Saturday Night Pre-Recorded

“I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to do a hoedown,” said Ashlee Simpson, about to blame last week’s major lip-syncing blunder on her band. I guess she forgot about the vocals, to the wrong song no less, that were playing in the background as she stood there dancing like a possessed kangaroo. This line is perhaps the best thing Ashlee Simpson has ever given the world, and one of the funniest moments in SNL history. I was relieved to learn that I am not the only person who performs hoedowns, and occasionally even square-dances, when faced with embarrassing or awkward situations. I wrote about Ashlee a few months ago, and here I am, talking about her again. I could probably write a weekly column devoted to Ashlee Simpson’s mockery of a career if this paper would let me. But on to my point. This incident brought something to the nation’s attention that I have known and disagreed with for a long time: the musical guests on Saturday Night Live often do not sing live. Under the duress of this incident, one of the producers of the show, Lorne Michaels admitted to the Associated Press that vocal back tracks are occasionally used on the show, contradicting the implied ‘live’ premise of the show that makes it so impressive. I do not pretend to be an SNL expert, but I am an expert on post 1995 pop music. When a song is lipped, I am consistently able to recognize it. This perception is not some divine gift; I just listen to a lot of music by artists who have a tendency to lip-sync. Again, Ashlee Simpson is not the first pop diva to lip-sync on SNL. Britney Spears completely lipped “Me Against the Music” last year. She did not even bother to use the live band’s musical backing and just opted to play the album track. She was a little more creative the previous year, recording a new version of “Boys” just for the performance, with small imperfections purposefully left in the track to make it seem more authentic. The plan would have been flawless, if she hadn’t accidentally started to move her lips during the post-bridge spoken line two seconds before the prerecorded vocals started. Only briefly joining in with weak live vocals during the chorus, J.Lo lipped her way through the verses of “Play” on the show. Other artists do not even bother to move their mouths. They simply dance during the chorus and allow the track to play because they cannot sing and dance simultaneously. SNL is a show about talent. It continues to be home to some of America’s best comedians. It is insulting not only to these actors, but also to the tradition of the show for an artist to sit on a stool and lip-sync. I realize that many pop stars cannot sing in a studio, much less live, and I still have respect for some of these performers. But these are not the people that should be singing “live” on SNL. The show has a massive and mature audience of teens and adults who tune in every week to see live comedic performances and (supposedly) live performances from talented artists. The live nature of the show is implied in its title and central to its success. It would be far less impressive if the skits were shot over a week rather than back-to-back, with all the bizarre costume changes occurring in seconds. The audience feels cheated when it learns that the producers have to recruit major-label performers who refuse to sing live in order to garner viewers. While Ashlee Simpson is by no means the first person to lip-sync on SNL, she needs to be the last.