The Truth About Michael and Lip Syncing: A Rare Soundboard Recording May Hold The Key

 

Michael-Jackson-history-world-tour-1996-1997-38122915-640-462As a Michael Jackson fan and researcher, one issue I hear debated quite frequently, and sometimes passionately, is why Michael lip synced so many of his performances during the HIStory tour and later. I have heard everything from the put downs of his work ethic by detractors (and even some “fans”) who insist it was out of laziness, to the excuses by fans that it was due to health issues. Closely on the heels of the latter defense are those who say that it simply isn’t possible to dance and sing at the same time-at least, not on the kind of intense and sustained level that was expected of a Michael Jackson concert. And therein may lie at least some of the truth, but I think it is a little more complex than that. Certainly, Michael had both sang and danced live throughout most of his career, up through the Dangerous era, at least, when lip syncing began to become a more prominent and noticeable part of his act. But let’s not forget that, by the time of the HIStory tour, Michael was in his late thirties, and it simply wasn’t as easy to pull off this feat with the same kind of sustained energy and intensity that he had been able to do in years past.

I am not entirely ruling out the health issues, either. We know, for example, that he suffered from chronic bronchitis throughout much of the HIStory tour, rendering vocally demanding pieces like “Earth Song” near impossible to do live on a nightly basis.

However, one reason that the “he couldn’t dance and sing at the same time” argument doesn’t entirely hold up is because it still doesn’t explain why he would lip sync a ballad like “You Are Not Alone”-which required relatively little physical exertion-while going all out live on some higher intensity dance numbers like “Wanna Be Starting Something.”

On the flip side of this argument, however, the accusations of laziness simply do not jibe with everything we know about this man’s work ethic. It never ceases to amaze me that some of the very same people who will go on and on about how Michael was such a perfectionist with his art will still turn around and perpetuate the argument that Michael simply chose to lip sync out of laziness. We have all heard the stories of how he drove engineers and fellow musicians to frustration with his insistence on perfection, often performing take after take of a track, long past the point when most would have been satisfied and called it a wrap. We know it was not unusual for him to spend years polishing a track or an album to perfection.  The sheer number of outtakes, the hundreds of songs written for every album, the endless hours of slaving away in recording studios just to get one perfect note. the countless hours often spent alone and rehearsing (even to the extent of refusing invitations to parties and other leisure activities) are all testaments to an unquestionable work ethic. This was the same performer who even climbed back onstage to finish a performance after being slammed fifty feet to the ground when a bridge collapsed during a performance of “Earth Song.” It simply doesn’t make sense to think that the same artist who gave so much to his art; who extended such effort into every aspect of his craft, would then choose to conscionably  snooker the public and his fans just because he didn’t feel up to putting forth the effort of singing live on a nightly basis.14402276646e5f6d (1)

But if we can’t chalk it up to mere laziness, as some would love to do, and if excuses about health issues do not entirely satisfy, either, then might there be another, even more plausible explanation?

To answer that question, we have to go back to the accusation of laziness and examine the very root opposition to it. If indeed Michael was such a perfectionist, it makes sense that this same compulsive obsession with detail, perfectionism, and craftsmanship would carry over to his live performances. It may be no coincidence that we actually begin to see and hear more lip syncing infiltrating his live performances at the very same time that he embarked on his own artistic emancipation with Dangerous. And, just as this artistic emancipation begins with Dangerous and peaks with HIstory, so, also, do we begin to see a certain solidification of his live performances. Simply put, it may seem that the most logical explanation for the increased reliance on backup tracking during the HIStory tour had more to do with Michael’s obsession to deliver perfection and, also, in a sense, to use live performance as illusion. Let’s note, however, that there is a huge difference between illusion in performance vs. deception in performance.

In short, the simple truth is that Michael was obviously making no attempt to deceive anyone. If he had been, then the lip synced numbers wouldn’t have been nearly so obvious. (In short, do these people really think that Michael was stupid enough to think that his fans were that stupid? The same fans who knew every word, every note, every inflection and spontaneous “Hee hee” and “Woo hoo” of his records by heart? Gimme a break!). Also, as with many pop performers who routinely utilize dance as part of their live show, Michael had been relying on pre-recorded live backing tracks for years. A pre-recorded live backing track basically performs the same function, although because it isn’t as glaringly obvious, it doesn’t carry quite the same stigma as lip syncing to a studio track. But my point is that if Michael had wanted those songs to sound live (in a way that would truly fool any unsuspecting concert goer) he could have used pre-recorded live backing tracks and easily accomplished that feat.

But, again, we’re talking deception as opposed to illusion. Often when music fans think of lip syncing, they automatically conjure up images of Milli Vanilli or 50 Cent’s disastrous BET performance. Yet lip syncing, certainly  as a staple of “live” television performances, has been around for years. If you grew up with The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, and all of the great musical variety shows of television’s golden era, you knew that no live performance could ever sound that much like the record. Clearly, all of those classic performances from TV-yes, even those early, much beloved Beatles performances-were lip synced. But what’s more, everyone knew it. There was no attempt being made to actively deceive. Rather, it was all about the illusion and a certain amount of suspended belief. In those days, when early technology made the logistics of capturing live performances on TV a near impossibility, lip syncing became the norm. And after such disastrous live incidents as Jim Morrison blurting out “higher” during an Ed Sullivan performance of “Light My Fire,” it was also a way of guaranteeing that there would be no unpleasant surprises during the performance to keep the censors busy. The reality was that such performances were for one purpose only, and that was promoting the single. We were also expected to simply enjoy, without question, seeing our favorite artists “up there” on the screen. Some years later, the music video industry operated on the same principle. Of course, we knew artists were lip syncing in their videos, even when they “appeared” to be performing live. Some of the best videos of the era were tongue-in-cheek spoofs like Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” which playfully and creatively acknowledged what everyone obviously knew-that all “performance” videos were simply cleverly crafted illusions of performers lip syncing their greatest hits.

Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love" Playfully Satirized Video Lip Syncing
Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” Playfully Satirized Video Lip Syncing

But that was okay; videos were, after all, intended as promotional films, and no one was really expecting that they be performed live. When it comes to a show that fans have actually purchased money to see, however, it often becomes a different story.

But what many don’t realize is that there are essentially two schools of lip syncing, just as there are essentially two aesthetic schools of live music performance. There is, of course, lip syncing with intent to deceive, which is why acts like Milli Vanelli were rightfully brought down. In this case, we had two “artists” who never even sang a note on their studio recordings, let alone in live performance! At least, most acts are lip syncing to their own, recorded voices. In the case of Milli Vanelli, their entire act was a sham.

But while artists like Milli Vanelli are obvious exceptions, most live performances of rock and pop acts fall into one of the two aesthetics mentioned above. They are two aesthetics of performing art which are both very much grounded in the aesthetics of “rockism” on the one hand vs. “popism” on the other. And by the way, for a really great discussion on “rockism” I urge you to check out this post on the Dancing With the Elephant blog.

Rock purists, for example, believe that every concert performance should be a totally live experience. They will argue that this, after all, is what they are paying for. “Rockism” purists value the idea of a musician or singer who can deliver live, warts and all. And therein lies a huge difference. They don’t mind the warts; they embrace them (provided, of course, the musicians aren’t so wasted that they totally blow). For those who value the live aesthetic, believing that every concert should be a totally raw, stripped down, live experience, they don’t mind the occasional flat note; the scratchy rawness of a singer’s throat that is giving out from strained vocal chords; the occasional off note from the lead guitarist, or the excruciating feedback that comes because a musician has stepped too close to the amplifiers. These kinds of “hits and misses” are all part of the thrill of experiencing a live performance; the telltale signs that what one is getting is, indeed, “the real deal,” as purists like to say. Those who are steeped in the “rockism” school of live performance will say, quite earnestly, “If I wanted to hear it just like the album, then I would just stay home and listen to the record.”

And I agree, there is a certain logical validity to that idea. But then, what about those who will go to a concert and then actually complain because what they heard didn’t sound anything at all like the record? My husband has told me the story over and over of going to a Duran Duran concert back in the 80’s, and actually walking out because instead of hearing all of the great radio hits he expected to hear-“Union of the Snake,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Girls on Film,” etc-they only played forty-five minutes of “garbage I’d never heard.” Or the horrors of going to a Foreigner concert where, instead of hearing a pristine version of “Feels Like the First Time” he got, instead, a rather spacey Lou Gramm who improvised an endless variation of “Ooh baby” because he most likely couldn’t remember the lyrics (granted, this was right before his brain tumor was diagnosed).

In truth, most concert goers really want a balance between the perfection and familiarity of the studio recordings, and the risks and rawness that come with a live performance. Michael was keenly aware of the need for this balance in order to please most fans, and worked hard to achieve and perfect it-in fact, I daresay, harder than most. However, it’s important to note that Michael’s own aesthetic of live performance was not necessarily one grounded in rockism or its perpetuated belief that live performance exists simply as a means to itself. This brings us to the other school of live musical performance, which is the idea of performance as illusion and as spectacle.

In short, the main reason both schools are at odds is because the rockism aesthetic values the idea of live performance as a kind of purist art, whereas the school of illusion and spectacle places the premium on entertainment. It’s the difference between, say, going to an AC/DC concert, where all one expects is to get all sweaty moshing in the pit, and on the other hand, attending a David Copperfirld show, a Cirque du Soleil performance, or any other theatrical spectacle  where one knows that illusion, suspension of belief, and magic are going to be central aspects of the show. When looked at in this context, we see that neither aesthetic is “right” or “wrong”-they are simply two very different types of performances, intended to elicit a very different aesthetic experience for the audience. With the former, we don’t expect much more than a bunch of sweaty guys onstage, playing their instruments and giving a show. With the latter, however, we expect a certain element of sensory illusion and suspension of belief-in short, we want to be awed. In fact, the topic of how audience expectations vary from one type of performance to another is the subject of this very interesting article from Clyde Fitch.

It seems ironic then that Michael Jackson, an artist who was very much steeped in the aesthetic of live performance as a theatrical experience, is often most harshly judged and criticized by those who are steeped in the rockism aesthetic of live performance, and are thus judging him by a standard that he, himself, never exactly advocated. Just as with Prince, Madonna, and many other big name pop stars who evolved the stage performance into huge extravaganzas, Michael believed that the live concert was-or should be-a theatrical experience. Today, that tradition is continued with stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and other heavily choreographed shows that rely on a clever mixture of live vocals and backing tracks, at strategic moments, to create an atmosphere that is more theatrical illusion than, strictly speaking, a concert of raw, live performance.  By the time of HIStory, Michael Jackson’s concerts had indeed become theatrical spectacles-he arrived in a spaceship, came out as an alien, rode on cherry pickers, had a stage setup replete with trap doors where he could disappear at will, or reemerge as some disguised alter ego. He used lighting and back drops to create shadow effects, and had begun to incorporate both visual and audio multi media effects, in which the entire performance often became a seamless blending between illusion and reality.

