Performers Who Were Caught Lip Syncing On Live TV

Lip-syncing now has fond connotations. There's the aptly named reality competition "Lip Sync Battle" and RuPaul's ominous command to "lip-sync for your life" on "RuPaul's Drag Race." We've seen many epic battles thanks to the art of mouthing along to songs. But long before it found fans on reality TV, lip-syncing was viewed as a bad thing — many consider it literally a performer's job to actually sing, especially if fans are paying to attend a concert or watching a performance on TV that's being billed as live. There's something that feels disingenuous about a performance that isn't so "live" after all.

Some people take lip-syncing very seriously — in 2006, the Musicians' Union created a campaign to ensure that audiences were informed ahead of time whether a performance would be lip-synced or not, the Independent noted. "If you buy a tin of beans, you know what the contents are, but you could buy tickets to a show thinking it's going to be live and some of it isn't," Keith Ames, a member of the Musicians' Union said.

Lip-syncing accusations are among the worst a performer can receive, and when it comes to pop icons who vehemently deny miming their live performances after seemingly being caught in the act, the list of offenders is surprisingly long. Despite the stigma, entertainers keep doing it, and we've got the receipts. It's a wild time, friends, so buckle up.

Ashlee Simpson on SNL

Let's kick things off with an oldie but a goodie: Ashlee Simpson's "Saturday Night Live" performance. This might be the most famous lip-sync fail caught on live TV, and the cringe factor just doesn't end. The 2004 performance kicked off with Simpson's band playing the intro to her hit "Pieces of Me." Her recorded voice began singing the song, but Simpson herself just started doing an uncomfortable dance routine before deciding to leave the stage.

During the closing monologue, Simpson stood next to that night's host, Jude Law, who said to the audience, "What can I say? Live TV." Simpson jumped in and added, "Exactly! I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown. I'm sorry!"

Not only did the lip-syncing debacle haunt Simpson's career, but the controversy it caused also haunted "SNL" for ages. Kate Winslet was the host the following Saturday and she spoke with Hamptons Film in 2020 about the state of the "SNL" crew a week later. "Let me tell you," Winslet began, "that studio was just a hotbed of anxiety." Everyone was so wound up that by Friday's dress rehearsal, they didn't even have Winslet's opening monologue ready.

In 2018, Simpson spoke about the fiasco on "Watch What Happens Live" and explained that she was having vocal problems at the time, waking up with "no voice." She said that she should never have gone on. Well, what's done is done.

Britney Spears has faced allegations before

Britney Spears has faced lip-syncing allegations many times throughout her career. In 2008, she was accused of miming her way through "Womanizer" on "The X-Factor." Shortly after her performance, the Daily Mail reported that a spokesperson for the event said that there were "some live vocals." The major appeal of seeing Spears "live" is the spectacular overall presentation, and an aide told the outlet as much. "Everyone knows Britney's performances are about the dancing and performing," they said. "Just as she would have mimed five years ago, she also mimed on the show on Saturday."

In fact, fans on YouTube were unbothered by the accusations. "X factor is not a 'singing' show," one wrote. "They are looking for someone with the whole package. Britney Spears is the perfect performer because she is marketable and is iconic." Another said, "[Lip-sync] or not, people keep coming [to] watch the legendary miss Britney Spears."

Spears addressed the lip-syncing accusations with a TV station in Tel Aviv before a 2017 performance. "A lot of people think that I don't sing live," she said, per Rolling Stone. "Because I'm dancing so much I do have a little bit of playback, but there's a mixture of my voice and the playback. It really pisses me off because I am busting my a** out there and singing at the same time and nobody ever really gives me credit for it." Spears is literally such an icon that no one cares.

Enrique Iglesias pipes up

Good ol' Enrique Iglesias has weathered his fair share of lip-syncing accusations. The "Rhythm Divine" star made headlines in 2000 right before he was slated to appear on "The Howard Stern Show." Allegedly, Stern's team procured a tape of Iglesias singing, the New York Post notes, and the vocals were horrendous. "I could do better," Stern said.

However, Iglesias' publicist, John Reilly, said it was unlikely that the tape was his client's real voice. "Enrique has many times demonstrated his vocal ability through many live television performances in the United States that do not allow artists to lip-sync," the publicist said. "In fact, we always choose that he does sing live, with a fully live band, even if given the option of playing to track." Reilly added that he has "always witnessed [Iglesias] singing live" and said that many "TV talent bookers and concert promoters would verify this." Hmm, methinks the publicist doth protest too much.

