Jay-Z, Beyonce

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People are really ripping on Beyoncé for lip-syncing. Is the world too harsh on Yoncy?
—Matt, Vermont, via Twitter

In a word, yes.

Sure, technically, Beyoncé may have deceived the crowd at this week's inaugural, pretending to sing while the Marine Band was pretending to play. But if you think that's deserving of permanent scorn, you don't know much about the music business.

How quickly we forget that Jennifer Hudson lip-synced the national anthem "live" at the Super Bowl in 2009.

At the time, preshow producer Rickey Minor defended the choice, telling US Weekly, "There's too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live, because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance."

Is Hudson the exception? Far from it. The practice isn't new, it isn't scandalous and, pop culture historians tell me, the media seems to make a bigger deal about it than the public.

"I don't think the syncing is such a big deal at all," Fordham University media professor Paul Levinson tells me. "Anyone that famous is going to get an enormous level of exposure, but there's a dark side: the public looking for this star to trip up in some way."

The NFL has required—required—live performers to have backing vocal tracks as far back as 1993.

Lip-syncing is common off the gridiron, too.

Madonna is a longtime concert lip-syncer; for example, on her Blond Ambition tour, she mouthed the duet "Now I'm Following You." Roughly a decade ago, megamanager Larry Rudolph told the New York Times that Britney Spears had always lip-synced during live gigs.

Even instrumentalists lip-sync, in a way.

For President Obama's first inaugural, top-tier string players Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman played along to a pre-recorded track. The excuse given was, essentially, this: The event was simply too important to risk a broken string or a weather-related snafu.

And if all that info isn't enough to sway you, there's this: Lip-syncing, in its current use, was essentially pioneered by one of the greatest singers in pop music. I speak of Michael Jackson, who lip-synced "Billie Jean" in a 1983 Motown special.

Precisely nobody who watched that performance cared. And if I'd been in that room I wouldn't have either.

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