By: Tesa Pesic
On January 21st the public Presidential Inauguration was held at the United States Capitol building. This important event marked the beginning of the second term of Barack Obama as President. Just like every ceremony, this too had special guests performing during the event. The most anticipated performance was that of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, the internationally famed R&B singer, who was scheduled to sing the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”, which she executed perfectly, as we could have read in the media, as well as heard for ourselves. But things had changed when a rumor emerged that she hadn’t been singing live, but, in fact, a recording of the song was played instead. During the following week speculations on whether or not that was true had been circling, filling the pages of every paper, website, and blog. One day the story was that she sang live, the next that she hadn’t. There was no word from Beyoncé; no word, until January 31st.
That day, a press conference for the upcoming Super Bowl was held. Beyoncé walked onto the podium and began with an unusual request, asking people to please stand. She then sang the national anthem, live, a cappella, silencing critics with a rendition that was, according to Spin.com “as powerful and acrobatic as the backing track she was lambasted for using before.” Upon finishing she simply said, “Any questions?” Of course, the first one was regarding the lip-syncing controversy, to which Beyoncé responded by saying: “Due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk. It was about the president and the inauguration, and I wanted to make him and my country proud, so I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track, which is very common in the music industry. And I’m very proud of my performance.” During the rest of the conference only questions about the Super Bowl Half Time were asked.
After the Inauguration, a lot of people were disappointed, no one understood why she hadn’t sung; some went as far as to say they felt betrayed by it, and that it was an insult to Obama himself. Everyone felt that with such an important ceremony, and with such a famous and talented singer, a live performance was mandatory. Having Beyoncé, who is an international star, and for many people their ‘queen’ use a prerecorded track and not her voice, was a travesty. So the audience she was answering to at the press conference was big; huge, in fact. Not only was she addressing a room of pre-approved journalists, but also everyone watching the press conference live, everyone watching it later, and everyone reading about it the day after. She was addressing her fans, as well as her ‘haters’. Her audience consisted of 300 million Americans, people who thought they needed an answer, which they received in a very interesting way.
The manner in which she ‘hijacked’ a press conference about the Super Bowl received a lot of praise, as well as critique. It is the norm that after a controversy that person holds his own media conference, or releases a statement if an explanation or apology is necessary. After Christina Aguilera sang the wrong lyrics to the national anthem at the 2011 Super Bowl, her publicist released a statement expressing her regrets. Beyoncé kept silent, saving her somewhat shocking answer for an event that was supposed to be all about football. Madonna’s press conference last year passed without any incidents, or her using this platform for something else, for personal reasons. What Beyoncé wanted to do was create a big boom, something people would talk about more, because she is Beyoncé and doing normal, moderate things isn’t her style. As a reporter for GQ says, it goes with her crazy personality; it would be something she would do.
And this way she wasn’t really apologizing because she had nothing to apologize for. Coming up on stage and proving to everyone that she still has a voice, and that she knows how to use it is a way of telling people off. She was making everyone regret their decision to question her authenticity as a performer. As she herself states, “I am proud of my performance,” there is no regret because she did the thing that felt right to her at that moment, and that she felt comfortable with. Most importantly, she wasn’t lip-syncing, she was singing along to a track because making a mistake at such an important event would have been a catastrophe. “I am a perfectionist,” she claims. Her own voice was her backup, and the media blew it out of proportion, like it does everything else.
And why did she wait so long to speak about it? It may have a lot to do with the Super Bowl Halftime Show where she was due to perform three days later. A few people (much more were talking about the actual anthem performance) say that it was a way of making more people interested in the show, that it was a PR stunt designed to help the NFL gain more financially. But there is another possibility.
The media are manipulators; we are surrounded by them 24/7 and even though we know not to trust them, they control the masses and create propaganda. In this instance, Beyoncé had switched the roles. Her response was done under her terms, and instead of carefully apologizing and being despondent, she immediately confirmed her status as a performer. This way, Queen B made a much greater impression than if she had only given a comment to a media representative. This also only shows how much people are greedy and desperate for gossiping, analyzing people’s actions and judging. I personally believe addressing the issue of using a backup track was unnecessary, especially coming from someone like Beyoncé who has years of stage experience, but a response was demanded from the majority of the public and media, so what better way to do that than to make everyone squirm in their seats with goose bumps on their skin while you reclaim your worldwide dominance once again. As Anderson Cooper says, “We are all living in Beyoncé’s world.”