In 2018, Iglesias performed at Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, and a life and culture critic for Haaretz said that the Latin pop icon was "not so good at delivering a tune" while he serenaded the audience, adding that he has "very little vocal presence." However, as far as performance value was concerned, the critic felt that Iglesias made the concert worthwhile, noting that he had "the automatic motions of a charmer." While singing might not be his strong suit, the pop icon can put on a show.

Lindsay Lohan didn't make it very far

In promotion of her debut album "Speak," Lindsay Lohan appeared on "Good Morning America" in 2004 to perform "Rumors." Unfortunately, the performance made headlines not for the song itself but because it was evident that Lohan lip-synced the lyrics, per People. However, a rep from her album issued a denial of any fakery. "Lindsay sang 100 percent live. Her band played 100 percent live," the rep said, adding that there "were background tracks" when Lohan performed "Rumors."

In fact, Lohan told People that she chose the songs on her album specifically for their live quality. "The main concern for me was I wanted to sing songs that, when I sing live, sound the same," she said, adding, "I wanted it to have all aspects of my voice in it. I wanted it to just be me, raw, as much as it could be."

The ghost of Ashlee Simpson's 2004 "Saturday Night Live" performance definitely haunted Lohan's song choice. She told that she was very cognizant of the possibility of miming accusations. "I wanna be able to sing stuff to show that I have a voice and I can actually project," Lohan said (via EW). "And I wanna find things I'm not gonna have to lip-sync to, and that, when I sing it in the studio, it's something that I could also sing live and sound just as good as I did on the CD." Despite these high hopes, Lohan's music career didn't take off.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers faked it at the Super Bowl

Okay, so this one technically isn't lip-syncing, as Anthony Kiedis was singing live — but the frontman's vocals were pretty much the only sound not faked during The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Super Bowl halftime performance in 2014. The rock band proved that pop stars aren't the only performers who mime when they joined Bruno Mars to play "Give It Away," with viewers noticing that "the guitar and bass were completely unplugged," per The Verge

The band's bassist, Michael Peter Balzary, who goes by the stage name "Flea," wrote a letter to fans that has since been removed from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' website. In it, he explained that it was the NFL's decision to pre-record the instruments. "There was not any room for argument on this, the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period," Flea wrote (via Billboard).

"The Red Hot Chili Peppers stance on any sort of miming has been that we will absolutely not do it," Flea added, but he did mention that the band had done it before for MTV and said that "it always was a drag." Flea further explained that the band chose to leave their instruments unplugged deliberately so that it was more honest for fans. "We thought it better to not pretend," he wrote. "It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance." Hey, at least they came clean about it.

Beyoncé's inaugural admission

Beyoncé faced her own lip-syncing scandal in 2013 when she sang the national anthem at President Barack Obama's second inauguration ceremony. Within 24 hours of Beyoncé's performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," fans criticized her for lip-syncing.

ABC News noted that not only was her performance lip-synced, but she also acted throughout, even "pulling out her earpiece" at one point. But it wasn't just Beyoncé who was miming. The Marine Corp Band pretended to play their instruments during the performance and later confirmed that they didn't play live.

On January 31, Beyoncé gave a press conference and explained why she chose to lip-sync during the live performance. "I am a perfectionist," she began, per BBC News. "I did not have time to rehearse with the orchestra. It was a live television show, and a very, very important, emotional show for me, one of my proudest moments." Beyoncé also got into the technical difficulties she was facing that day. "Due to the weather," she said, "due to the delay, due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk." In a shocking confessional moment, Beyoncé spoke for the entire music industry and explained, "I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track, which is very common."

James Taylor also performed at the inauguration and told ABC News that he was worried about the cold, noting that one's fingers can stiffen while playing guitar in inclement weather. So Beyoncé wasn't alone in fearing an icy reception for a live blunder.

The Biebs gets caught

Lip-syncing rumors have followed Justin Bieber throughout his career. In 2012, Bieber was performing in Glendale, Arizona, when he threw up on stage twice. While it was obviously a rough night for the pop star, it revealed some pretty evident lip-syncing — his voice continued to play while he was doubled over.

Still, Bieber is a performer through and through. He came back on stage and said, "I'm sorry, I'm going to slow things down," per The Hollywood Reporter. After he puked again, he stated, "It's hard for me, you know, not feeling great and throwing up in front of a bunch of people. Will you love me even though I'm throwing up on stage?"

