Lip Syncing: the good, the bad and the funny
There’s something about adopting another person’s voice as your own, matching sight to sound in a perfect lip sync that can be very satisfying. Done right, the illusion is convincing, the same way cartoons are brought to life through celebrity voice acting. In the case of the cartoon, the drawing is synced with the actor’s speech. With lip syncing, the lip-sound match has to be maintained live, which, of course, we love to see screwed up by celebrities on-stage, or better, on TV.
Lip syncing is a technique used by both professionals and amateurs, for completely different reasons. Anyone who given online karaoke a try knows how tough it can be. Dancing energetically while singing isn’t easy, so performers use lip syncing to compromise and deliver a “successful” music performance, to sound exactly like their album (whether that’s a good thing or not). Amateurs use lip sync as a way to live their fantasy of being a star, to entertain their friends and hopefully millions of viewers on YouTube. The following covers the most notable (and notorious) uses of the lip sync, showcasing the best and worst of pros and amateurs alike.
A legitimate and accepted practice of lip syncing is used by bands when they record music videos. These are not live performances, although the bands are probably singing along during production and since they know their songs best, the ”lip syncing” is really tight. We all know and accept that the audio is recorded independently from the video, as in this music video of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face.
The original live out-of-sync lip sync moment occurred in 1989 when the recording of the song Girl You Know It’s True started to repeat itself as the pop duo of Milli Vanilli continued to sing and dance on stage. It wasn’t long before they stopped ”singing” and ran off stage. Not only did they lose their credibility as performers, their name has become associated with lip syncing live performances, and not in a good way.
You know it can’t be good if a news reporter refers to your performance as a “Milli Vanilli” moment. Ashlee Simpson’s performance on Saturday Night Live in October 2004 was not so live. The recorded track that started to play for her second song on the show, was not the song she was expecting, instead it was the song she had already “performed” earlier in the evening. Although her band was momentarily flustered, they reacted quickly enough to play along with the recording that was playing. Ashlee wasn’t able to salvage the performance, ran off stage and worse, blamed it on the band at the end of the show. Saturday Night Live is reportedly not giving her a second chance.
Ashlee isn’t alone though, apparently 50 cent lip syncs too as well as many other singers, including (gasp) Britney Spears, according to this Blender Burner video which shows a few infamous celebrity lip syncing moments.
In the 80s and 90s, two television contest style shows Putting on the Hits and MTV’s Lip Service were popular on which amateurs would appear and lip sync to popular songs. Although similar to today’s television singing competitions, the audience did not get a say in choosing the winner, the acts were judged by celebrity judges alone.
YouTube has taken over from where the television shows left off and is a better forum for the made at home, for fun, amateur lip sync videos. Don’t be mistaken, you need some kind of talent in order to pull off a successful lip sync performance. First, it takes a lot of practice to be able to perform the lip sync in sync for the entire song. Second, you can’t just sit in front of your webcam and lip sync, you need to add some kind of choreography to make it entertaining and third, you need to add extremely exaggerated facial expressions to keep your audience with you. What you have in the background helps too, even if it’s your roommate just sitting there.
Of the 87,000 or so lip sync videos on YouTube, the performers are usually male, and usually perform in pairs in someone’s room in front of a webcam. It is possible that this trend has been set by two Chinese students, who, going by the name of The Dormitory Boys, are so popular they have their own blog, where they even take requests of songs to lip sync to. The tag line to their blog is “Life is short, make fools of yourselves while you can”. Since they’ve become lip sync celebrities on YouTube, they have performed “live”, meaning they’ve lip synced to pre-recorded music on stage in front of a live audience.
What makes their videos stand out from the thousands of others on YouTube? They choose the right songs to perform, their synchronization is really good (even if they don’t appear to be saying the right words), their goofy head, eye, mouth, hand movements make you laugh, they find and choose matching “uniforms” to wear and they are always so in to their performances you can’t help but continue to watch them. They catch you in the first few seconds of their videos, particularly the fellow on the left of the screen who holds an exaggerated facial expression at the beginning of their videos. Here’s their performance of Jessica Simpson’s A Public Affair, viewed more than 5 million times:
These two have inspired other “Wanna be” YouTube lip sync stars. Here are two students, who set up their video of the Spice Girls’ Wanna Be in the style of The Dormitory Boys and by following their lead they’ve been viewed 4.5 million times.
Although 5 million views seems like a lot, Gary Brolsma’s lip syncing performance of Dragostei din tei by the band O-Zone, not only created its own internet amateur video craze called Numa Numa, the video has been viewed more than 29 million times on YouTube alone (it was originally posted on Newgrounds.com). I don’t find it as much fun as The Dormitory Boys’ videos, but it does have the exaggerated facial expressions and arm movements that make lip sync videos so endearing and 29 million views can’t be wrong.
My favorite YouTube lip sync video though, may not be the best example of lip syncing on the web. This video isn’t filmed in a dorm room, the performer misses some words and laughs at himself once or twice, breaking whatever suspension of belief a lip sync video could possibly have. Yet, this performance is just as endearing, and makes me smile every time I watch it. Its charm has something to do with the context of a soldier in a tank, lip syncing to Barbie Girl. A nonsensical song by Aqua, Barbie Girl is fun to sing even if Blender rated it # 33 on their 50 worst songs ever list. Watch for the boot that the soldier so non-chalantly brushes out of the frame at 2:30.
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