There's no rational reason to care whether Beyonce was lip-syncing or really singing when she performed at the presidential inaugural Monday. But the disclosure was troubling nonetheless.
It's not that we were all cheated, exactly. No one paid to stand outside in the cold to watch the ceremonies (though presumably the well-connected and the sponsors had no trouble getting bleacher seats). It's that Beyonce looked overwhelmed with emotion as she belted out the national anthem, giving the impression that her performance reflected her excitement about Obama being re-elected, or better yet, just pride in American democracy. The fact that she was faking makes it feel cheap, somehow. Is she really happy about the election results? Does our paean to freedom and liberty really move her? It's like faking an orgasm—maybe on one level you're making someone feel more connected to you, but really, you're just reinforcing bad behavior and setting the stage for future deception.
Kelly Clarkson looked so thrilled to be there—and to sing!—that one could not help but be affected by her enthusiasm. She looked like every kid who can't believe he or she just made it to the high school baseball playoffs, or got the lead in the class musical. Even if Clarkson is not your style of singer, how could you not be charmed by her performance, if only because she looked so purely happy just to be asked? (Clarkson sang live, a representative told CBS.)
Beyonce, meanwhile, is used to performing with a capital P, with the fancy costumes and stagecraft. Watching her take her earpiece out of her ear—good catch, those of you who noticed it and sparked the question about her live-vs.-recorded singing—indicated like she wasn't even going to pretend to sing.
Everyone else does it live. The Supreme Court justices who swear in the president and vice president—live. The speech by the president himself— live. But is Beyonce's strategy the wave of the future? Will we take a cold, hard look at the cold day and hard pavement and decide to have prerecorded speeches delivered by avatars? If it's taped, we don't get the live moments, like President Obama stumbling ever so slightly over a word, or Rep. Paul Ryan chewing gum, or Justice Scalia in that odd, 15th century European explorer hat he wore. This is why we tune in. Beyonce was chosen because she has a beautiful voice. We'd all love to hear it live.