It’s a lot of pressure for an artist to deliver pitch perfect vocal performances for big budget live broadcasts. There’s a lot that can go wrong, so it makes sense that they’d want to hedge their bets with a pre-recorded version…just to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, sometimes this purely practical decision comes back to haunt them in a big way! Occasionally it becomes an amusing footnote to their career (sorry, Ashlee Simpson), while other times it completely destroys it. Read on for 10 of the biggest upsets caused by lip syncing!
10. Iron Maiden on German TV, 1986
When metal gods Iron Maiden were forced to pretend to play during an appearance on the German television P.I.T., front-man Bruce Dickinson decided to play it for the laughs, swapping instruments with the bass player, and just generally making a mockery of the proceedings. Needless to say, they were never invited back.
9. Johnny Rotten and Public Image LTD on American Bandstand, 1980
He’d already shocked British television viewers by dropping F-bombs on a morning chat show alongside his mates in the Sex Pistols back in 1976, but Johnny Rotten (A.K.A. John Lydon) once again struck fear into the hearts of live TV producers during a visit to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The punk pioneer refused to mime during an appearance with his new band Public Image LTD, and instead he sat on the floor of the studio, threw himself into the assembled audience, and stuck his nose into the camera while recordings over his own voice played. At his instigation crowd flooded the stage, and the recording soon descended into chaos. Dick handled it like a champ, but PIL mysteriously never appeared on the show again. Wonder why…
8. Britney Spears At The VMAs, 2007
Following Brit’s well-documented personal troubles earlier in the year, fans were hoping that her much-touted MTV gig would be a return to form after three years away from the concert stage. Sadly, their hopes were dashed when Britney showed up dazed and confused, barely bothering to mime the lyrics to her new single, “Gimme More.” It wasn’t so much the lip syncing that caused the scandal (that’s nothing new for Brit, or for award shows), but pretty much everything else.
7. Muse On Italian TV, 2009
Muse took a page from the Iron Maiden playbook when they were miming on the Italian TV show Quelli che il Calico. All of the members switched their instruments and vocal duties. The worst part is that the hosts were so unfamiliar with the band that they had no idea. “We just did it for a laugh really, just to have a bit of fun, but it actually turned out to be quite a thing,” guitarist Dominic Howard told Spinner. Apparently the Italian media blew the story up, and made it look like Muse were intentionally trying to humiliate the show’s host! Oops.
6. Scotty McCreery at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2011
The American Idol champ caught some holiday season flack when the track to his song “The Trouble With Girls” started playing a few seconds before his mouth could catch up. The irony of the situation is that Scotty is famously excellent performing live. Maybe, if at all possible, he’ll go with that next time.
5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991
Even bigger than the Big Game was Whitney’s show-stopping version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” But in the following days, rumors circulated in the tabloids that the diva moment to end all diva moments was actually canned, recorded several days earlier in an LA studio. Fearing that there were too many risks of doing the song live, the producers of the event decided to rely in the “protection copy,” apparently allowing Whitney to sing into a turned-off mic. “At the game, everyone was playing, and Whitney was singing, but there were no live microphones,” orchestra director Kathryn Holm McManus revealed in 2001. “Everyone was lip synching or finger synching.”
4. Jennifer Hudson at the Super Bowl, 2009
Like Whitney Houston before her, Oscar winner J-Hud was also persuaded not to sing live by preshow producer Ricky Minor. “There’s too many variables to go live,” he told ABC News after the fact. “I would never recommend any artist go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance.”
3. Beyonce at the Obama Inauguration, 2013
Queen Bey’s haters tried to take her down a peg by claiming that she didn’t sing at Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, but she silenced any nay-sayers by belting out a killer impromptu (and a capella!) version at a press conference a week later.
2. Ashlee Simpson on SNL, 2004
There was no salvaging this live broadcast mishap when the wrong song started playing at the start of her set. Caught with her musical pants down, she did what any self-respecting entertainer would do: Performed a little jig and dance offstage! “I’m so sorry. My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn’t know what to do, so I thought I’d do a hoedown” she said later.
1. Milli Vanilli at MTV Live, 1989
This one needs no introduction, but it wasn’t this live lip syncing flub that led to their downfall. In fact, folks in the audience didn’t even seem to care! But it definitely made front-men Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus even more nervous about lip syncing to somebody else’s vocals. More questions were raised about who was actually behind the mic, and eventually the band admitted the deceit. They sang for real on their next album, but their career never recovered.
[Photo: Getty Images/NBC]