In the recent rumors about MBC completely banning lip syncing from all stages on Music Core, Kpop fans have been abuzz about what this means for their favorite (and least favorite) artists. And though these predictions turned out to be false, it made me think a little harder about the age old issue of lip-syncing in Kpop. Why do artists do it if it’s met with such negative backlash? And more importantly: why do we hate it so much?
It’s no secret that artists who lip-sync are looked down upon, often being considered untalented and even lazy. This is true even outside the Korean music industry. However, this mentality among Kpop fans does a major disservice to some idols, and I’m going to explain why.
First let’s take a look at an instance of very obvious lip-syncing in a situation that by no means required it. Here we have a rather iconic moment in Kpop drama in 2015: Eunha’s slip up on Sukira where she showed that the girls were lip-synching to their hit song “Me Gustas Tu.” Gfriend are widely recognized for their hard hitting, fast paced choreography which any human being would struggle to sing through. The problem here is that their lip-syncing was exposed on a radio show. That means no choreo, no running, no walking even – just singing. Predictably, this didn’t sit well with many people who expect live performances from Kpop groups, especially on a radio show devoid of the usual stage productions.
So why do idols even bother, if it’s so easy to be caught? Well for one, there’s a matter of health issues. Oftentimes, these idol groups are performing and practicing every day, for hours on end. That means intensive dancing coupled with singing for extended periods of time. It is damaging to their bodies and vocal chords to perform live constantly. And yes, you are often going to get a better quality performance when the idols lip-sync because they can put more effort into their dancing. Using prerecorded vocals or the studio version of a track guarantees a stable vocal performance. Take this performance of “Perfect Man” by the Bangtan Boys.
This is a fantastic performance. The dancing was fast paced and high energy, the singing and rapping were both perfectly stable and… it is definitely lip-synced. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. In the past, BTS have proved to be fairly strong live performers, given their intense choreography, and this performance wasn’t even one of their songs to boot. It was a special stage and, most importantly, I had fun watching it. As a non-fan of the group, that’s all I could ask for. The job of these idols is to entertain, not run their health into the ground with live performances until they can’t sing another note.
Health issues aside, there is another reason why idols lip-sync and it has to do with the matter of maintaining respect from the public as a musical artist. Last year Kara’s visual Goo Hara made her solo debut with the song “Choco Chip Cookie” and was torn to shreds by knets after the MR removed video of one of her live performances was released. She ended up cutting her solo promotions short and while it’s not certain that this was due to the negative backlash this video caused, there’s a high probability it was involved. The unfortunate thing is, MR removed videos are a very poor indication of the quality of an idol’s vocals and should not be used to give a resounding judgement on their skill. Still, with the recent influx of MR removed performances popping up around the interwebs, I’m certain companies are wary to ensure their idols don’t become the next Goo Hara.
So we’ve looked at why some artists don’t always perform live; now let’s look at why some do. One interesting scenario is the performances of YG artists. YG groups like Big Bang and Winner are known for consistently performing live on stage. However, they also have some of the simplest choreography of all the Kpop companies and heavily rely on backup dancers for the “dance” aspect of a performance. The members of Big Bang themselves do not have very challenging pieces of choreography to perform usually, nor are they a vocal based group. And in the instances where they do perform songs that rely heavily on the members’ vocal abilities, there is little to no choreography for Big Bang to perform. They have the luxury to focus on one aspect of their performance: vocals. If I were to see Big Bang lip-sync it would leave me with much of the same response I had to Gfriend’s slip up: why?
Now as an Exo-L, I think it’s only fair that I look at the significant share of lip-syncing accusations that have been thrown at Exo. The year 2014 in particular was rough in the amount of criticism the members were under for faking their vocals during performances. And as a fan, I can admit Exo did lip-synch a number of these performances. But 2014 was also the most trying year of their career with the amount of hardship happening both inside and outside the group. With Kris leaving right before Exo’s first solo concert, Baekhyun’s relationship with Taeyeon being revealed, and Luhan departing the group only a few months later, there wasn’t a moment of peace for the group. In a whirlwind of re-learning choreographies and adjusting to empty spaces in the group (all while hateful “fans” turned on a member for his dating news) it’s a given that Exo would not be in peak physical condition. In answer to this, their number of lip-synced performances may have seemed abnormally large.
But putting this lip-syncing aside for a moment, Exo have been performing live on various stages since their debut in 2012. And they have proven time and again that the members have the ability to give a solid live performance with choreography and a great performance without. Even just ignoring Exo’s live music show stages, their performances on well known shows like Immortal Songs 2, Sugar Man, and Fantastic Duo have proven their ability to sing live, both with and without choreography. Fans who follow the group know it, outsiders who do not likely don’t. In the petty fandom wars of Kpop, a lip-synced performance is much more likely to be spread around by non-fans than a great live one. And while I’m using Exo as an example here because they are the group I follow the closest, this can be applied to a number of artists with this stigma attached: from rookies groups to veterans in the industry. Just look at the response from ifans to SNSD’s Tiffany’s recent solo debut. Despite having proven in the past that she can hold a tune singing live, she seemed to be constantly under fire for lip-syncing during her “I Just Want to Dance” music show stages. Never mind that her choreography demands her to practically sweep the floor with her body due to the amount of floor work she does during the song.
In the end, lip-syncing seems to be a matter of both fan and artist pride. Sure, the public will respect you more if you can perform your songs live. But when it comes down to the true secret to a successful song… if the public likes the sound of it, they’ll listen to it. It’s as simple as that. Songs from weak vocalists have seen huge success on the Korean charts just like songs from some incredibly talented ones have been brushed aside without a second glance. So while it is important that groups prove their abilities to fans and non fans alike, that isn’t the be all end all to a successful group or even a good performance. In my opinion, it’s largely the debate between fandoms (and company stans as well) that makes lip-syncing into such an issue.
I’m not going to lose respect for an artist if they lip-sync when they have proven in the past to be capable of pulling off good live performances and continue to do so in the future. And the elitist mentality present in some Kpop fans that equates always performing live to a more talented individual is utterly mind-boggling to me. There are so many factors that differ for each group during each performance: the complexity of choreography, the quality of the microphones and sound system, even the physical wellness of the members due to previous schedules. So there’s really no standard to judge or compare performances, especially when you take into account how vocally challenging the actual song the members are performing is. And trying to rank groups on their talent based on this imaginary standard in such diverse industry isn’t fair to any of the idols involved.
So what are your thoughts on lip-syncing? Are we expecting too much of performers in Kpop or too little? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Tip sent it by OneHallyu user Golden Lion Heart through OH!Press Tips.