Michael Was Paving The Way For Theatrical Pop Performers Like Lady Gaga
Michael Was Paving The Way For Theatrical Pop Performers Like Lady Gaga

For such performances, where the visual becomes just as important as what is heard (in some cases, even moreso) the idea of a lip synced track was not viewed as some kind of sacrilege, but rather, an essential element of the full aesthetic experience of the performance, whereby the warm familiarity of the track could be usurped by the surprise element of the visual. This was especially important for tracks that were acting out a story or strong visual narrative onstage (the tracks most apt to be lip synced).  In short, the fact that the audience never heard a missed word of “You Are Not Alone” even when he was being jounced around by an exuberant YANA girl, or that they could clearly hear every word of “Earth Song” even when he was miles above their heads in a cherry picker, had nothing to do with deception, but everything to do with cleverly crafted illusion-and the willingness of the audience to suspend belief in favor of the spectacle.  It is no secret that Michael demanded and expected that when fans came to his shows, they would hear the same perfection and careful craftsmanship that he put into his studio recordings. “I want it to sound just like the record,” he famously quipped to Michael Bearden in This Is It, when he became somewhat irritated at being asked how he wanted his songs to sound. “Whatever the record’s doing, that’s what I want.”

"Whatever The Record's Doing, That's What I Want"-Michael Jackson
“Whatever The Record’s Doing, That’s What I Want”-Michael Jackson

The more I have studied Michael’s live concerts from this era, the more it has occurred to me that what he was essentially melding together was all part of a grand concept-or at least, his grand concept-of what a live musical performance should be. It was a unique concept but, nevertheless, one steeped in postmodern ideas of both visual and musical art. In literary postmodern art, concepts such as the pastiche, intertextuality, and temporal distortion were all changing the way stories were being told, and perceived. These concepts were likewise being carried over to other art forms, including both visual and musical. Let’s not forget that it was these postmodern concepts, after all, which gave us a whole new musical art form known as sampling, whereby the idea of building on something familiar (i.e, a familiar hook from a well known song) is used to create something entirely new. In the case of sampling, it’s usually a given that the artist isn’t attempting to pull anything over on the public-quite the contrary, they know that a familiar riff or hook is going to be instantly recognized. That familiarity becomes a kind of foundation or groundwork from which the artist then expands with a new vision. Modern sampling is very much the musical equivalent of pastiche, in which several styles may be blended to form a new, cohesive whole, and also intertextuality, in which a previous work is acknowledged and built into the new text. In live concert, Michael was using his own studio recordings in much the same way, to create a kind of visual and auditory temporal distortion. Rather than viewing the live concert as merely a string of performances tied together, Michael was creating a series of connective narratives, both visual and musically, in which the familiar studio recordings were very much an integral part of the process. Today, these types of theatrical narratives are often very much a part of the modern concert experience. We may rest assured that Michael’s incorporation of pre-recorded tracks into his performances had nothing to do with a slacker mentality, but rather, everything to do with being a visionary artist who was ushering in a whole new, postmodern concept of live performance.

But this still leaves a burning question. Just how much of these latter performances were, indeed, illusion and how much actual, live vocals? And is it possible to always tell? The answer may surprise you, Many make the mistake of simply trusting their ears to tell them when a performance is “live”; conversely, many rely on techniques for spotting a lip synced performance that are not always entirely accurate, either. The truth is that the engineers behind live performances are privy to many industry tricks of the trade. What the audience actually “hears” (via the soundboard output) can be manipulated many ways. “Live” vocals can be spliced with “studio” vocals, or even previously recorded “live” vocals, so that what we may get-rather than a purely live or purely lip synced performance-can, in fact, be a hybrid of both. A performer’s mike can be turned “off” or “on” at any given time throughout a performance-and, if turned “off” can be instantly turned “on” to allow a live vocal to take over from a tracked vocal.

Michael had, by the time of the HIStory tour, become a master of all the tricks and illusions of the trade. He knew when he needed to “save” his voice and when it was absolutely essential that he “sing out”; he knew what parts could safely be lip synced without loss of quality or integrity and what numbers-or what part of a number-absolutely had to be live. And I will stress again, this was not by any means the work of a slacker, but rather, the work of a perfectionist craftsman who knew, instinctively, how to give the best theatrical experience possible to an audience.

So...Which Performances Were Lip Synced, And Which Were Totally Live?
So…Which Performances Were Lip Synced, And Which Were Totally Live?

However, for those of us who are still, admittedly, more steeped in the purist tradition of rockism, I thought it would be interesting to take a hard look at some of Michael’s performances during the HIStory era and actually analyze how many were performed absolutely live. Again, the results may surprise.  It turns out that at least one well known  performance that has been generally thought of as a mostly lip synced performance was, in fact, completely and genuinely live-and we have the hard evidence to prove it! However, obtaining that “evidence” requires much more than just listening to the concerts or downloading videos of twenty year old performances off of Youtube. As I stated previously, it isn’t always a matter of trusting the ear, and certainly not of trusting the ear on  twenty year old audios that had already been filtered through the sound board output before even reaching the audience! No, this is the kind of evidence that requires going to the actual source, and these are extremely rare-the soundboard mixes! Only there can we get the “real” story of what was unfolding behind the microphone. And, as stated, the results will surprise many, and hopefully, will put to rest some long standing debates regarding Michael’s use of lip syncing vs. singing live. At any rate, the soundboard mix for one of Michael’s most well known late 90’s performances-the 1996 Brunei performance of “Earth Song”-not only provides those answers, but offers some interesting insights into the whole process.

Michael With The Sultan of Brunei's Family
Michael With The Sultan of Brunei’s Family

The private concert at Brunei in July of 1996 was performed for the Sultan and his family, but what many do not know is that the Sultan had specifically requested to hear Michael sing “Earth Song” live.  However, the video that eventually surfaced of that performance led many to believe that this was simply one more lip synced version of “Earth Song,” a less than pure hybrid, with  the improvised “Tell me what about it” ad lib at the end being the only true, undisputed “live” segment of the performance.

But did people really expect that Michael was going to insult the Sultan by giving a lip synced performance of a song he had specifically requested to hear live?  The soundboard audio of that performance certainly tells a different story! So then, why do so many people believe it is lip synced when they watch the version commonly available on Youtube? Those answers become more clear when the soundboard audio is thoroughly analyzed, and compared to the performance version on Youtube. It is the same performance, note for note. But the subtle differences between the soundboard audio (which is most likely what the Sultan heard) vs. what was filtered and pumped to the crowd are enough to cue us to some of the “tricks” of the trade.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to acquire this rare soundboard audio of Michael’s Brunei “Earth Song” performance about six years ago, right after Michael died. I remember my husband saying that this audio proves beyond a doubt that this performance of “Earth Song” was indeed live, and after listening to it a few times, I reached the same conclusion. The vocals here, even on the chorus, are much grittier and do not have the clear, pristine tone of his studio version. You can hear the occasional fluctuations in breath and volume, as he moves either too far back or to close in on the microphone. You can hear the occasional flatness of some of the notes. Also, there are  times when his voice dips into the lower registers of his vocal range, something he often did naturally when singing live, but which was usually “cleaned up” in final takes. But the real giveaway is during the shouted call-and-response breakdown, when the very real strain he was putting on his vocal chords is quite evident (not to mention, his enunciation of the lyrics during this segment are much more clearly audible than what we would normally hear in the studio version).

Over time, I had somewhat put these findings out of mind, although I would occasionally debate with some fans that the Brunei “Earth Song” vocals were indeed live, and not just the ad libs at the end. But since this audio was not exactly something I could just “link” to and prove the debate for once and all, it was not an easy debate to win. It wasn’t until recently, when I saw the issue of Michael’s lip syncing again being raised among some fans from opposing factions on social media, that it occurred to me to revisit the “Earth Song” Brunei soundboard mix and give it a fresh listen. Imagine my horror when I discovered that we no longer had the file! Thus began another earnest search to find it again, which was not easy after six years (much of the deluge of MJ bootleg and rare audio versions of performances that were available six years ago have since pretty much disappeared). It took a lot of work, but eventually we were able to track down another copy of this audio.

Here you can compare the soundboard audio side-by-side with the performance clip.

Brunei “Earth Song” Performance:

Brunei soundboard recording of Earth Song:

Of particular note is his pronunciation of words like “war,” which has a much deeper intonation here than on the studio version, where it is pronounced very pristinely. Notice, also, how much deeper and breathier is his pronunciation of the line, “Now I don’t know where we are.” As mentioned previously, the entire call-and-response section is much raspier than what we hear on the studio track, and certain phrases are far more clearly enunciated. Note, for example, how clearly the phrase “what about animals” is enunciated, as well as the following questions “What about elephants/Have we lost their trust?” None of these phrases are pronounced that clearly on the studio track. When he sings shortly after, “This is what I believe” we can hear from the slightly ragged enunciation of “believe” that his vocal chords are indeed being pushed to the max; he even sounds as though he could be experiencing a bit of “throat bleed” here, a common condition when singers are exerting their vocal chords beyond range for a sustained amount of time. Moving into the latter segment of this breakdown, there is also a different emphasis on the word “holy” when he sings the line “What about the holy land/torn apart by creed” and again, a much clearer pronunciation of the line “What about children dying?”

The only difference between what we hear here, on the soundboard audio, and what was actually pumped out to the crowd (the audio we “hear” on the video version) is that much of the raspiness has been cleaned up, especially during the call-and-response segment, but clearly, note for note, it is the same performance. It proves unequivocally that Michael absolutely did perform this piece 100% live, from start to finish. What we are hearing on the soundboard audio is exactly what was being picked up by Michael’s microphone!

And here is the real clincher, if you’re still not convinced. Since no one has ever disputed the authenticity of the live ad libs at the end, give a close listen to his “Tell me what about it” ad libs in both the soundboard and video versions. They sound exactly the same, don’t they? Now go back and compare them to, first, the call-and-response shouts heard on the video version, and then the call-and-response shouts of the soundboard version. Notice anything? On the soundboard version, the ad libbed segment is being sung in the exact same, raspy tone as what we just heard during the call-and-response segment. This was purely Michael, whose vocal chords had just come out of the grueling, near three minute ordeal of that breakdown segment. As he makes the transition from that segment to the ad libs, it is clearly the same voice! But when we listen to the video version, there is a clear shift which seems to occur right about the time of his series of shouted “woos” that bridge the close-out of the apocalyptic call-and-response section with the “Tell me what about it” ad libs. It is a very subtle shift, but it is this minor illusion  which, for many years, has led some to falsely believe that this was a hybrid performance. In other words, it would have been somewhere in here that the audio output was switched “on” so that what was pumped out to the crowd would have been the pure, live vocal. If all this sounds a bit confusing, think of it as the same process of water passing through a filter. It’s the same water coming out as going in, except that a lot of the impurities have been removed or “cleaned up.” What we learn from analyzing this performance is that Michael was not lip syncing. He was delivering a live vocal, at full capacity. But the backstage technology simply allowed some of the rougher aspects to be cleaned up and smoothed out.

