I know, we couldn’t believe it either. All right, so maybe you’re Mr. Smarty Person and you’ve known all along that Whitney Houston’s legendary performance of our country’s National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV—often cited as the Greatest National Anthem Performance of All-Time, and even named by ESPN as the #1 Reason You Can’t Blame kicker Scott Norwood for losing the Bills the Super Bowl with his miss on the game-ending 47-yarder (Houston was facing the Giants during her performance you see, thus inspiring them to victory)—was lip synched. We chose to have faith, and as with Milli Vanilli, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and just about every Chris Brown award-show performance, our faith was betrayed.
Indeed, Whitney’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner was lip-synched. On one level, this is of course tremendously disappointing information for those of us who were unaware of that fact. We want to believe that Whitney Houston was capable of superhuman feats of vocal calisthenics and professional theatricality—to suggest that she was insecure enough in her abilities that she decided to handicap herself with a recording rather than just trust herself to carry the tune live would certainly be a bit of a let down. Not to mention that it give her an unfair competitive advantage over all the many performers who sang the song live at the Super Bowl, many of whom Whitney is often compared favorably to—like comparing Barry Bonds’ steroid-aided home run totals to those of a supposedly clean competitor like Ken Griffey Jr.’s.
On another level, however, this just makes the performance all that much more fascinating. Knowing that it’s a pre-recorded rendition perhaps disqualifies it from being the most impressive National Anthem performance of all-time, but it instantly qualifies it as one of the greatest lip-sync jobs in the history of live performance. Watching it, you would have absolutely no idea, not the slightest inkling that the song was pre-recorded. Watching the video on mute is nearly as rousing as listening to it without the visual would be, with Whitney looking like she’s imbuing the song with every ounce of her national pride—eyes closed, chest out, throat strained, hands to the sky. Every frame of it is stirring, in a way that a performer like Kelly Clarkson could never do with her physicality alone. The idea that That Performance and That Voice have nothing to do with each other…it’s inconceivable.
And her ridiculous attire—one wonders now if she wore it largely because it would distract viewers’ eyes from attempting to match her lip movements to the voice playing on their TV sets, and believe us, it worked—somehow adds to the whole thing. The fact that she wore a tracksuit to the most-watched nationally televised event of the year, with a weird headband thing to match, as if she was off to run a 10k as soon as her performance wrapped, made her look about 20 times more poised, confident and just fucking badass as shit than she would have if she was wearing the fanciest, most elegant and traffic-stopping designer dress in the world. If you can’t be inspired by a woman looking like that, acting like that, singing like that…well, then you certainly don’t deserve to win the Super Bowl, do you?
The other most interesting thing about the performance’s lip-synched nature is that…well, nobody seems to really care about it. The fact that a number of us here at Popdust didn’t even know about it before this weekend—and it’s not exactly like it’s actively being kept a secret—says that the general public doesn’t really give a shit. People will still call it one of the greatest national anthems of all-time—Chris Chase of Yahoo! Sports used the superlative in a tribute post just this weekend, dismissing the lip-sync issue by saying “The pop star had recorded the vocal weeks before in a Los Angeles studio and lip-synched the song at the Super Bowl, but few in the crowd of 73,000 or the 110 million watching at home seemed to notice.” No one noticed, therefore it didn’t matter that it happened. Huh.
It’s a testament to Whitney the performer, Whitney the personality—and yes, Whitney the singer, for recording such a damn good version of the song that it became a Top 40 hit twice—that the performance could reach the level which such a huge cognitive disconnect at the center of it. Don’t believe us…?