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.

The Good

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 Bad

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.

The Funny

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.

Most Viewed

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.

Honorable Mention

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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9 Comments

Posted by Jess 7. July 2009 at 9:39 am :

love the dormitory boys. They look like they have no idea what they are lip syncing but are 100% into it !

Posted by Sly 7. July 2009 at 12:06 pm :

I thought that one of the milli vanilli guys passed out on stage when they were caught lip synching.

Posted by Christine 15. July 2009 at 1:46 pm :

LOL, the soldier singing Barbie girl was a crack up. You know they all wanted to join in. hehe

Posted by Pat 14. August 2009 at 9:33 pm :

Soldier guy is really funny. I had to watch it a few times.

Posted by offtone 30. September 2009 at 4:50 pm :

Dragostei Din Tei!!!! OMG you need to get that for karaoke, either that or Alina When you leave (numa numa) - the Basshunter remix. I LOVE THAT SONG!!!!! Well Basshunter in general. I play both and there’s a Reggaeton version that I also play when I’m doing my online dj’ing. And yes I sit and dance in my chair and sing along at the top of my lungs - of course no one can hear me ;)

Woot for great fun lipsynch. These things are addictive to watch :o

Posted by Teresa 2. October 2009 at 5:33 pm :

Hi Offtone! Thanks for the comment - I’lll forward along the karaoke song request to the appropriate dept. Don’t forget to turn on your webcam when you’re singing and dancing in your chair and record those performances online! We enjoy listening to your recordings!

Posted by Wuyao 2. March 2010 at 3:24 am :

A question for everyone here: Can anyone lip syncing the languages they don’t understand? I just found out I have this talent but no one around me think it is special or intereting. I have done about 40 songs on camera in 16 languages. (well, need more time to edit them together and make it to stories). Is it possible to make a world record from doing this? Well, just a simple question.

Following is the link to one of my works (be patient! the lip syncing is just a part of the story) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsgvBdxic5g

Wuyao (a confused person)

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