When one watches a musician play live, no matter what genre, it’s hardly unfair to expect them to hear their favourite artists playing a show in the most real and non-artificial way possible. Sadly, in the case of some, that’s not always what happens. More often than not, there are some bands out there who mime, either by choice or by force. Whenever it happens, it’s always shocking no matter what. Therefore, this top 10 list will be focusing on the 10 most shocking examples of how musicians have faked their on-stage performances.
It’s easy to understand why fans would feel cheated if they saw the artists they love turn out to be faking it: you only need to ask Britney Spears fans who watched her Circus tour in Australia for proof of that. However, there are instances where the artists are miming onstage not because they want to, but because they have to. The British television show Top of the Pops, which showed artists miming along to hit songs of theirs that were on the UK charts at the time, is one of the biggest culprits of this. In fact, two of the entries on this list were instances that came out of that show, with surprising but hilarious end results.
All this to say, lip syncing is something that some artists can get away with, but others can’t do it without facing consequences or a very public backlash. In the case of some artists on this list, the latter is definitely what has happened. But no matter what, playing with a backing track and not even singing a note of your tune live is treading a very fine line that can be seen through as easily as Swiss cheese. Here are the 10 musicians who have been caught lip syncing, with varying results for each.
10 Oasis on Top of the Pops
As has already been mentioned, Top of the Pops was a music show in Britain that was often notorious for making the artists appearing on the show mime throughout their performances. Many of them complied, obviously, but some weren’t super willing to play along: during their “performance” of their 1995 hit “Roll With It”, Oasis stuck it to the TOTP producers by having brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher switch roles while miming the song; Noel on lead vocals while Liam pretended to play guitar. The rest of the band burst out in laughter as Liam tried playing Noel’s solo, making for one of the band’s most memorable “performances” in their career.
9 Muse on an Italian TV show
Not usually ones you’d expect to follow orders and mime on live television without complaint, British rockers Muse pulled a Liam and Noel Gallagher by reversing roles of two of their band members while playing on the Italian TV show Quelli che... il calcio (a show that usually focuses on Italian soccer). Performing their hit single “Uprising” on the show, frontman Matthew Bellamy swapped places with drummer Dominic Howard who then traded instruments with bassis Chris Wolstenholme in what was surely a resistance – pun intended – on the part of the band against being told to mime, and also probably gave the producers of the TV show a heart attack.
8 C&C Music Factory
Forget swapping places with other group members: these guys were barely even trying. During a “performance” of their ubiquitous hit song “Gonna Make You Sweat” at their own concert, Eric Kupper of C&C Music Factory stepped off stage and dropped his microphone while his own pre-recorded voice was blasting through the speakers to drink vodka offstage. To make matters worse, the woman on stage is still left there mouthing her parts to the track, and keeps performing as if he’s still up there with her. The end result is arguably one of the more awkward lip sync incidents you will ever see.
7 Britney Spears in Australia
Let’s be honest here, it’s hardly shocking that Britney Spears – or any mass-marketed pop star, for that matter – would be blatantly lip syncing during a show. However, this particular instance makes the list not so much because of the fact that she faked singing throughout the show, but because of the scale of the ensuing backlash. During her Australian tour in support of her album Circus, Britney was under fire by critics and concertgoers down under for lip syncing her sets and mostly having her back to the crowd. According to reports at the time, a number of her shows’ attendees walked out before the gigs were even over – more specifically, three songs in. The Fair Trade Minister of New South Wales even tried getting involved, calling for a disclaimer to be placed on her tickets saying the show would be pre-recorded.
6 50 Cent at 2007 BET Awards
Rappers aren’t usually at risk for lip syncing because there’s usually no need for it. In the case of 50 Cent, however, botched live performances can still happen to today’s most popular emcees. During his performance of his track “Amusement Park” at the 2007 BET Awards, Fiddy didn’t even rap the first verse of the song after a glitch happened in the pre-recorded track’s playback and instead went into the crowd to give high-fives and pounds to the awards show’s attendees as opposed to rapping or even miming the track. Following the debacle, he claimed that he “just wasn’t concentrating.”
5 Katy Perry at the 2013 NRJ Awards
As has been mentioned earlier, it’s not a surprise for a pop singer to resort to lip syncing for their performance on national television or even during their own concerts, and Katy Perry is no exception to this rule. Perry was caught up in a lip syncing scandal at the NRJ Awards in Paris in December while miming to her hit song “Roar”, but there was just one major problem with it: her timing between her mouth and the lyrics was horribly, horribly off. Perry was stopped and asked to restart the song because of "technical difficulties". Once she did start actually singing her voice was noticeably shaky and out of tune. Embedding of the performance has been disabled, but you can check it out here.
4 Nirvana on Top of the Pops
In what surely gave the Top of the Pops producers each an ulcer, Nirvana came onto the British TV show “performing” their massive hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but certainly not in the way you’d expect. With Kurt Cobain donning sunglasses and pretending to play guitar (badly), he also changed the lyrics around (“Load up on guns, bring your friends” was switched to “Load up on drugs, kill your friends”) and sang in a deep voice in an attempt to sound like Morrissey. Drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic also messed around as opposed to playing their instrumental parts. It was a classic example of Cobain’s sense of humour, as well as one of the most memorable live “performances” the influential grunge trio ever did.
3 RHCP at the Super Bowl
Although the focus of this year’s Super Bowl halftime performance was easily Bruno Mars, the Red Hot Chili Peppers made a guest appearance performing their 1991 hit “Give it Away” live... or so it seemed. Apparently Anthony Kiedis’ vocals were live, but everything else was mimed, as none of the instruments were plugged in during the Chili Peppers’ appearance. Pretty shocking for such an established rock band to be pulling something like that, right? Well, according to bassist Flea, they were told to do so by the NFL, and have otherwise maintained a strong stance against miming – they were once thrown off Top of the Pops during rehearsal because they “refused to mime properly.”
2 Ashlee Simpson
It’s been nearly a decade since Ashlee Simpson’s first performance on Saturday Night Live started with her being a promising young pop star escaping the shadow of her big sister Jessica, and ended with her career suddenly crumbling to pieces and never truly recovering from it. After performing her hit “Pieces of Me”, she was supposed to perform a second song before the vocal track from “Pieces of Me” started playing back, and Simpson danced awkwardly in response before SNL cut quickly to commercial. Years later, Simpson would be interviewed by Jimmy Fallon with the Roots playing Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know it’s True” as she walked onto the set. Speaking of which...
1 Milli Vanilli
One can hardly talk about lip-syncing scandals without this being one of the first incidents they bring up. When Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus – the two “singers” who made up late ‘80s pop duo Milli Vanilli – were miming to their songs during a concert in Connecticut, the recording of their hit single “Girl You Know it’s True” began skipping, and the two ran off stage in a panic. Despite having several massive hit songs at the time, it was later revealed they didn’t actually sing on any of the tunes that made them famous. Their creator, German impresario Frank Farian, admitted to the press that they didn’t actually sing on their records, and the Grammy that the duo had won for Best New Artist was rescinded.