Why We Care About Beyoncé

From The New Yorker:

Beyonce-anthemWhile President Obama’s ascent to the highest seat of government came off with magisterial smoothness, our crown-diva hasn’t fared so well in the days since: yesterday the world was shocked (!) to discover that Beyoncé may have lip-synched her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” over a recording that she’d made earlier. (A spokesperson for the United States Marine Band tattled. Later, the band backed off its initial statement and said that they had no way of telling whether or not she was singing live. The controversy continues.) Her critics and fans went at it on Twitter on Tuesday evening at a rate of about fifty tweets per minute. “Beyonce had to lip sync to the same song 11 yr old girls sing live at sports venues all over the U.S. #Disgrace,” wrote one outraged citizen. Others, such as Anderson Cooper, raised their voices in her defense: “Who cares if @Beyonce didn’t sing live at Inauguration. She looked and sounded amazing! More tonight in #theridiculist.” The day’s historic moments—Myrlie Evers-Williams’s stately invocation (she was the first layperson, and the first woman, to recite the ceremony’s opening prayer), Obama’s rousing assertion of a progressive second-term agenda, the presence onstage of more women and minorities than white men—seem to have receded in the wake of lip-sync-gate. This “scandal” may seem trivial (or, as one baffled Twitterer put it “ZOMG BEYONCE LIP SYNC SCANDAL!!! 48 million people on food stamps”), but the sheer number of people interested in discussing it—the story has been reported by nearly every major American news outlet—is telling. Why should it make so many people so angry to know that Beyoncé convincingly tossed her hair and widened her eyes and shimmied her head to the sound of her very own voice? If anything, her zeal for perfection does her credit and befits the grandeur of the occasion. Not to mention the fact that Beyoncé is as skilled at lip-synching as she is at everything else: it’s all part of her carefully trained, cultivated artistry.

Beyoncé’s performance makes us nervous when juxtaposed with the earnest idealism of the inauguration. It is an event that Americans rightfully take pride in: a peaceful transfer of power; a chance to re-affirm the values of openness, freedom of speech, and egalitarianism that define us; a democratic ceremony symbolically attended by all citizens. Beyoncé’s fakery, it seems, implies some larger fakery at the heart of the whole enterprise. But, of course, the ceremony is itself a performance—how else can we explain that it is through the recitation of scripted words in a ritual call-and-response that the President assumes his position of power? We don’t want to be reminded that we’re watching mere mortals who might trip on their way to the podium, stutter through the oaths of office, shiver in the cold, or worse, err in judgment and lead the country on the wrong path. These are the people we are entrusting to enact America’s timeless values? Too bad. Beyoncé reminded us.

More here.