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Elmore’s Most Memorable Lip Syncers

Beatles demos box set
The Beatles were among the first bands to lip sync a performance—but they weren’t the last.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ mimed performance at the Super Bowl may be the “scandal” du jour, but they’re certainly not the first—or the last—group to lip sync or pantomime a performance. The practice has a long history, and, as long as artists continue to perform live, is likely to continue. Elmore has compiled some of the most memorable moments of musical lip syncing, ranging from sincere to rebellious.

The Beatles – “Twist and Shout”

Lip syncing and miming were standard operating procedure for shows featuring musical acts in the ’60s, when studio tracks would play over a band’s performance, such as this early Beatles appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1963. The lack of microphones or cords on their instruments is a giveaway. But, really, who knew any better back then?

 Queen – “Radio Ga Ga”

Sometimes, though, a singer will get so into the performance that any pretense of singing is thrown out the window. During Queen’s appearance at the 1984 Sanremo Music Festival in Sanremo, Italy, singer Freddie Mercury starts “Radio Ga Ga” by “singing” into the mic, only to lose himself in what is still a great performance, and a testament to his stage presence. 

 Ashlee Simpson – “Pieces of Me”—sort of

On the opposite end of that spectrum, sometimes a lip sync is unexpected, and the artist doesn’t really know what to do. Witness Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live performance in 2004.

Stone Temple Pilots – “Crackerman”

Simpson’s approach wasn’t the most graceful way of handling the situation. Perhaps she could’ve learned something from the Stone Temple Pilots’ (former) frontman Scott Weiland. Although he takes an unplanned plunge off the stage at this concert in 2010, the vocals continue. Weiland later disputed the accusations of lip syncing, but the video evidence remains.

The Smiths – “This Charming Man”

Sometimes, though, artists take offense to mandated lip syncing. British music show Top of the Pops, which aired from 1964 to 2006, was infamous for having artists use prerecorded tracks in their appearances. When the Smiths “played” in 1984, lead singer Morrissey rebelled by holding a bouquet of flowers instead of a microphone.

Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Nirvana had a wry take on things in a 1991 Top of the Pops performance as well. The band was asked to record “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in advance of their appearance, so lead singer Kurt Cobain sung at an octave lower than normal and changed the opening lines to “Load up on drugs and kill your friends.” The band’s performance was equally sarcastic, with Kris Novoselic dancing around with his bass and Dave Grohl waving his drumsticks around.

It was a far cry from The Beatles’ earnest, yet equally fake performance nearly 30 years previous.

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