten years. Practice doesn't always make perfect, but looking at groups like C-ute and Berryz Koubou (to an extent; I like C-ute better) shows that it sure as hell can you get you close. But not a lot of idol groups and singers have had the same level of training and practice as these artists have so I can understand why they would lip-sync. It's a safe alternative to the otherwise risky decision of having new, inexperienced idols perform live. And that's where the biggest double standard comes in. If you sing live but can't pull off singing live, then people will criticize your poor vocals, weak performances, etc. However, if you resort to lip-syncing because you suck live, then just as quickly a lot of people will criticize you even more for taking the easy way out of live performances. It's quite the double-edged sword. So am I saying that lip-syncing should be encouraged? No, absolutely not, but I do think that the reverse of that should be. I wish artists would get more recognition for not lip-syncing and still pulling off an equally charismatic live performance as an artist who did lip-sync.

So in conclusion, no, I don't think lip-syncing is anywhere near as horrendous as lot of people make it out to be and I applaud artists who put time in effort into delivering a performance sung live. What I hope people will take from this post is a better understanding of why artists lip-sync and that it isn't necessarily such an abomination as a lot of people make it out to be. Good day to you; I'm going to go hide under a rock and come out once everyone who's pissed off at this post has left!



    I am so glad you wrote this. I've been thinking the same things for a long time, but I'm just too damn lazy to write about it. XD

    Nicely done.

    Also, Mizuki Nana is THE SHIT.

    1. A NANA FAN! AWGIHOIHWEIGNBAO;FI- Sorry, I just get so excited when I find someone else likes her! I wish there was more love for her on the Internet...

  2. You should write more posts like this (editiorals?) :) When people think they are good at dancing and have never tried singing together, they haven't really experienced how hard it is.

    But when I watch Perfume dance, I believe they are more sharper and they could at least sing a little so the idea of them lip-syncing on all their songs is a bit hmm... Honestly I didn't like Perfume until about 2009. I just didn't like the idea of them lip-syncing but I got used to it.

    But like you said it's about image and most people will overlook idols singing for their image and sometimes I do too. People will get used to it overtime, I tend to overlook lip-syncing these days because it's as common as bloody autotune which I dislike.

    1. I might write more articles like this! It all depends when I get an idea for one and then I just write! As for Perfume... Say no more! Behold: Perfume singing live!

      From Budoukaaaaaaaaaan!!!!! concert: (part of this one is sung live, that being the chorus)

      From the Chokkaku Nitouhen Sankakkei Tour:

      From the JPN Tour:

  3. TGS's ability to sing live wonderfully is one of my favorite things about them. (Granted, they still sound a little out a breath, but their choreography is crazy sometimes!)

    By the way, Fairies, the group with the worst line distribution? I'm gonna say something that's gonna make you hate them more... they HARDLY sing live.

    I think they're only starting now (though they also did in a few of their debut stages, I think). However, it's still with a lot of backing vocals involved. I found one video of them sing live last year and I nearly cried. That was how bad it was.

    1. TGS does do a pretty decent job singing live! They're not perfect, but them at least trying gets a brownie point from me! Although I'm a little worried about Ayano's live singing. She sounds really strained...

      Ah yes, Fairies. Do they still have bad line distribution? Wow. And they hardly sing live? Yikes. Well, maybe because their dances are complicated? I don't know, I don't follow them closely enough.

      The news about Fairies doesn't make me that mad; I mean, idols lip-synch all the time, even idol groups I like! It's a pity their live singing isn't that good. It's weird though; they sound fine on the studio songs I've heard from them. I mean, they sound really bland but still good.