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Idina Menzel and more: Live or lip-synched?

Idina Menzel performs in Times Square as part

Idina Menzel performs in Times Square as part of "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Idina Menzel was facing her biggest crowd since the Oscars -- a million or so revelers with her in Times Square for New Year's Eve and millions more watching at home.

She reaches for the high note that ends "Let It Go" -- a challenging one to hit in the best of circumstances, much less in windy conditions with temperatures in the 20s for a performer doing eight Broadway shows a week. She misses. Badly.

The reaction in social media was harsh and predictable. "Why does Idina Menzel sound like a goat right now?" asked one Twitter user. "They booked Idina Menzel, but got Adele Dazeem," added another.

Menzel's reaction, however, was surprising. She tweeted a photo of her interview with Southwest magazine where she said, "I am more than the notes I hit, and that's how I approach my life. You can't get it right all the time, but you can try your best. If you've done that, all that's left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them."

In a time when lip-synching is increasingly becoming the norm for singers in situations where it used to be unheard of, Menzel is taking a stand for live performance for better or worse. And music fans really should have her back.

After all, why should the artist actually singing live be judged more harshly for a mistake than the artist who is simply miming the words? Of course, no one said show business was fair.

But maybe it could be a little fairer. Maybe those who rush to criticize Mariah Carey for her struggle to sing "All I Want for Christmas Is You" live at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony could also save some criticism for those who lip-synch, especially in the current awards season.

The temptation to play it safe or, in TV speak, "to guarantee the best performance possible" is growing, especially as shows make more and more exceptions to what used to be hard and fast rules for live singing.

When Ashlee Simpson made her infamous failed lip-synch attempt on "Saturday Night Live" in 2004, the show's executive producer, Lorne Michaels, said it would have been the program's first lip-synched performance. He said it goes against the show's essence, adding that lip-synching is generally only used "during dance breaks . . . if it was all about dance."

However, in recent years, that has changed. The use of backing tracks is much more commonplace, leading to more hybrid performances. There's an obvious moment in Nicki Minaj's 2011 "SNL" performance where she moves the mic away from her face while the track she was just lip-synching to continues, even though she was clearly rapping live earlier in the same song. This season, Danish singer MØ apologized for her inability to match the backing track during Iggy Azalea's performance of "Beg For It," resulting in her mistimed, off-key contributions. "I had some technical issues, which caused latency on my vocals and as a result I got confused and my timing was off," she said in her Instagrammed apology. "It pains me and I'm so sad today. But life goes on." The question that never got answered, though, was why she needed a backing track with her vocals on it in the first place? Could it be, as many speculated, that Azalea was using the same backing track for her vocals, too? Only the sound man knows for sure.

That will likely be the case for the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show with Katy Perry as well. Perry, who has been known to lip-synch, is expected to use some mix of backing tracks and live vocals for the show, which will also include Lenny Kravitz. She isn't really talking about her plans for the show, outside of the extra effort she's putting into her entrance and exit.

Given the current climate that's more accepting of lip-synching and more critical of vocal missteps, it's an understandable decision. But it's also a missed opportunity at creating a true, once-in-a-lifetime moment -- and it also diminishes the power of performing. One more thing that Menzel understands better than most.

"Performing isn't only about the acrobatics and the high notes," Menzel says. "It's staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music."

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