It is certainly easy to understand why Michael uncharacteristically opted to have “Earth Song” be the closing song of this particular concert, another telltale sign that he intended this to be a purely live performance.

It also really serves to cast a whole, new light on many of Michael’s other 90’s era performances and beyond. There is no doubt that Michael did begin to rely on backing tracks quite extensively during the late 90’s (though I think I have been able to make a fairly good argument as to why). Although I believe that it was with the Dangerous and HIStory tours that Michael most closely fulfilled and solidified the concept of a Michael Jackson concert, it did sometimes seem that he had sacrificed the joyous spontaneity of early live performances in favor of a theatrical extravaganza that, over time (due to the proliferation of video and social media, which allowed for viewings and comparisons of multiple performances) became predictable; even a little formulaic. We could predict that he would ride the cherry picker during the climactic moment of Earth Song” (though we did get the occasional surprises, such as Jarvis Cocker’s impromptu mooning of the audience, or the impassioned Korean fan who leaped onto the cherry picker with Michael, or the awful bridge collapse in Munich); we knew that the “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” duet would segue inevitably into either “She’s Out of My Life” or “You Are Not Alone” and that a “random” girl who was not really random at all would be brought onstage for the obligatory dance-and-grope session; that a Jackson 5 medley would always culminate in a rousing performance of “I’ll Be There” (usually performed live, by the way) and that, inevitably, every show would end with “Man in the Mirror.” It was a well oiled machine that worked,and though there would occasionally be some slight variations and tweakings of the formula, it was clear that Michael knew what his fans expected and wanted. Michael’s performances were always, ultimately, a blend of audience expectation coupled with his own determined, driving need to deliver perfection.

It may be somewhat ironic, then, that many of his most acclaimed performances, from Motown 25 to the Brunei performance of “Earth Song” to the rehearsal clips from This Is It, are also some of his most stripped down and rawest. Give Michael Jackson his complete bag of tricks and wizardry, and yes, he could create magic. But when those things were most stripped away was where his true artistry shined.

If it proves anything, the soundboard audio of Michael’s “Earth Song” performance goes to show that he was still more than capable of delivering live, and what’s more, of delivering live at full capacity. It also proves beyond doubt that he may, in fact, have been performing live throughout the HIStory era much moreso than has often been credited to him, and that it may be high time we started analyzing a lot more of these performances beyond just the commonly available video versions.

The truth is in what the microphone “hears” and picks up. The sound board preserves it. In this case, it stands as indisputable evidence that at least one of Michael’s most heatedly debated 90’s performances was, in fact, a totally live vocal performance.

UPDATE: 11/27/15

To further test the theory, we synchronized the mp3 and video using Adobe Premier Probe CS6. The frame rates of the mp3 and youtube are slightly different, making it very difficult to synch the audio with the video for anything over 20 seconds – however it is possible to synch segments of the audio/video perfectly.  This could be done throughout the entire clip – but that would be cheating.  This difference also makes it fairly impossible for anybody to look at the video and compare it to the audio and say that he is lip syncing.  The dead giveaway is as subtle as three breaths. This is very early in both the video and audio, during the song’s first verse. There are three very audible intakes of breath, which the microphone picks up. The audio of those breaths synchronizes exactly with those moments in the clip when we can visibly see him do those breath intakes. What this tells us is that this recording is, indeed most likely a genuine microphone feed.

120 thoughts on “The Truth About Michael and Lip Syncing: A Rare Soundboard Recording May Hold The Key”

  1. Thank you for this article, as on one of my YouTube videos there has been a great debate about MJ using playback and whatnot.

    You make some good points, but I am still unconvinced that the Earth Song Royal Brunei performance was fully live. The raspiness and breathiness of the vocals is likely due to poor equalization or reverb filtering of the acapella vocal, rather than being fully live. Minor “differences” may also boil down to fact that the studio acapella is “raw”. A good example of this is HIStory Tour in Seoul, where the audience noise is largely muted and the playback acapella for most of the songs is ridiculously loud, and details are more obvious than the studio versions where the vocals are slightly subdued.

    This soundboard isn’t so rare and was leaked many years ago. Likely it was what the audience heard (no yelling in the beginning of Jam) but I still don’t see any indication of live vocals until the ad-libs at the end of the song. The notes are EXACTLY the same otherwise.

    However, I do find it likely he was singing underneath the playback, but this voice is usually not very good. There is also the possibility that the reverb or parts of the live vocal are blended in with a studio acapella. In the case of MJ we can hear this in some of the Black or White performances in Wembley and Munich

    Wembley: https://www.dropbox.com/s/w3abuqer3vl2esw/WTF.mp3?dl=0

    Listen to this recording I isolated from one of the alternate mixes of Blood on the Dance Floor Live in Munich: https://app.box.com/s/y8xm8wsxpl8ot54ynucje91jmibeebow

    Note the vocal isolation is not the best as I just tried to cancel out the studio parts by a plugin called “knockout” (basically invert phase).

    As for what the Sultan said about wanting MJ to do Earth Song live, I’m pretty sure he just meant he wanted to see the song performed in the concert, not necessarily singing it live. This was one of the very first concert performances of Earth Song, so it would have almost been an exclusive.

    1. Totally agree with you. All that ridiculously unnecessary text the person wrote was just that,…unnecessary. No way is that Earth Song “live” at any point. If it was it would be blatantly obvious as it always is when he sings live. It would be very different. That ending to Earth Song sounds slightly different simply because the accapella was distorted for some reason. Too loud. But that’s all. Live it was not. So stop trying to fool people, blog writer. Other than that, nice article. But way too long. lol You repeated stuff so many times. Just went round and round at points.

    2. I realize this soundboard recording had been leaked several years ago (that was how we obtained it) but when I say “rare,” it is rare in the sense that 1: Not many soundboard recordings from Michael’s concerts exist. It was rumored that these were being leaked by someone close to him. 2: They have become exceedingly much harder to find today.

      You make some good counter points. Of course, I’m well aware of the various techniques that were used with playback tracks. I have studied Michael’s live performances for a long time, so I’m pretty well versed in most of the techniques used-one, of course, being the use of studio recorded acapellas. But I’m not convinced that this was what was being done with “Earth Song,” and I have played it back many times, analyzing it against the studio track, the Brunei performance clip, and other “Earth Song” performances. There is far too much distortion, as well as the occasional fade-outs and amplifications that would indicate when he is moving too close or too far away from the microphone (sorry, I’m sure there is a more technical term for it, but I’m not a music engineer). These inconsistencies are the same when you match up the soundboard recording and visual performance (in fact, the more I listen to the Youtube version, the more I can hear that the vocals really weren’t as “cleaned up” as I had previously thought). I think most can definitely agree that this is not the studio track, but to what degree it was completely “live” as opposed to being cleverly spliced with a previously recorded acapella track I couldn’t say. However, we have studied and dissected it enough that we believe it is the real deal. The most crucial giveaway is that when you hear the ad libs on the soundboard recording (which, again, have never been disputed as being live) there is no discernible difference in tonal quality from the shouted breakdown segment. Granted, this same effect could have been accomplished with a cleverly spliced acapella playback, but it isn’t likely. In the Youtube clip, it’s a little more obvious that something changes when he segues from the breakdown to the ad libbed “Woo’s” which, apparently, were live also. But on the soundboard mix, it’s not an obvious transition-in fact, there doesn’t appear to be any transition at all.

      But it does raise some interesting questions about the whole process. The “Earth Song” coda was not part of the studio recording. It was something he had added solely for performing the song in concert. Later in the HIStory tour, he would add all of the theatrics with the tank rolling onstage, the soldier popping out, the frightened villagers, etc. But here we can see that he hasn’t completely worked out the concept yet. There are no props and no cast of extras, so he has to improvise something to fill that space and bring the number to its closure. I thought the ad libs were a brilliant touch, giving the song a very gospel feel which is fitting for a biblical jeremiad.

      1. No offense but I honestly think you’re splitting hairs here. The phrasing he does is exactly the same as on the record, it sounds like the same take. And I don’t believe he would have sang it *that* close to the record live. Even if we assume he did it live and was in amazing vocal shape, I don’t think he would have just sang all those lines with that same phrasing and the same notes, there would have been subtle nuances and I’m not talking about split second delays, fade-outs or whatever but the actual way of singing. His voice live just sounds different than studio (as most artists). Take a look at Royal Brunei’s Man In The Mirror adlibs. He hardly sounds anything like the record there but thin and a bit weak. The closest I’ve heard him sing MITM ending live is Grammy Awards 88, his voice and tone sounds pretty much like studio. Yet he still doesn’t sing exactly the same as the record which is noticeable, and he sounds a tad less powerful. He could have nailed Gone Too Soon at Clinton Gala in 1993 but he did it slightly differently. Same with any other live performances throughout his career. What are the odds he’d just do Earth Song (one of the hardest songs he has recorded) this one time almost exactly like the record? I don’t think he could do it even in the studio if he wanted to. He could probably do it very similar but still end up a tad different. I’m sure he could do many vocal lines almost the same not these screaming parts as far as I’m concerned. Plus there is a story of Jackson recording Earth Song as the last track before the album was completed as he knew he would blow out his voice for a while.
        The screaming part of Earth Song is quite demanding and it wouldn’t make sense for him to do that part live but lipsync the first half of the song (yeah, 1st half also sounds exactly like the record). I’ve heard many live recordings of MJ and other singers and it usually is quite clear when one is lipsyncing and when not. Even if a singer is in top shape I don’t think I’ve ever heard one deliver a performance 99% identical to the record as far as tone, phrasing, notes and just the sound of it. I’ve personally never questioned Earth Song in Royal Brunei being playback (except for the ending adlibs which seem to be genuinely live).

  2. YOU MADE MY MONTH. Thank you so much for this effort. I’ve always absolutely LOVED all of Michael’s concerts, irrespective of any lip-syncing, but to read this gem of a piece and hear that priceless, beautiful soundboard recording has been an enlightening event to say the least – let’s just say I love the HIStory concerts a thousand times more now. Again, thank you, thank you SO MUCH.
    ~”With the love… with the love. L-O-V-E.”~

  3. Hi, I just read your article and I wanted to share my opinion with you. Let me start by saying that I am a fan.
    To go straight to the point, there are three reasons why MJ rarely sang live after the Bad tour.
    #1) On tours, it’s too demanding physically. He could barely do it during the Bad Tour. Several songs were already partly or totally lip-synched during the Bad Tour. This reason can be linked to laziness, but it really is so exhausting that talking about laziness would be a bit harsh.
    #2) MJ prepared and pushed his voice in the studio to achieve a certain goal. Such performances are impossible to recreate live every night, without even talking about dancing at the same time. Later MJ recordings, such as Stranger in Moscow, are so vocally polished that they couldn’t be recreated live. MJ always wanted to offer a performance as close to the record as possible. Thus making it impossible to sing live most of his latest songs.
    #3) The last reason why MJ lip-synched most of his live performances is the most surprising to his fans and even the public, but it is the main reason nonetheless : MJ is not a great live singer. He never was. Had he given true live performances at award shows, people would have realized that. He was an amazing singer, but not a live singer. In the studio, he gave the greatest performances, but live, it was always sub-par. And he knew it. The main live TV performances that we have of MJ are Gone too soon and You were there. Gone too soon (Clinton ceremony) is very moving and nice, but vocally, it is very disappointing. MJ cannot hit the high notes properly. As for You were there, amazing performance, but it’s a song we never heard before (so no comparison possible) and it’s a soft song, almost whispered.
    Truth of the matter is MJ was not a great live singer. He didn’t have a powerful voice to belt it out of the stadium. Many examples show how disappointing his singing was when he had to perform unprepared, even “easy” songs like Heal the world.

