Faking It On Stage: From the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Britney Spears

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Photo: EMI

If you weren’t too busy drooling over the adorable Bruno Mars (like I was) during the halftime show of the Super Bowl, you may have noticed something a little off when the Red Hot Chili Peppers burst on to the stage with their song “Give It Away Now.” No, I’m not talking about Anthony Kiedis’ tights, I’m talking about their amps. It turns out the only thing turned on was Kiedis’ mic and the play button on their pre-recorded musical track. As an act of punkness and acknowledgement that faking it is pretty lame, they only half-assed their miming, not bothering to even plug in their instruments in an attempt to maintain a shred of dignity.

Could they have plugged in their guitars just the same and given it the old college try so as to not bum out the people who choose to believe in the total live-ness of a live performance? Sure, but RHCP really just didn’t want to be phonies. “We thought it better to not pretend. It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance.” Their self-awareness is refreshing but not always shared with other musicians who often find themselves in similar situations.

We’re a tough crowd; we demand a lot from our artists. And why not? They make a bazillion dollars to keep us perpetually entertained. So when it comes to pop stars, we want the live show to sound exactly like the album, and we want to believe that it’s sheer talent that makes it sound that way. We don’t have patience for technical difficulties, out of tune instruments or flat voices. So they give us what we want and we happily allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes, simply accepting each live performance as truly live.

On occasion, however, that cloak of perfection is accidentally nudged aside, revealing the ugly truth of the music industry’s profusion of pre-recorded musical performances. Sure, I guess sometimes musical miming is necessary (like when the NFL makes you do it), but when an artist is caught faking it, the outcome is pretty hilarious. Luckily, the internet has beautifully captured many occasions when a perfectly pre-recorded musical moment goes humiliatingly wrong. Here are some of the most notorious live performance mishaps.

Though she confidently made a name for herself singing her heart out in High School Musical, Ashley Tisdale opted to perform Wham’s “Last Christmas” at the  2007 Rockefeller Center tree lighting event with a safety net. Though the song’s been a Christmastime hit since the year before Ms. Tisdale was born, she somehow managed to never really learn the lyrics. No wonder she looked so relaxed during her performance; her mind wasn’t all bogged down with song words. As for the ones she did remember,  you can hear Ashley’s final, off-key “la, la, la,” live as her mic is switched on at 3:42. Oops.

In 2009, Britney Spears ignited quite a controversy in the land down under. Apparently, Australians had been under the assumption that the former Mouseketeer actually sings her songs while performing her elaborate stage act live. When they discovered that Britney’s Circus tour would be vocally pre-recorded, they were outraged. The Minister for Fair Trading of New South Wales, Virginia Judge, led the crusade to expose Britney’s big lip-sync. With tickets to the pop diva’s Aussie shows ranging anywhere from $200-$1,300, Judge simply wanted concertgoers to know what they were paying for: inauthenticity. To add insult to injury, fans claimed the vocally pre-recorded spectacle wasn’t even that great. Double damn for ol’ Britney.

In the olden days of the early ‘90s, people were absolutely shocked to discover 1990’s Best New Artist Grammy Award winners Milli Vanilli had been lip-syncing frauds the whole time. As it turns out, the concept for Milli Vanilli was developed prior to Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan hopping on board. Their award-winning single, “Girl You Know It’s True” had already been completed by the time the duo had signed on to the group. The dance-band’s creator, German producer Frank Farian, admitted in a press conference that he had put the beautiful but talentless faces of Rob and Fab in front of the voices of less-attractive, much more talented singers. Four days after they received the award, their Grammy was taken away. It shouldn’t have surprised U.S. audiences that much, in retrospect. In late 1989, the group was performing live on MTV when the pre-recorded track to “Girl You Know It’s True” began to skip repeating “girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s….” until a humiliated Rob and Fab ran off-stage. It remains one of the best and most memorable lip-sync failures of all time.

You’d think, with the Milli Vanilli “Girl You Know It’s True” lip-sync disaster being rehashed annually in various VH1 countdown shows, newer artists would strive to be extra careful in the future. Apparently, Ashlee Simpson thought otherwise. 14 years after the Milli Vanilli fiasco, Jessica’s kid sister hit the SNL stage. Her first (pre-recorded) song, “Pieces of You,” went off without a hitch. As she and her band geared up for their second song, “Autobiography,” however, they got a big, bad surprise when the tape for “Pieces of You” again came blasting through the speakers. To her credit, Simpson did do a very awkward jig for a few seconds before fleeing the stage and eventually the music business altogether. Ouch.

50 Cent has been shot nine times. Nine! He has also won five Grammys and owns a sick mansion in Connecticut (a home which formerly belonged to Mike Tyson). He is, no doubt, tougher than most of us. He seems like the kind of guy who doesn't do things halfway. He's pedal to the metal, all the time. Except for at the 2007 BET Awards, when 50 decided to use a pre-recorded vocal track for his live performance. This decision was extra confusing considering 50 wasn't doing any strenuous dance moves or aerial tumbling; he was just rapping. Nevertheless, he opted for a little extra cushion...and he would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for that pesky warm-up jacket that required two hands to remove and thus forced the star to move the microphone as far away from his face as possible as a line to his song “Amusement Park” rang out, clear as a bell. Things didn't get any better when the DJ decided to play the instrumental version of the second verse as 50 tried to sing along. From the looks of this video, it appears that Snoop Dogg still dug it though.

The U.S. thought we were sending our best California girl to rep the States at the December 2013 NRJ Music Awards in Cannes, but after showing a montage about what an accomplished pop star she is, Katy Perry totally blew it. Doomed from the get go, Katy's initial attempt at performing her chart-topper, "Roar," was interrupted by the show's host, when he completely stopped her elaborate performance and politely instructed her to start over because the lip-sycning was so off. When Katy returned to the stage, she was singing live, but she clearly hadn't planned on doing so. Aggressive choreography is extra tough while you're singing, but Katy gave it a shot. It didn't sound that good. Unfortunately for Katy, even though the disaster went down all the way in Europe, a video of the double 'oops' went viral almost instantly and we all knew about it before she fell asleep that night.



So I guess the moral of the story is: kids, if you decide to fake it at your big, live performance, you should still probably schedule some time to practice just in case.