Paying lip service to music's mimed moments

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Milli Vanilli were disgraced after being revealed as fakes

Belgian punk singer Plastic Bertrand has been accused of not providing the vocals for his 1977 song Ca Plane Pour Moi. According to evidence heard in a Brussels court, his producer sang on the track and the frontman mimed.

Bertrand has since told a French newspaper that it was not his voice on the 1977 hit record.

But the history of pop music in recent years has been littered with cases of performers caught out lip-synching - with varying consequences.

The most notorious case of an act proving to be a musical charade was pop duo Milli Vanilli, who scored a clutch of hits in the late 1980s and picked up a Grammy Award for their "work".

The act - Fabrice Morvan and Robert Pilatus - were presumed to be the singers behind tracks including Girl I'm Gonna Miss You.

But doubts began to grow that the pair were the true talent behind Milli Vanilli, not helped by a performance where their backing track jammed and it was obvious they were miming.

Frank Farian, a German producer who decided the real vocalists were not attractive enough to front the band, eventually confirmed the scam.

Faced with legal action and professional disgrace, Pilatus died of an overdose in 1998 aged just 32, while Morvan's attempts to make a comeback using his own vocals were viewed with suspicion.

Italian dance music act Black Box scored a number one hit in 1989 with Ride On Time, providing another case of a pretty face lip-synching to someone else's vocals.

Dance diva Loleatta Holloway provided the rasping vocals for the tune, but willowy model Katherine Quinol mimed them on Top of the Pops and became the face of Black Box.

Daniele Davoli said in an interview with the BBC last year: "We were naive. You could tell those vocals didn't come from a slim girl like her.

"But she had a great influence on the public - she had the moves on stage and looked great and of the time."

Holloway went on to take legal action against the band, while Black Box continue to this day.

Davoli added that it was common practice in Italy at the time to choose a different woman to front dance music acts.

In more recent years, singers including Ashlee Simpson have faced embarrassment when their lack of live singing has become apparent.

The US star was performing on the Saturday Night Live television show when her band played one song and pre-recorded vocals to another song were heard.

Simpson did not attempt to sing live and later said that she had a sore throat.

A whole host of pop princesses have come under scrutiny for lip-synching during live performances, or using techniques including using a recorded backing track to boost their vocals.

Britney Spears makes no secret about miming during parts of her hectic concerts, to avoid her vocals being disturbed by energetic dancing and movement.

But after criticism of miming during a tour of Australia, the star acknowledged it had caused "controversy".

Some officials suggested tickets should carry disclaimers that parts of the concert were lip-synched.

Controversy certainly erupted at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony in 2008 when it emerged that a young singing star was miming to another girl's voice, whose looks were deemed unsuitable.

The furore prompted the Chinese authorities to rail against lip-synching, including a ban at another televised musical event, while two singers were handed hefty fines for failing to show their real singing ability.

Another major world event which contained an element of miming was President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

Image caption,
Ashlee Simpson came unstuck during a TV performance

Four classical musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pre-recorded their music as the cold weather prompted fears it would damage their instruments. But the quartet did play along.

Singer Aretha Franklin performed live at the event, although she was accompanied by additional vocals and pre-recorded instrumentation.

One major musical event where lip-synching is banned is the Eurovision Song Contest, where all vocals performed on stage have to be live.

Croatia's 1999 entrant Doris Dragovic was chastised for having pre-recorded male vocals on her backing track.

But under current rules, musical instruments have to form part of the pre-recorded track, which means they are effectively mimed.

Plastic Bertrand graced the Eurovision stage for Luxembourg in 1987, finishing in a lowly 21st place.

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