    So, when you have a singer that is not a great live singer, who wants to dance while singing, who is not longer 25yo and who works the hell out of every recording in terms of polishing and improving the vocals, of course he’s going to lip-synch.

    As far as the question of the “Earth Song” performance from Brunei, I’m 100% sure that the soundboard version that you have (priori to the ad-libs) is not a “live” recording from the show. It is obviously a studio recording, probably the one that MJ did especially to sound like a “live” rendition to be used for “live” performances.
    The ad-libs, on the other hand, are live. And disappointing compared to the record, to be honest.
    So why is there a difference between the soundboard version and the Youtube Brunei version of the song ? Several possibilities. The first that comes to mind is that the Youtube version is an edited version of the show on which a new soundtrack has been used. Probably MJ wasn’t satisfied with his live ad-libs and used another track.

    1. Well, you have definitely hit on my main point: The lip syncing, when it occurred, was part of the obsessive quest for perfection. Also, he was simply operating on a different aesthetic of performing. Like I said, it had become more about entertainment and illusion than “oh, I’m going to let them see/hear me, warts and all.” We know, of course, that he certainly wasn’t the only performer to utilize playbacks in concert, but for whatever reason, he tends to get more flack for it than most, and I think a lot of it, again, goes back to that let’s-knock-the-King-off-his-throne mentality. I sometimes don’t think that Michael gave himself enough credit as a performer who certainly COULD deliver, warts and all-and still incite goose flesh. This is why I said that there is this whole, interesting dichotomy of MJ performances that both fans and critics have acclaimed vs many of those theatrical, over the top performances that I’m sure he believed were his best. Yet performances like the ad libbed segment of “Earth Song” at Brunei remind us of the sheer power he had to move an audience and to elevate a performance to the level of a spiritual experience, with little but the spotlight, a microphone, and his own voice. Obviously, as you can tell, I disagree with your assessment that the ad libs are disappointing. Quite the contrary; I think they are the most powerful part of the performance! As opposed to being a great performance, was it a great vocal? Probably not, but then I wouldn’t exactly call James Brown a great live vocalist, either. However, we know that he could move a crowd in performance like no other!

      On the other hand, with Michael, there is no dispute that he was a great singer. He is routinely included in any critical list of “Best” vocalists of the rock or pop era. He had a reported 4-octave range, which is pretty damn impressive by any standards (some sources even go as high as 5 though I believe that is probably an exaggeration; 4 sounds far more believable). But I would agree that it was largely in the recording studio, where he had the luxury of take after take, that he achieved the mastery and perfection he was famous for. It’s the same way with writers. You can have a Jack Kerouac, who shoots everything off on a roll of paper in three weeks’ time-and calls it perfection-and then you have an F. Scott Fitzgerald who laboriously writes revision after revision until his seemingly “perfect prose” is born. I think it is entirely possible that Michael had become so obsessed with the idea of perfection that perhaps he had lost some of his own confidence in his ability to deliver purely live. Just saying; I don’t know, of course. But it seems likely.

      Speaking of TV performances, one that you didn’t mention is his birthday performance for Elizabeth Taylor, “Elizabeth, I Love You.” I am just curious, but what do you make of that one? I haven’t been able to determine if it is completely live (this one is more difficult because there isn’t a studio track to compare it to) but I do know that note he hits at the end is, like, wow…out of the ballpark. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the song, I’ve always thought this was one of his best vocal performances on TV.

      I don’t believe the Youtube version of “Earth Song” at Brunei is a new soundtrack added later. This was a practice Michael was prone to do when he wasn’t happy with the way a vocal had turned out, so I’m not denying it is a possibility. But again, if you listen to both side by side, it is clearly the same performance, just with a little less distortion on the Youtube version.

      I am not aware of any studio recording Michael did of “Earth Song” that was made specifically to sound “live.” I’m not denying it may exist, but I haven’t heard of it. Do you have a source for that oinfo? I know that he would sometimes use previously recorded live tracks as playbacks. This was not an uncommon practice, but “Earth Song” had not been previously performed live.

      1. As we’ve said, MJ wanted the fans to get a vocal performance as close as possible to the record, which soon became almost impossible to achieve because of the sophisticated vocals he produced in the studio, the simultaneous dancing and his age.
        But let me go back to my main point : MJ not being a great live singer.
        To back this up, there is a lot of evidence. I remember watching “Billie Jean” live on TV during the Victory Tour in 1984. A clip of the live concert footage was used by MJ around the world for promo. The vocal performance is really disappointing. No wonder MJ didn’t sing Billie Jean live at Motown 25. He could get away with the J5 songs, because he no longer had to match the voice on the record, but Billie Jean would have been trouble.
        If you look at MJ’s history of TV performances, there are very few examples of real live singing. You mentioned “Elizabeth I love You”. It’s a good example. The song is lip-synched ! Only the intro is live. (Some years ago, the playback track leaked, by the way, and it started right after the intro segment, which was sung live.) So there you go. A performance that could have been sung live was, once again, lip-synched.
        Same with “Remember the time” at the Soul Train 1993. MJ couldn’t dance, but couldn’t he sing ? Nope.
        “Not Alone” at MTV Awards, BET Awards 1995, not live. Even though he wasn’t dancing. Man in the mirror Grammy Awards 1988… Will You Be there MTV 10th, HTW Brit Awards, HTW WMA… Songs he wasn’t dancing to and that appears to be within his “easy” range.
        See how MJ shies away from singing live, even a little, at VH1 Awards in 1995, WMA in London, Paradise Island in 98 (or 99), etc…
        MJ was an amazing vocal performer, but I guess he didn’t have the pipes and the ability to hit the high notes on stage. Janet, who hasn’t got half of MJ’s amazing vocal talent, has the same problem. She can’t sing live. She is a master in the art of lip-synching, managing to fool even her fans into thinking she does sing live. But she doesn’t. She’s got balls to even lip-synch slow songs sitting on a stool.

        When I say MJ is not a great live singer, I don’t mean to say he’s bad or mediocre. He’s just no powerhouse like Ella, Sarah, or even Celine Dion, who could produce on demand a record-like vocal performance.
        It may be interesting to compare MJ’s vocal history to that of Whitney. Whitney’s first live TV appearances (85) were truly amazing (check them out, Letterman’s Saving my Love, or Home on Merv Griffin, etc). A truly amazing vocal performance. And it quickly went down the drain from there, to the point where she couldn’t sing at all, even at the top of her career. She avoids the high notes, muffles around, let the choir sing… Whatever happened to her ability to sing ? MJ seems to have had the same fall, although not from the same altitude, but still.

        As for Earth Song, I have to confess that I never had the courage to compare the versions of the songs he sang in concert to the ones on the records. I think I noticed some slight differences that made me think he rerecorded them instead of blatantly using the CD track, but maybe on some he did use the CD. Maybe in Brunei he did because it was the first time. On some songs, it’s clear he rerecorded the vocals especially for the concert, like Scream during the HIStory Tour.

        As far as the range MJ had, I remember Seth Riggs shying away from answering a direct question to that effect. I would think MJ had about 3 octaves, maybe 4, but not 5. Otherwise he would have let the world know about it…
        MJ had an ability to shift from his upper register to his falsetto while making it seem very smoothly. That surely made it seem like he had a wider range than he really had as far as the number of octaves.

        1. As for the “Earth Song” performance at Brunei, there IS something interesting that I’m not sure can be so easily explained away. It took actually synchronizing the soundboard audio with the video using Adobe Pro 8, but the breath intakes he does during the song’s first verse (there are three of them) are CLEARLY audible and perfectly synched to the breaths he takes in the video during those segments. This is not perceptible just from watching the video alone. Why? Because the visual of this performance and its audio were never properly synched, at least not the version that is on Youtube. Those very audible breaths leave little doubt that what is on this soundboard audio is, in fact, a genuine microphone feed.

      2. With regards to Elizabeth, I Love You: the intro is live, the playback comes in at 1.02. You can hear a click track starting and the difference in the sound of the vocals is very clear.

        The biggest giveaway is when he does that spin at 2.54. There is absolutely no trace of it whatsoever in the vocal track, which is just not possible.

        It’s a very good studio vocal though!

    2. I wanted to add here an updated addendum to the article, because my husband just ran the soundboard audio and video performance through another round of rigorous testing tonight, in light of some of the discussions on here. This is what we discovered:

      To further test the theory, we synchronized the mp3 and video using Adobe Premier Probe CS6. The frame rates of the mp3 and youtube are slightly different, making it very difficult to synch the audio with the video for anything over 20 seconds – however it is possible to synch segments of the audio/video perfectly. This could be done throughout the entire clip – but that would be cheating. This difference also makes it fairly impossible for anybody to look at the video and compare it to the audio and say that he is lip syncing. The dead giveaway is as subtle as three breaths. This is very early in both the video and audio, during the song’s first verse. There are three very audible intakes of breath, which the microphone picks up. The audio of those breaths synchronizes exactly with those moments in the clip when we can visibly see him do those breath intakes.

    3. He was excellent live singer. I m still amazed by bad world tour. He didn’t have to do anything to prove nothing more. EVER. Singing and dancing for 2 hours. He just concentrated in dancing later on and kept his voice for studio ( I admit he may even not trained his voice for tour)..

  4. Raven, your post has attracted the gearheads, who normally don’t participate on fan forums, and I guess that’s a good thing. Maybe they’ll hang around and gain an interest in a more comprehensive discussion of Michael.

    I must disagree with the assertion that Michael was not a great live singer. He was a highly – trained technician with a wide range. A singer who can’t hit high notes “properly” onstage can’t hit them in the studio either, so if his sound was deficient live, there may have been a host of reasons, but the blanket assertion that he just couldn’t do it will not suffice. Michael kept on singing through his voice change, which most vocal coaches feel is very detrimental to the mature voice, and on recordings, live or studio, made in his late teens, you can hear him straining to reach notes on occasion. But that did not continue through his adult career.

    In This Is It, which was not recorded under studio conditions, in IJCSLY, Michael sings “live” brilliantly with Judith Hill, mere days before his death, and he even apologizes for holding back. But there is nothing subpar in his singing.

