Music History

A Brief History of Lip-Syncing

Lip-syncing (NOT lip-singing, people!) is the act of miming along with pre-recorded vocals. Faking it, in other words. Cheating, even. So how did this get started? The Muse takes a look.

Good old lip-syncing. Like plastic surgery, so many do it; so few admit to it. (Except Cher, who’s been up front about indulging in both.) Though it’s less of a taboo than it once was, though people like Carey and Justin Bieber seem past the point of caring if people know when they’re doing it (Bieber’s lack of performative precision sometimes finds him pulling the mic away from his face before the verse is over, as his canned voice still plays on the speakers), it remains something like a dirty secret in the music industry.

The thing about lip-syncing, though, is that it can just as useful a tool for audiences as it is for artists. Through discussions about lip-syncing, pop listeners can square their expectations for entertainment with what is humanly possible from entertainers (who, nonetheless tend to strive for superhuman perfection). The most common explanation for the use of backing vocal tracks is that the sort of multi-threat spectacle now expected by audiences is just too difficult to pull off when sung entirely live.

When lip-syncing is obvious, as it almost always is for the discerning music viewer, it pulls back the curtain and makes tangible to civilians the considerable manufacturing that goes into celebrities’ live appearances. After all, mainstream, big-label pop music even in its most stereotypically “authentic” form—entirely live vocals supported by traditional instruments played by human hands and mouths—is a packaged product whose commercial aspirations are impossible to untangle from its artistic ones.

Keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38508 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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