Over the weekend, while watching a clip of Jack Wagner performing "All I Need," I wondered about the art of a good lip-sync performance. In the case of the Wagner clip, it is the exact opposite of Michael Jackson lip-syncing to "Billie Jean." Here's a rundown:
What's wrong with the "All I Need" clip
1. Clearly, the instrumentation of the group is nowhere near what you're hearing. Jack might be strumming a guitar in the intro, but you sure can't hear anything other than vocals and keyboards. And drums never sound like that in a live setting.
2. You see half of his backing group singing backing vocals, but all you hear is Jack's voice.
3. And yes, the hairstyles and clothes are silly. (Yeah, yeah, it was the 80s, I know.)
What's right with the "Billie Jean" clip
1. There's a big difference between a lone singer lip-syncing to a backing track and a group miming to a backing track.
2. The dance moves totally sell the performance. Even a purist can't help but be moved by the power of Michael at this point in his career.
Now it might be unfair to compare a power ballad with an uptempo R&B track, but there's something to be said about a mimed performance that is embarrassing to watch and another that can send chills up one's spine.
I grew up on watching mimed performances on Solid Gold and American Bandstand. I didn't know what lip-syncing was until middle school, and to be frank, I didn't care if the vocals or instruments were "live" at that point in my life. Of course, the purist attitude kicked in and wanted to see live bands in the now and real, but for now, I understand both ends of the spectrum. A purist might dismiss a lip-sync performance of Wham! on American Bandstand, but would probably watch Scott Walker mime to "Jackie" on Dusty Springfield's show.
I accept the fact that lip-syncing all about the performance. Besides, not everybody wants to approach a live performance like the Replacements.