    1. Thanks for making me feel welcome, Simba!
      First of all, I wouldn’t use anything that appeared in “This Is It” as a proof of anything. The images are touched up and some vocals too. It has been proved. Did they use the real live “TII” performance for “I Just” ? Maybe. Or maybe not. Even if they did, that song has always been sung properly by MJ, like “She’s out”. Probably because that’s an “easy” song for him. I wouldn’t use that example to prove that MJ was a great live singer, though.
      You have to admit that, over several decades, you cannot name several amazing vocal performances that MJ did live, on TV or on stage.
      Amazing in the vocal sense, obviously.
      “You were there” is the only one that comes to my mind, even though it’s not a good example imo, as it was a new song and a soft one.
      You may respond that MJ did hundreds of amazing vocal performances on stage while touring. You could say that indeed. Then it’s just a matter of taste or opinion and the discussion is over.
      Personally, I don’t think Michael’s tours (except maybe Triumph), are an example of outstanding vocals.
      So over several decades, MJ was never able to produce a couple of amazing live vocal performances ?
      What does that tell you ?
      That he always had a good reason not to deliver ?
      Or that it just wasn’t his thing.
      The simple fact that he gave so few live TV performances over several decades is a testament to the fact that he wasn’t comfortable with it.
      Also, when you say that you can’t be an amazing vocalist in the studio and not be an amazing one on stage or on TV, I think you’re mistaken. MJ is an example, and he’s not the only one. A lot of artists deliver in the studio (without softwares) but can’t reach that same level of excellence live. That’s quite common, actually.
      I would mention Whitney Houston again, who could still record great vocals in the studio but couldn’t sing for dear life on a stage.

      1. Hi, Joel, glad you feel welcome here. We have very lively, sometimes contentious discussions here, but we’re friendly.

        You say, “You may respond that MJ did hundreds of amazing vocal performances on stage while touring. You could say that indeed. Then it’s just a matter of taste or opinion and the discussion is over.”

        I would never say that, because I was not present for every live performance (although I am old enough to have followed Michael’s career from the beginning until his death). Were you? If not, then one can say that your assertion that he couldn’t sing well live is just your opinion as well. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – we all have opinions. Michael could have produced dozens of spectacular live vocals when you weren’t there to hear them. (I do find it a bit odd that you compare Michael Jackson to female singers.)

        I don’t understand the preoccupation with vocal range that some have. If range determined vocal artistry, Yma Sumac would have been the greatest singer who ever lived, and Judy Garland, who rarely sang beyond an octave and a half, wouldn’t even place.

        1. Hi Simba, to answer your question, I’ve seen MJ on stage 3 times during the Bad Tour, ten times during the Dangerous Tour and 15 times during the HIStory Tour, also in Munich for MJ & Friends in 99 and both Madison Square Garden shows in 2001. So I can say that I’ve seen MJ perform live. But watching him live doesn’t enable you to judge the quality of his vocal performance. The sound in a stadium is bad and you can hardly make out any nuance. It’s almost impossible to know for sure if it’s live or not. On the other hand, a video of a concert makes it quite easy to decide for yourself if vocals are good or not. That doesn’t lie.
          As you say, MJ knows all the tricks of the trade and knows the limitations of his voice too. He knew he couldn’t perform to the level of his studio recordings. So he didn’t. The operative word being “couldn’t”.

          I’m a die-hard fan, I know and love MJ for the great genius that he is. But at the same time, I’m not afraid to call things by their name.

          Let me ask you this : what example would you give to showcase Michael as an amazing live vocal performer ?

          As for the vocal range, you’re totally right, it doesn’t matter whether he has 3 or 5 octaves, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just one more subject where fans want him to be a superhero.

          Finally, why did I compare Michael to female singers ? I don’t know, I don’t think in terms of gender, I guess. Those are the names that came to mind. Or maybe unconsciously, Michael’s voice reminds me of a woman’s, who knows. He does have a more feminine voice than, say, Tony Bennett or Lionel Richie.

          1. Wow, you’re very fortunate to have had those experiences!

            However, I will disagree on one small point. Video alone is not enough to really gauge the quality of the vocals, either, as I have discovered from this recording and others. His Brunei performance that is on Youtube was obviously re-synced at some point. The videos “can” lie, and thus I don’t think we can rely on them as a truly accurate gauge.

            As per the comparison to female artists, I think there is a good reason why there are certain names that come readily to mind, and it’s a simple explanation. In the rock, pop, and r&b genres the equation of “truly great” female vocalists to male vocalists is relatively limited. I can’t think of too many male artists of those genres who has (or had) an unquestioned 5-octave range. Freddie Mercury comes to mind, but not too many others (anyone can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). However, it’s impressive that when Michael and Freddie did their duets, Michael seemed more than capable of holding his own in singing with him (but again, these were studio recordings, of course). But I believe that Michael would have had to have had easily at least a 4-octave range to be able to pull off those duets with Mercury without being totally overpowered.

            BTW this was an interesting blog entry I found the other day. At first, I was rolling my eyes a bit at the title (I thought it would just be the usual dribble that every fan already knows) but, as it turns out, he did have some really interesting and little known trivia. One of the more humorous stories involved Michael actually “losing” his head mike during an “Earth Song” performance! He dropped it when he ascended in the cherry picker! Needless to say, the show still went on, and the vocal never missed a beat, lol! I think I’m going to put a link to this blog in my blogroll because he really does have some interesting stuff!

            http://anthony-king.com/blog/top-5-michael-jackson-interesting-facts-for-die-hard-fans/

          2. But a “five octave range” does not signify a great voice. Range is not synonymous with vocal power or beauty of tone. I can’t think of a single song or aria for a solo singer that covers five or even four octaves. Supposedly Axl Rose has the widest range among contemporary male singers, but so what?

            I will be watching the live presentation of The Wiz with great anticipation. Besides her being too mature for the part in the film, Diana Ross – in my opinion, a vastly underrated singer – got dragged for not being able to sing the very rangy song Home the way teenaged Stephanie Mills did eight times a week on stage. And Lena Horne looked beautiful, but her voice was no match for Dee Dee Bridgewater’s on Believe. Yet while Mills and Bridgewater certainly have their ardent fans, Ross and Horne were far more acclaimed as performers.

    2. IJCSLY is a great performance but I think my absolute favorite from This Is It has to be I’ll Be There. I’ll never forget that during the acapella segment of that song, I could hear the audible gasps from the crowd around me; if ever goose bumps could have a collective sound, that would have been it.

  5. I appreciate it that commenters with technical sound/vocal knowledge join the conversation. These are aspects of Michaels music that I am vey much interested in and love to hear from producers and technicians. As a layman It seems to me that even a professionally trained ear is not enough to determine whether a concert or a song is live or prerecorded since any scenario can be prerecorded, including the noise of a live concert.?
    Of all the reasons we could think of why Michael lipsynched , lazyness is the most unlikely .Anyone who has seen his live concerts and the whole production preparation and organisation behind it would not dare say that. And he did it for more than 30 years .
    I do believe that his perfectionism and the fact that the studiolevel could never be achieved in a live setting, may be reasons . But also that he may have overstressed his voice and that lupus may have affected/reduced his lungcontent.

    I must say that I prefer his earlier more spontaneous and more live concerts like Victory and Bad and would have loved to see a totally stripped down concert like the One night only .
    I have tremendous respect for artist/performers who dance and sing a whole 2 hour concert and keep a steady vocal quality , especially if they are middle aged ( Prince, the Jacksons, Tina Turner,Madonna ) I challenge everyone to try do that for 10 minutes . Michael was not a powerhouse and I dont care about his vocal range. But his mastership was that he had a very attractive voice, had total control over it and knew how to use his voice to express himself and carry a song.

    1. I found this quote on Wikipedia, which I thought was interesting:

      Artists often lip-synch during strenuous dance numbers in both live and recorded performances, due to lung capacity being needed for physical activity (both at once would require incredibly trained lungs). Michael Jackson is an example of this; he performed complex dance routines while lip-syncing and live singing. His performance on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever (1983) changed the scope of live stage show. Ian Inglis, author of Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time (2006) notes the fact that “Jackson lip-synced ‘Billie Jean’ is, in itself, not extraordinary, but the fact that it did not change the impact of the performance is extraordinary; whether the performance was live or lip-synced made no difference to the audience,” thus creating an era in which artists recreate the spectacle of music video imagery on stage.

    2. Yes Sina he certainly did know how to use his voice and carry a song.

      Being a fan since Michael’s death, I didn’t get to hear him live – oh how I still regret not going to the concert in Cape Town in the 90’s, or watching This Is It on the big screen. Nor did I follow the albums as they came out or Mj’s live interviews on t.v.

      But I still think, lip-sync or not, he is the GREATEST and to me it matters not a jot!! Not that I haven’t enjoyed this posting and all the responses – always interesting, but to see and hear Michael any-which-way it just an enormous pleasure and honour for me.

  6. I don’t think that it’s fully live, before i thought that only the last part was live, but maybe the “what about us” part was live. It seemed Michael was singing along the backtrack. I love when he sung live, even with his imperfections. I think he was a great live singer, especially because he was dancing the whole time. He sung live since he was a child and even there he wasn’t “perfect” but It was still great. I think when singing live, it’s obvious that will be some “imperfections”, in Michael’s case he was determined to be as perfect as possible, so obviously he felt frustrated when he couldn’t deliver the same quality live. I don’t think that Michael was “lazy”, i think his decision to rely on lipsynch more later in life has to do with his health. Taj Jackson recently said in a interview that during HIStory tour, Michael felt that he wasn’t giving his best to fans, something like that. He was 39 years old at the end of the tour, singing professionaly since he was nine. Michael didn’t have nothing to prove anymore regarding his ability to sing live, he was doing this since he was a child.

  7. You so rightly say Raven – ‘Michael had, by the time of the HIStory tour, become a master of all the tricks and illusions of the trade. He knew when he needed to “save” his voice and when it was absolutely essential that he “sing out”; he knew what parts could safely be lip synced without loss of quality or integrity and what numbers-or what part of a number-absolutely had to be live. And I will stress again, this was not by any means the work of a slacker, but rather, the work of a perfectionist craftsman who knew, instinctively, how to give the best theatrical experience possible to an audience.’

    For me this whole debate is another prime example of how Michael was so misunderstood. Bearing in mind as you say that Michael often drove people working with him to the limits of frustration, including David Foster on Earth Song, how anyone can think of him as lazy just blows my mind. 8 years to perfect a song is anything but lazy. The man was a genius and genius takes time!!

    1. Not to sound too meticulous, but MJ didn’t really work 8 years on Earth Song. He recorded it first during the Dangerous sessions in 90 but didn’t rework it in the following years. The version that appears on HIStory is basically the last one he did years before. He didn’t redo it during the HIStory sessions. He said he wanted to include lyrics to the chorus and that’s why he didn’t release it before, feeling that it was incomplete. Ultimately, he felt the chorus didn’t need lyrics and he released the song like that. So it’s been waiting on a shelf for 4 years.

