That's the question surrounding Beyoncé after reports surfaced that she didn't sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" live at yesterday's presidential inauguration.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Marine Band, which backed the pop diva at the ceremony, said Tuesday that Mrs. Jay-Z decided to use a previously recorded vocal track before delivering the national anthem, but later on another spokesperson, this one for the Pentagon, said there was no way of knowing whether the 16-time Grammy winner was guilty of lip-synching or not.
Should it matter? Let's remember that Whitney Houston, in what is widely considered one of the best renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" of all time, didn't sing it live either at the 1991 Super Bowl.
There are all sorts of technical reasons why it can be challenging to perform a song as difficult as this on such a large scale, and there are many extenuating circumstances that could have played a role in any decision to lip-synch. Certainly no one is questioning whether Beyoncé – who, in removing her earpiece midway through, may have been experiencing audio problems – has the chops to sing it.
Lip-synching – or at least singing over pre-recorded vocal tracks – has long been acceptable for dance-driven artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, whose emphasis on intense, intricate choreography makes it hard to execute the moves fans have come to expect while also singing live. Huffing and puffing into the microphone or barely projecting for the sake of keeping it real just isn't gonna cut it. Of course, there have been other instances – such as Ashlee Simpson's 2004 Saturday Night Live debacle – where faking it crossed the line.
Surely there wouldn't be the same controversy about Beyoncé had she been hoofing across the stage performing "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" on one of her tour stops. But this was the presidential inauguration, the national anthem, and there was no choreography involved.
Some things have to remain sacred, and for "the land of the free and the home of the brave," this was one of them.