In 2019, Bieber was accused of lip-syncing when he performed with Ariana Grande at Coachella. Morgan Stewart of "Nightly Pop" wrote in a since-deleted tweet, "Poor song started before him. OK! I did not realize it was gonna be that bad," (via Billboard).

It's critical to note that Bieber hadn't been on stage in two years, having taken time off to work on some "deep rooted issues," he said on Instagram. So his surprise performance at Coachella was something new. "Think about how awesome it felt for me to be on that stage after being away for so long the excitement and joy it gave me doing the thing i love the most, i sang to backtrack like most cameos do this is a normal thing," Bieber tweeted back. Good for him for standing up for himself!

Ariana Grande claps back

There's a trend in the world of lip-sync accusations: they hit pop stars more than other music genres. Even a vocally gifted icon like Ariana Grande isn't safe. In 2017, someone made a compilation video on YouTube with the caption, "Not a hate video, I love Ariana. Just wanted to make a video showing that she does in fact lip [sync] because a lot of fans seem to think she doesn't."

The video showed Grande singing over the course of several different nights and claimed it was the "same track every time." But Grande's fans defended her. "Doesn't change the fact that this girl literally can sing," one wrote. "Whenever she lip syncs, no one really cares bc we know she can still sing really well," another said. Another brought up the physical demands of performing. "Of course she lip-syncs a little bit on the hard parts. But I don't blame her if she [is] constantly dancing and running round the stage," they said. That's totally right.

Later, a fan commented on an Instagram video of Grande, saying that it sounded "like autotune" and "not live." Grande replied, "Naw, with all due respect i could do this in your living room for you, fam. with no sound mixing or help at all. i could do it on broadway (and did). i can do it in the shower. it's my gift / it's why i'm here. i sing 30+ songs a night. every word. it's my thing. let me shine like damn." She said it.

Mariah Carey's endless lip-syncing fails

Seeing Mariah Carey's name on this list might not be a huge surprise. Our gal has quite the history of lip-syncing, but Carey's most famous fail occurred on New Year's Eve as New York City rang in 2017. While performing live in Times Square during "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest," her song "Emotion" started playing, but Carey mimed the wrong words.

It was obviously a huge flub caught on live TV, and she tried to make the best of it, saying to the crowd: "I'm trying to be a good sport here." Carey then said on camera, "We didn't have a check for this song ... we're missing some of the vocals, but it is what it is."

Carey blamed Dick Clark Productions for the mistake, and a few days later, she told Entertainment Weekly, "It will make me less trusting of using anyone outside of my own team," adding that she was "mortified" by what happened. A rep for Carey told Billboard that the production company "set her up to fail," and her manager, Stella Bulochnikov, suggested that her performance was basically being used as clickbait. Dick Clark Productions denied any wrongdoing. 

Phil Palazzolo, a sound engineer, spoke with Cosmopolitan about Carey's entire performance that night. "With 'Auld Lang Syne,' you could tell that was lip sync," he said. The third song ['We Belong Together'] was lip-sync. Possibly, she was expecting a vocal track to be there [for 'Emotions']." That's a lot of lip-syncing!

Milli Vanilli never bounced back

One of the most epic lip-syncing fails comes from the German-French R&B group Milli Vanilli, a duo who became huge in the 1980s. A German producer named Frank Farian had dreams of making a pop group and signed dancers Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan for their looks, per the Los Angeles Times. They released their album "Girl You Know It's True" in 1989 and reached worldwide success, even though Pilatus and Morvan never sang a word of the album. They also started to win big. They took home a Grammy and "three American Music Awards" in 1990, per PopMatters.

However, that same year, Farian came clean about the lip-syncing after a debacle occurred in Bristol, Connecticut, in 1989 where a recording began skipping in front of a live audience. "I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli," Pilatus told the Los Angeles Times. "When my voice got stuck in the computer, and it just kept repeating and repeating, I panicked. I didn't know what to do. I just ran off the stage."

"We sold our souls to the devil," Pilatus added, while Morvan said, "Rob and I never meant for it to go this way. Our producer tricked us. We signed contracts as singers but were never allowed to contribute. It was a nightmare. We were living a lie." The duo was never able to bounce back, and tragically, Pilatus died in 1998 at the age of 32, per The New York Times.