      1. He was working on “Earth Song” since 1988, when he said the “ahh-ohhh” part that eventually became the bridge between the verses first came to him. He continued to, as we say, chip away at it for the next several years, through the Dangerous sessions. When it didn’t pan out for Dangerous, he did shelve it for some time, but he was working on HIStory by ’94 and that was another year in the making. The reason why the 8 year figure is generally quoted is because it includes the period from 1988, when the song first came to him, to 1995. He would have been working on it at various times throughout that period, though obviously, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the demands of other projects. I would be willing to say he probably didn’t give it much thought from about ’91-’94, but that isn’t to say he wasn’t still revisiting it periodically to tweak things (this was a common practive for him right up until a song actually saw release on an album).

      2. Joel, Earth Song was actually first recorded in 1988. I heard the demo myself at one of Brad Sundberg’s seminars. I’m pretty sure he gave the exact date, at least the month and year. I believe I have it somewhere in my notes, but it was somewhere in October of ’88 (which I guess means it is relatively shortly after he started writing it).

        He is just accompanied by a piano there, but the basic song structure was already there.

    2. Exactly, Caro. And I felt like it was important to examine this often maligned aspect of Michael’s live performances from a different perspective, not as laziness or as an excuse due to health issues, but as part of the overall aesthetic of his performances, which I don’t think is something that has been adequately addressed.

      However, even the reaction to this one “Earth Song” performance has been somewhat of a revelation, not that we were under any illusions that we could convince every skeptic out there. But, honestly, why are some so adamant in the belief that Michael absolutely couldn’t have given even one frickin’ live performance of this song? This wasn’t part of the HIStory tour; he didn’t have to be concerned with “saving” his throat for the next night. He purposely made it the very last song of his set, so that he wouldn’t have to sing another number following it. The entire performance was a gift to the royal family. Do people really believe that this man, who had dedicated his entire life to performing onstage, was so far past his capabilities that he couldn’t perform this song live for even one night?

      The evidence, as far as my husband and I are concerned, speaks for itself. But, of course, people are free to draw their own conclusions.

      1. As I said before, just because the Sultan wanted him to perform Earth Song, doesn’t mean he wanted him to sing it live. I also remember hearing a Taiwanese publicist for the HIStory Tour saying MJ sang live and danced, but he really only did so in WBSS.

  8. off topic but important to me – Raven I have taken out a 2nd email address in an attempt to resubscribe to your blog and so far so good. Just wanted to change the address here and to tick new posts and follow-up boxes to see what happens. Holding thumbs!!

    1. I’m glad it’s working for you! I was wondering why it was holding your comments in que, but that explanation makes sense (it will do this if it doesn’t recognize your email or IP; it is set to automatically moderate comments from IP’s it doesn’t recognize). All of your comments should appear automatically upon posting now.

  9. Hi Joel

    I was basing my 8 years on Joe Vogel’s book Earth Song, where he states that Michael first conceived the song and started writing it in a hotel room in Vienna in 1988 during the BAD tour. It was included in the History Album released in 1995. That makes 8 years but obviously there were long gaps during the period from conception to published song when it did sit on a shelf.

    If you haven’t read Joe Vogel’s book I highly recommend it. I must say that I much prefer these books about Michael’s music than ones like the current rash of biographies that keep on with the same old same old lies etc.

    1. Hi Caro, thanks for the reply. I did read the Vogel’s book. Very interesting book. I forgot about Earth Song’s inception in 1988. If he had the hook then, it’s fair to say that he did indeed worked the song for more than four years, even if he didn’t actively spent 8 years on it, which is a given.

  10. I’m sorry but it is definitely lipsynced, until the indeed fantastic ad-libs at the end (which have never been disputed).

    I am not sure why you added the comparison between the two Brunei audio files. How would this prove that he did not lipsync? The only comparison that can prove that is one between the album vocals and the audio.

    I uploaded that exact comparison below. It has the audio you uploaded panned to the left and the studio acapella (that is, the center channel from the video version on the HIStory Vol II dvd – which explains the LOUD sound effects from the video in it, lol) panned to the right. I just EQ’ed the Brunei audio a bit so that the vocals stand out more. Here’s the link to the file:

    http://www.mediafire.com/listen/qqtp9f7oqu4vofd/escomp.mp3

    The vocals are without a doubt the same. The only difference you might hear is some additional reverb in the Brunei audio. The audio files also did not have the exact same tempo. This is likely because of a file or tape conversion. I corrected for this, but did not spend much time on it, so if the two tracks go ever-so-slightly out of sync that’s the reason. In any case, there is no doubt that it is playback right until the final ‘hoo’, which is noticeably different from the previous ‘hoo’s’. This is, not coincidentally, also exactly where the studio acapella ends.

    By the way, I’m 99.9% sure the YouTube and soundboard audio are the exact same source (by the way, as I think I saw you say in a comment, the soundboard audio is not rare, it has been shared on MJ and bootleg forums for 10+ years). However, the file you uploaded is clipping badly (basically, the waveform is distorted because the volume was increased too much). I am almost certain that this is why you think you hear more ‘raspiness’ in the audio. The YouTube audio actually has the same amount of clipping, but because the volume on it is lower and the bit rate a bit lower, this is less noticeable. In other words, the ‘raspiness’ is the result of waveform distortion, it is not because it is a different audio source or because MJ’s voice was raspier than usual.

    1. I also isolated the specific parts that you mentioned as sounding different from the studio vocal. To show that the raspiness you hear is indeed the result of waveform distortion and not because it’s Michael’s live voice, I also recreated the effect by simply applying a distortion filter to the studio acapella. In the file below you hear, for each part that you mentioned in your blog post:

      1. The Brunei audio from the soundboard (EQ’ed to make the vocals louder)
      2. The album acapella
      3. The Brunei audio once again
      4. The album acapella – now with distortion applied to it.
      5. Brunei panned to the left, the unedited album acapella panned to the right (this comes from the file I uploaded earlier where I did this for the entire track).

      http://www.mediafire.com/download/ipf5yg4a3p6n0wi/escomp2.mp3

      I think it shows clearly that it is all the exact same vocal take…

      1. I’ll give it a listen tomorrow when I can sit down in a quiet place and crank it up. I’ll give my thoughts then. However, I still think our Adobe Pro 8 test was pretty convincing (those very audible breath intakes are hard to explain away) but I will listen to hear if they are also audible on the acapella track.

      2. I ran through this a few times. Some of the phrasing is quite similar. However, I’m not convinced that the album acapella and Brunei soundboard are the same vocal. The distortion you’ve added is merely making it louder; it is not recreating the raspy quality of a naturally breathy vocal, which is what we’re getting on the soundboard recording. Michael’s breaths into the microphone are very audible, most clearly, especially right after he first sings the line, “All the things you said were yours and mine” and right before the line, “Did you ever stop to notice, this crying earth/this weeping shore.” In the video of the performance, these occur at about 0:43 and around 0:49 or 0:50 (admittedly, I am a little bit at a disadvantage at the moment because I am having to use a computer without sound, so I’m relying on memory insofar as the exact timing on the video). On the soundboard recording, of course, these will not sync exactly with the timing of the video anyway because, as mentioned previously, the syncing of the video is off from the actual audio. Quite a bit off, actually. We were able to put them in their proper sync by using Adobe Pro, and in so doing, it was quite obvious when the microphone picks up his breath intakes at those modulated segments of the song. You can hear them in the soundboard recording, but when properly synced to the video, you can clearly both see AND hear where those intakes are occurring. The subtle difference with the Brunei vocal is that Michael is more winded, which would make sense (he’s just performed a concert). He is taking in more frequent and shallow breaths before each of the song’s modulations.

        I can hear how the phrasing is indeed similar. Most notable is that “this is what I believe” has the exact, same emphasis, so I can’t argue that it was simply due to throat fatigue. However, the two vocals overall are not a note for note match. There is still an overall deeper and raspier tone to his voice that simply isn’t present on the studio acapella, as well as more than a couple of flat notes-not so flat as to sound noticeably bad, but flat nonetheless. It is very likely that the phrasing WOULD have been similar to the studio track if, after all, he was singing the song the same way as he did in the recording studio-or even attempting a close approximation, as I’m sure he would have been. After all, it was the same arrangement

        I would never be one to try to argue away Michael’s truly lip synced performances-and we all know there were many, especially post-Dangerous. But this one isn’t so easily explained away. My husband heard it long before I did, and he’s hardly an MJ fanatic; just an audiophile with an appreciation of Michael’s music and all music in general. He also pointed out that Michael’s singing isn’t in time with the band here-again, another detail I had never really noticed about this performance, but he did.

        At any rate, it remains an interesting debate, to say the very least.

        1. Thanks for your response Raven.

          The audible breaths you mention are also there on the album acapella. Here’s another file where I compare exactly the two sentences you mention. You hear the same breaths.

          http://www.mediafire.com/listen/w9uwi2yc3t25yf7/escomp3.mp3

          Btw, the same breaths are also audible in the YouTube audio. The higher frequencies are less loud (most likely due to it being a low quality upload) on the YouTube file, which might give the illusion that certain things that you hear in the soundboard audio are not there (like the breaths, which fall exactly in that part of the sound spectrum). But I have no doubt that the source audio for both is the same, the two files simply differ in audio quality.

          You also mention that you hear certain flat notes. Could you point out where? Also, where do you think the voice sounds deeper than the studio acapella? The latter I think could again easily be an illusion because the ripped studio acapella sounds very flat (no reverb) whereas in the soundboard audio the vocals are clipping and heavily reverberating.

          The fact that the vocals are not always in time with the band does not directly say anything about whether the vocals are live or not, of course. If anything, I think that would seem to support that it is playback. If it was live and Michael and the band would go out of sync, they would quickly adjust to each other. Michael’s timing was one of his strong suits. I cannot imagine that would not sing in time. Likewise, these musicians are all highly-skilled. It is more likely therefore that either the band did not play in time with the click track to which the playback vocals were synchronized, or (most likely imo) that something went wrong with the playback of the vocals, causing them to be out of sync with the click track and thus the band. There are several examples of other shows during the HIStory Tour where mistakes and problems with the pre-recorded vocals occur. But I doubt you can find an example of live vocals going out of sync with the band for a significant part of the song.

          I know this is not going to convince you and that’s okay, but there is just no way that any live performance (no matter whom the artist) could match up exactly like this to a studio acapella. Can you give me any known live performance by Michael where he sounds exactly like the recording, like he did here? I don’t think you can because it is impossible. Every note, every breath, the phrasing, it is all an exact match (though I know you dispute this).

