Monday, October 11, 2004

Truth of the Music Industry: The lip-synching hack

Posted by AmishThrasher at 10:50 pm
I believe Elton in this.
Finally, someone has stood up an said publically what many have been thinking about mass-produced lip-synching pop divas for a long time:

Singer Elton John has never been known for his restraint - his binge on flowers costing more than $US200,000 ($A272,000) between 1996 and 1997 is testament enough to that. Nevertheless, the ferocity of his attack on fellow pop star Madonna last week might have struck some as excessive.

Appearing at the Q Music awards in London, John exploded with a foul-mouthed tirade after learning that Madonna had been nominated as best live act.

"Madonna, best f---ing live act? F--- off," he said in an extraordinary outburst. "Since when has lip-synching been live? Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage when you pay £75 to see them should be shot."

A representative for Madonna denied John's claims. "Madonna does not lip-synch nor does she spend her time trashing other artists," said spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg.

No, she just blatantly rips them off and claims their fads. Hack.

Nevertheless, the drama illustrated the extent to which the issue of lip-synching still raises hackles in the music industry. Indeed, even former boy band singers have been forced to demonstrate the genuineness of their musical wares. At a Melbourne concert earlier this year, a credibility-seeking Justin Timberlake was moved to boast "I don't lip-synch, I sing" - a none too oblique reference to former girlfriend Britney Spears, who admits to getting "support in the choruses" during her performances.

But is lip-synching really such a crime? (Well, anywhere apart from Vietnam, which banned the practice four years ago.) Not necessarily, say some critics. They argue that, in the pop world at least, the "entertainment package" can be more important than musical "cred".

As Monash University music lecturer Robert Burke said - even if Madonna does mime, "I don't think it's a major concern because she is who she is. Her whole act is about popular culture, rather than being a legitimate singer. It's a real package."

It's a sentiment that would warm the heart of former Neighbours starlet Holly Valance, forced to defend herself after lip-synching at the 2002 ARIA awards.

"As a pop artist . . . I need to get up there and put on a visual show, and if that means working my arse off in incredible dance routines, I'm going to do that," she said.

"What do you want me to do? Wear my little ripped rock T-shirt and get up there with my guitar and bulls--- around? That's not me, it's not what I do."

Yeah, Madonna doesn't bulls---- around the stage, doing bulls--- in a concert, like playing an instrument or - gasp - singing. Possibly because she can't sound decent without several hours worth of heavy mixing.

Predictably, Melbourne musicians who make a living by getting up there with a guitar and "bulls---ing around", take a different view.

"Hats off to the crazy bastard," said Chuck Jenkins, lead singer of Ice Cream Hands, of John's outburst. The music should come ahead of the visuals, he said, "because it's an emotive, immediate thing and it should change night to night according to how the performer feels and how the crowd is reacting.

"To go out there and just simply go through the choreographed motions - I think the performer is really shortchanging, not only the audience, but themselves."

Indeed, it could be that Valance shortchanged herself. Her next album, State of Mind, sold a pitiful 2000 copies in its two weeks on the Australian chart. And the producers of Sunday's ARIA awards certainly seem to agree with a music-first policy.

Although organisers refused to comment, they said all the performers booked for this year's ceremony, including Delta Goodrem, Jet, Kasey Chambers, Guy Sebastian, Eskimo Joe and Pete Murray, would perform live.

A risky policy - who can forget the tuneless mewling of Madison Avenue's Cheyne Coates at the 2000 ARIAs?

Like I said, I'm not making this a non-music blog; I'm just featuring stoies about topics other than music on here. But I will continue to post music-related stories on here... like this one.

Elton John is far from my favourite artist, but the man makes a valid point. Pop music has a reputation for being mass produced garbage, and for the reasons I point out below, it's for good reason. And acts like Milli Vanilli should be seen as just the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to sudio produced, talentless hacks.

Look, it's very easy for someone like a Simon Fuller - someone who I have mentioned earlier in this blog - to take someone who looks good and can possibly dance and make them a top 40 star - regardless of their talent (or lack thereof). All you need is some canned or session musicians to provide a good backing track for a producer, and a Max Martin character to provide good lyrics. Studio technicians fix little niggling problems like utter inability to sing. Wrap it in some payola and marketing - and a good video - and you have yourself an instant, cookie - cutter mass - produced bubblegum pop hit.

For that extra "authenticity", have it packaged as punk rock-lite, heavy metal-lite, or "not quite Motown" R&B.

I've recently heard the argument that there is talent involved in the process, and it's true to an extent. But the end result is an unispiring and insipid 'hits by committee' product, rather than musical artistic self expression. And certainly the pretty face fronting this act - the Milli Vanilli or Madonna of the act - deserves very little credit for the product.

As for the question of whether Madonna lip-synchs... it's one best left for these guys.