Iggy Azalea can't compete with JLo

Rapper Iggy Azalea had an uncomfortable lip-sync flub while performing with Jennifer Lopez in Chicago at the B96 Summer Bash concert in 2014. They were on stage working it to "Acting Like That" when Azalea missed her cue. Unfortunately, her pre-recorded track kept playing, and the rapper didn't even try to pretend. Instead, she signaled to JLo that her earpiece was acting up.

In a since-deleted tweet, Azalea claimed that she "picked up the wrong" microphone before getting on stage and that hers wasn't turned on, (via PopSugar). But she added, "[I] carried on and had fun." Well, that's something! 

However, fans weren't as chill about the debacle as Azalea was. "I honestly hoped people didn't pay for a performance like this that they could [have] easily heard for free on the radio," one fan commented on YouTube. Someone else got a little more savage and wrote, "IGGY NEEDS TO BE BACK IN THE CROWD." Yikes! 

At the same time, others jumped to Azalea's defense. "Her mic was disconnected," someone began. "She was not attempting to mime, if you see her other performances she often starts a few words into the song, she also uses her own voice as back up." But the best comment of all: "Jennifer Lopez looks pissed."

50 Cent gets busted

50 Cent performed his hit "Amusement Park" live on camera and got majorly called out for his fumble at the 2007 BET Awards. As the rapper was lowered onto the stage, he paused to take his jacket off and completely stopped rapping to do so. The only problem was that the lyrics kept playing, making it painfully evident to everyone in the crowd that the performance was pre-recorded. There were, however, several aerial dancers using red fabric whose talent was distracting, so that was something. 50 Cent then decided to go visit the audience, basically skipping the entire first verse of the song without seeming the least bit bothered. It was, frankly, impressive. 

But he did respond to later criticism of the performance with an explanation: that he bumped into one of the dancers. "Everything doesn't quite happen the way you practice it," he told BET's show "106 & Park" (via MTV). "You see, I was hit by the aerialist and I was wibbly-wobbling coming down. Twenty five feet in the air, man, you fall — can't nobody help me with that, you know what I mean?"

50 Cent added that the pressures of being on stage took their toll. "Then by the time you get down, you try and regroup to fight, you got the pyro going off, the music starts, we four bars into the song, you know — I just wasn't concentrating." That's a fair enough answer. At least he addressed it. 

Katy Perry can't roar

Katy Perry had a really awkward experience at the NRJ Awards in 2013. The award ceremony, famously hosted by the French radio station NRJ, was held at Cannes, and the live production began with Perry performing "Roar."

The problem was evident immediately, as the words coming out of Perry's mouth were way behind the pre-recorded track. To make matters even more uncomfortable, the host stepped out mid-song and stopped her. "If you don't mind, we can restart. ... We had a little problem with the sound," he discretely said. "I'm sorry to stop all your energy. ... I prefer you to be the best," he added, then ran off stage. Perry began again, and the difference between the perfect-sounding pre-recording compared to the follow-up live version was super clear.

A few days later, the NRJ Awards issued an apology to Perry and totally took the hit while addressing lip-syncing rumors. "Katy Perry sang live during the NRJ Music Awards in Cannes on Saturday night, but unfortunately a bad soundtrack was accidentally launched, taking over the live performance," they wrote in a translation shared by The Wrap. "TF1 and NRJ present their apologies to Katy Perry ... for this technical problem beyond our control."

Still, Perry won two awards at the event, the Mirror notes, for international female artist of the year and international single. So she obviously got back up and brushed off that dust fairly quickly.

Not such a festive night for Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez had an uncomfortable performance at KIIS FM's Jingle Ball in 2013 when there were evident microphone problems. During the show, Gomez pulled out her earpiece and was clearly trying to get help for the sound issues from someone off stage. When that didn't work, she got upset and said, "What the f–k?" An eyewitness told E! News that it was pretty clear that Gomez was lip-syncing.

According to Us Weekly, the singer addressed the crowd, saying, "Sorry, the sound isn't working! Are you guys having a good night? I promise, a lot cooler people are gonna come out tonight. Is it okay if I perform two more songs and you guys can get to it?" A seemingly flustered Gomez continued speaking to the audience and said, "I have to thank you guys so much for allowing me to be able to perform the music that I love." However, she only performed her hit "Come & Get It" before walking off stage, skipping her last song.

People had loads of opinions on YouTube. One fan wrote, "Lip syncing is the worst thing an artist can do, it's disrespectful to the fans who go to see them. You might as well just listen to their song on youtube." Another person added, "No I'm sorry but if your fans are paying loads of money to hear you sing LIVE that's why they should be getting." Honestly, yes.