          Even ignoring the comparisons, think about this. Michael would prepare for studio takes for hours, to warm up his voice specifically for the parts he would sing that day. As someone already pointed out, he also recorded the vocals for Earth Song on different days and even did the last part of Earth Song at the very end of the HIStory sessions because he knew they would destroy his voice. Yet you really think that he was able to basically replicate the entire studio vocal (which was recorded over different days with specific preparations) at the end of a long and exhausting concert during a period where he was plagued by vocal problems in a live setting? And after this shouting part, throw in some additional ad-libs where the focus is really on his vocals for good measure? It makes no sense when you think about it, imo. Also, his other live vocals during the show certainly do not give the impression he was in rare form vocally. In my opinion, the only particularly strong vocals that night were the ad-libs (“tell me what about it”) at the end of Earth Song, but as great as I think they are, they still do not sound nearly as strong as the studio vocals (which is of course totally understandable).

          Everybody can draw their own conclusions of course, so I hope you don’t take my posts the wrong way. It’s just that imo it could not be clearer that this is indeed lip-synced. And as a fan, I do think it is important that Michael’s history is documented accurately – hence the comparisons in an attempt to prove my point!

          1. Interestingly enough, it seems the more I listen to Michael’s studio acapella version of “Earth Song” the more it seems his vocals are actually flatter there than on the Brunei soundboard recording, particularly on the “Ahhs” and “Ooo’s” of the verses. The most striking similarity to me is in the line “now I don’t know where we are” which admittedly was one of the lines I had singled out earlier because I thought it sounded deeper and raspier than the studio version.

            However, I am also still not entirely convinced that trying to match up a known studio vocal and a debated live vocal note for note is the best way to solve the debate. I know you disagree that a live vocal from Michael could have sounded so close to the studio version, but just for comparison’s sake, listen to these two versions of Eddie Vedder singing “Alive and “Jeremy.” The first performance of each is from MTV Unplugged and are obviously live; the second are the studio versions. Here is a case book example of a singer performing live who is pretty much matching his studio vocal note for note, enunciation for enunciation, and tone for tone. There may be some subtle differences, but if there are, they are far too slight for the layperson to detect.

  11. Joel says, “Let me ask you this : what example would you give to showcase Michael as an amazing live vocal performer ?”

    I wouldn’t. I simply have never parsed his career to that extent. Or any other major artist, for that matter.

    As for Sarah and Ella (Vaughn and Fitzgerald, I presume), they were jazz singers, of a different era. While they may have sung in big stadiums outdoors at jazz festivals on occasion, they usually performed in intimate venues, so it’s hard to compare their live singing to Michael’s. I’ve never heard them described as powerhouse singers. ( I like Celine Dion, but as an artist, I don’t believe she belongs in the conversation.)

    Certainly there are female powerhouse singers, like Kelly Clarkson, Patti Labelle, and the ultimate, Aretha Franklin. But if you must make comparisons to Michael, how about Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Eddie Kendricks, or El Debarge? Or Usher, Miguel, or The Weeknd, whose tone sounds the most like Michael to my ear.

    1. Hey Simba, isn’t the fact that you can’t mention a couple of amazing live performances that MJ did a proof that there aren’t any ?

      There’s more than meets the eye (or the ear) to that question.
      Why isn’t there a lot of amazing live vocal performances from a vocal genius like Michael ?
      Any thoughts ?

      Why would you have to parse his career to find a couple of them ? It should be quick and obvious.
      If I asked you to mention a couple of amazing live vocal performances from Aretha, Ella, Barbra or Sarah (to name singers that ends with an a), you wouldn’t have to parse anything. You’d answer in a heartbeat.
      Luther VanDross, you’d be able to name a couple as well. Teddy Pendergrass, come on !
      Ella and Sarah could deliver in terms of power. The fact that they were jazz doesn’t make a difference, does it? When they sung pop songs, you could hear for yourself that they were amazing and above the rest. I’m not a fan of Celine’s but she has power and a steady voice too. I think it’s absolutely possible to compare these singers with Michael.
      They are always right on the notes and powerful. No matter what style they have. Michael wasn’t able to deliver that way. And I’m not talking about power. I’m talking about singing steadily in perfect tune.
      Have you heard Ella, not long before she passed away, in 89, at Sammy’s 60th Anniversary? She was old and ill, but she sang on the same stage as MJ. You can compare both vocals.

      The male singers you mentioned are not great live vocalists in my opinion (and I love most of them).
      Smokey always sings fine. Always good. But never amazing. He’s got a little “instrument”. He takes it to the max, but the max isn’t good enough to make him a great vocalist, even in the studio.
      Marvin Gaye, amazing musician, but maybe not an amazing live vocalist. Eddie Kendricks, same thing.
      El Debarge, poor live vocalist I would say. Certainly not amazing. But he’s not amazing in the studio either. Usher, not a great voice to begin with, but he does a great job with it, always sings fine live. But that’s not a great vocalist. Miguel, I don’t know who that is. And The Weeknd, never heard him live, but the records are a bit too close to MJ to spike my interest…

      I would still say that MJ is far more talented vocally than all of these male singers, but only in the studio. The versatility, the creativity of his vocal performances.
      Marvin gaye, Smokey, Usher, you never get that variety of performances out of them.
      When it comes to deliver on stage, however, a Smokey Robinson would give you something close to the record, whereas Michael couldn’t.

      Is there a great singer that can deliver amazingly in the studio but can’t live ?
      I can think about a lot of singers that are bad live, but they are not amazing in the studio. Like Justin Timberlake, he can’t carry a tune on stage.
      I can also think about singers that are fine in the studio and even better live, like Bruno Mars.

      Have you ever felt that kind of moderate embarrassment when Michael had to sing live and it wasn’t that good ? Like when he sung half a verse at the Jackson Family Awards in 1994. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.

      I guess that’s another one of the contradictions of Michael Jackson…

      1. “Hey Simba, isn’t the fact that you can’t mention a couple of amazing live performances that MJ did a proof that there aren’t any ?”

        No. That’s illogical. I’ve never heard an amazing live performance from Ella Fitzgerald either. One can’t conclude that therefore, there weren’t any. There is more to the world than my personal experience, or yours.

        It’s your opinion that Michael Jackson was not a great live singer. Fine. But as a discussion point, it just doesn’t interest me much. It’s enough for me to appreciate what he accomplished as a total performer and recording artist.

        No performer is all things to all fans. I remember Miles Davis saying that, as a black musician, “It’s just if a Negro is involved that there’s something wrong with him. My troubles started when I learned to play the trumpet and hadn’t learned to dance.” Ella wasn’t much of a dancer, either.

        1. Come on, Simba, your argument is flawed !
          We’re not talking about other artists that we may know or not know about.
          We’re talking about MJ and I’m assuming that you know his career well enough to comment on it.
          Personally, I surely know enough of Michael’s career to talk about it.
          I’ve seen and heard everything that is available for us to see and hear. I mean everything. All the rare appearances, the live shows, everything.
          When I raised the friendly challenge to name a great live vocal performance by MJ, it was a question that a fan with knowledge of MJ’s career could address.
          I’m not asking you about Ella’s career, although a quick look on Youtube would provide you with a lot of amazing live vocals by any standards.
          I’m asking about the artist we know well and love.
          And I don’t think you could defend the argument that there may be amazing live vocal performances somewhere that nobody has ever seen. Sure, there may be. Anything’s possible. Maybe Ella was an amazing dancer and nobody knew it. Anything’s possible.

          Also, coming to this thread and discussing this subject means you’re open to the discussion. If you’re now saying that this subject is of no interest to you, well…
          On the contrary, I think this is a very interesting subject and one that is closely linked to the question that’s been bugging fans for so many years, “why is MJ lip-synching so often?”.

          Moreover, I find it very interesting to discuss the limitations of an artist as much as his amazing capabilities. They obviously go together.

          Now you say that appreciating the talent of MJ is enough for you and you don’t need to look at his limitations. Allow me to disagree. It is Michael’s complete personality that I find fascinating, not only the shinier parts.

          Knowing that Miles was a drug addict is an important fact to understand the artist. Even though it’s not pretty.

          1. Joel says, “Come on, Simba, your argument is flawed !
            We’re not talking about other artists that we may know or not know about.”

            I’m confused by this. I wasn’t the one who brought up Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Celine Dion, et al. You did.

            “Moreover, I find it very interesting to discuss the limitations of an artist as much as his amazing capabilities.”

            I don’t.

            “Knowing that Miles was a drug addict is an important fact to understand the artist. Even though it’s not pretty.”

            It’s important to you. There are millions of drug addicts in the world. Only one was Miles Davis. I don’t follow or celebrate great artists because of their limitations.

          2. Simba, you were saying that you had not seen all of the live performances that MJ ever did, so you could not be sure there weren’t some that were amazing.
            I merely responded that with amazing live vocal performers, you wouldn’t need to have seen their complete body of work to notice an amazing live vocal performance. That’s why I brought up those singers.
            I don’t understand how this can be confusing. It seems pretty clear to me.
            But the confusion enables you to skip the question I asked, so I guess that’s good enough for you.

            As for not finding it interesting to discuss an artist’s limitations (and his dark side, I assume), well, that’s a view that one can have.
            Not knowing of Michael’s addictions (like Miles’s), for example, limits quite a lot your comprehension of his work. (Yes it does.)
            This is not even an argument that you can have.
            I don’t mean to be condescendant, but this is not really up for debate that to comprehend an artist, you have to know about what they are, as a whole.

            Now try explaining why MJ lip-synched without getting into his vocal limitations…
            You’re not interested ? Oh, then why are you here discussing it…

          3. Joel, really, what are you after? You stated your opinion, and I stated mine. We disagree. Why is it that you can’t accept that and keep it moving? Neither one of us is going to change.

            As far as I know, this is the first time you have participated in this forum. I’ve been here for years. Some topics really engage me, others not so much, but I often post a comment or two on those as well. I feel no need to justify my level of participation to you. It seems you prefer to argue rather than discuss, and nothing but total capitulation will suffice. That is, you put forth your thesis, which is really your opinion, and then demand that other people prove it. If you had spent more time here, you would know that you are barking up the wrong tree. You’re not being condescending. You’re being naive, because you think you’re being condescending. Your personal beliefs do not carry the weight of law. Nobody’s backing down.

            You write, “this is not really up for debate that to comprehend an artist, you have to know about what they are, as a whole.” But that’s simply not possible. Fans don’t have access to every aspect of an artist’s life. Part of Michael Jackson’s intrigue is the indisputable fact that there are enormous chunks of his life that are unknown and unknowable, even to members of his family. Except for the environment, Michael was careful to keep his political opinions to himself. There are a number of stars, including Michael, who battle serious medical conditions without public discussion. Vitiligo could not be hidden, but pleurisy and lupus were. As an audience member, all that a performer owes you is a performance. You do not, and can not, know who they are “as a whole”.

            At the same time, you seem very judgmental about drug issues, which mean little to many of us. Many of our greatest performers are sloppy drunks, including several late night television hosts, who nevertheless have sterling reputations when it comes to being prepared and showing up for work.

            I’m always suspicious when people claim to be huge fans, and then put tremendous energy into finding ways to put him down, because they don’t like it that other fans “think he was an angel”. Michael left his blood and sweat on the stage. That’s more than enough for me.

          4. “Joel, really, what are you after? You stated your opinion, and I stated mine. We disagree. Why is it that you can’t accept that and keep it moving? Neither one of us is going to change.”
            Isn’t the principle of a discussion or a debate to discuss things thoroughly enough to eventually come to a conclusion that is supposed to be closer to some kind of truth ?
            Stating what you believe in, regardless of arguments that others may express, is not a discussion.
            I was not entering this discussion knowing that I wouldn’t change my mind. I was confronting my point of view to others’. What would come out of it was to be seen.

            “It seems you prefer to argue rather than discuss, and nothing but total capitulation will suffice. That is, you put forth your thesis, which is really your opinion, and then demand that other people prove it.”
            If I came across as a bully, I apologize. I didn’t mean to. I had a thesis, as you say, and I backed it up with facts. I asked people to contradict me with facts if they didn’t agree, not feelings. I still think it’s what a discussion, or a debate is about.

            “You write, “this is not really up for debate that to comprehend an artist, you have to know about what they are, as a whole.” But that’s simply not possible. Fans don’t have access to every aspect of an artist’s life. (…) As an audience member, all that a performer owes you is a performance. You do not, and can not, know who they are “as a whole”.”
            This is neither here nor there. The fact that it’s hard to know every aspect about an artist’s life had nothing to do with the fact that people (fans, scholars, observers, writers, etc) will try to do it. It is of no importance that it’s hard to do it. People try anyway, because it’s important.
            You’re saying that because it’s hard, we should simply give it up.

            “At the same time, you seem very judgmental about drug issues, which mean little to many of us.”
            I don’t know where that comes from. You have no idea what I think about drugs and drug addicts. I could be one myself for all you know. As a matter of fact, I have no problem with people’s dark sides. MJ’s addictions are important to understand his life, personality, works. Period. I’m certainly not appreciating him less for that. So no, I’m definitely not judgmental about drug issues.

            “Many of our greatest performers are sloppy drunks, including several late night television hosts, who nevertheless have sterling reputations when it comes to being prepared and showing up for work.”
            How do you know that ? Are you interested in their whole life ? Be careful, one could accuse you of trying to know about every aspect of their life.

            “I’m always suspicious when people claim to be huge fans, and then put tremendous energy into finding ways to put him down, because they don’t like it that other fans “think he was an angel”. Michael left his blood and sweat on the stage. That’s more than enough for me.”
            That’s unfair and irrational. Raising the possibility that Michael may not be an amazing live vocal performer is not putting him down. This is so absurd. You sound like the PR department of a totalitarian state.

      2. you make some really good points, i would have to lean on to the side that he is infact more known for his dance than his voice around the world , so that can explain why dance came firsst not voice for him.but i have always wondered why he couldnt/wouldnt sing any of his song purely live toward the end of hi scarrer, i wouldnt say he was talentless, his performance of MITM grammy’s is one of the greatest vocals in grammy, he could deliver something that was better than studio, while dancing to the finest.

        1. Not everyone shares your opinion:

          “The only male singer who I’ve seen besides myself and who’s better than me– that is Michael Jackson.” -Frank Sinatra

          1. Not that it really matters, but Frank Sinatra also said “Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business”.

          2. That’s true for the first time he said it. But he said it several times after that first time. He also said George Jones was the best singer.
            But anyway, if Sinatra never saw Michael live or wasn’t specifically talking about his live vocals, his opinion on the matter is not especially relevant, don’t you think ?

        2. You know that “Man in the mirror” Grammy 1988 was lip-synched, except for the last part of the song, with the ad-libs, which is amazingly powerful.

      3. I agree most of your opinion – MJ lip-synced during a lot of performances is because he just couldn’t sing it live perfectly. But another thing should be mentioned here. How old are these singer you compared with MJ now, Bruno Mars is 31yo. The Weeknd( good vocal live) is 27yo. MJ was an awesome live singer when he was still young. But when History tour began, he was already 37yo. For a male singer, age could affect a lot about your vocal range. And most MJ’s songs are well known difficult to sing even if you compared them to Bruno’s or The Weeknd’s. He must save his voice by lip-synced the intro and do ad-libs live. Otherwise, if he sung intro live and do ad-libs lip-synced, the ad-libs part was gonna be completely a sham.

  12. Raven, here’s Macklemore ‘ s video Downtown, featuring Eric Nally, who one commenter described as “looking like Freddy Mercury and sounding like Michael Jackson”. What do you think?

    http://macklemore.com/

    And here’s Michael, barely out of his teens, singing way low for him, at the end if You Can’t Win, from The Wiz:

  13. I have been to the Brad S. seminars and learned a few things from the HIStory recordings at the Hit Factory–namely, that MJ did ‘Smile” in one take with the orchestra, and Brad showed a film of him singing ‘Childhood” live–it was incredible. This was an authentic video of him recording the song and you can hear MJ repeatedly clearing his voice in between verses. His voice was amazing! One poster seemed to imply that even in the studio he had to have things polished over and over–but as I saw in that ‘Childhood” clip–nope. I recall that Swedien said they recorded Billie Jean so many times, but in the end used the second take–or a very early take in that process. As far as videos of MJ singing live–what about the Bad tour in Japan–there are some videos that seem completely live, such as the “Shake Your Body” ones.

  14. P.S. Brad S. also played a recording of MJ working out Give In to Me with Bill Bottrell–this was an audio tape of them working out the song–he sounded great. I don’t get the conclusion he wasn’t a good live singer–at all.

    1. Lutd, I think you are referring to Joel’s posts above. Unless I missed something, I don’t think he implied that Michael needed to have things polished over and over in the studio.

      You give examples of him nailing takes in one go, like the Childhood recording (I saw the video as well, amazing footage). However, these examples only go to show that he was indeed a great studio singer, as Joel said, not that he was a great live singer. There are more differences between singing in a studio and live on stage than just the opportunity to record as many takes as you want – although of course that is a very important difference. But there is also less pressure, no extensive dancing to be done and thus the opportunity to focus completely on delivering the vocal, time to warm up the voice as long as one wants before every single take, the ability to go all out rather than conserve the voice, better equipment (the headset mic he started using from the Dangerous Tour onwards certainly didn’t help things), etc.

      Personally I think Michael was an incredible studio vocalist and a decent to at times very good live singer. The Triumph Tour probably is the tour with his best singing, the Bad Tour at times also contains very good performances, especially given the amount of dancing he did at the same time. From the end of the Bad Tour onwards I think his live vocals went downhill pretty rapidly, whatever the exact reasons for this may be. The very limited live vocals during the HIStory Tour are at times painful to listen to and never really good imo… Even at his peak I don’t think he ever came close to the quality of his studio vocals though.

    2. Well, I guess there’s a difference between rehearsing a song for days, warming up your voice before the recording, then recording several takes, keeping the best one and mixing it to enhance the best qualities.
      I’ve heard the Childhood from the Brad seminars. It is great. Not perfect as the one on the CD, though, but great nevertheless.

      I guess it must be harder to go on a stage and ace that in front of an audience.
      We know two things for sure :
      1- Michael did record all those amazing vocals in the studio
      2- Michael never did an amazing live vocal performance in front of an audience

      Can somebody explain why the live vocal performances we have of him are not great ?

      1. Do you have the same opinion about his live performances with Jackson 5 when Michael was a child? Do you think they weren’t great either?

        1. Roger, interesting question about the J5 days.
          If “Who’s Loving You” at the Ed Sullivan show had been live, I would have said it was amazing, but it wasn’t live.

          I think MJ as a child singer was the same as the adult singer. The performances he did live with the J5 are not vocally amazing. The 1973 Japanese concert that we all know showcases a changing MJ who can’t sing the songs the way they were recorded. He’s pushing his voice to the max, which gives it that grit (for lack of a better word).
          Same thing with the more recently released L.A. Forum show.
          The well-known 1975 Mexico concert is another example of Michael’s vocal limitations in concert. It has to do, in part, with the fact that his voice has gone through puberty and he no longer could sing the early Motown hits, and there’s the constant dancing. But it’s not only that.

          I feel it’s a fine live singer who gives it all, but he hasn’t got the voice to perform effortlessly, like a Bruno Mars, for example. It becomes strained and pushy quite fast. To be perfectly honest, I don’t particularly enjoy the J5 live performances because of those out-of-breath, pushy, craggy vocals.
          I would add that since Michael always sung live in those days, his live vocal performances were all at the same level. You knew what to expect. He had endurance, stability and experience. It wasn’t amazing, but people were used to it.
          I’d have to dig up some old press reviews to check, but I doubt critics were calling Michael a great live vocalist in the 70’s. Great performer, no doubt, but not great vocalist.

          That’s what changed after OTW/Thriller. People were no longer seeing MJ sing live every week on TV. They forgot about the true nature of his live voice. And at the same time, Michael got neater and neater in the studio, working on smoother vocals.
          The spontaneous nature of the vocals on OTW and Thriller disappeared from the following albums. That surely drove a wedge between the perception people had of Michael’s singing voice and his actual live singing voice.
          Thus making it harder for him to accept to perform live on TV, where the gap between live and studio would become harsher.

          1. Well, i’ve always read people praising MJ live vocals as a child and criticizing his adult live vocals. I think many people have the opinion that he was a great singer live especially because he was a dancer too. Your opinion is really singular. I’ve never heard anyone say this before. I think his lung problems had a role on the reason that he lipsynched more and more when he was older. Either way, i love his voice.

          2. Roger, you may have guessed that I am a MJ fan, and have been for a long time. I love his voice too and I praise his vocal performances… in the studio.
            I know that my opinion on this matter is singular and that’s really why I came here, after reading this article with a catchy title. I wanted to add my two cents because I think this is an opinion thats worth debating.

            As you say, people have always praised Michael’s voice as a child, because it was amazing. But were they specifically talking about his live voice ?
            You heard the J5 live performances. Are they amazing to you ?
            I mean, a child dancing and singing like that is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but is it an amazing live performance ? I think not.

            I would be interested in hearing someone saying that his live vocal performances are amazing and then mentioning a few.

          3. The problem is that the word “amazing” in and of itself is far too subjective to be of any value in a discussion like this. How exactly are you defining “amazing?” A live performance that was “amazing” because he managed to shatter glass, or one that someone perceives as “amazing” because of how it made them feel, or because they like what they heard? If someone was truly moved by his “Gone Too Soon” performance then that may well be “amazing” for them. I happen to find his ad libbed part on “Earth Song” “amazing” because it gives me chills every time I hear it, and no matter how many times I hear it, even down to his spontaneous “Ow!” which packs an emotional wallop. It seems to be welling from something deep within his soul, and is far more stirring than any amount of technical prowess could ever be. However, I can call it an amazing live performance based on how I perceive it; no doubt, you will come back and say it was only “good.” I happen to think that most every performance he ever gave of “I’ll Be There” (which was almost always live) was amazing; I am sure you do not agree.

            This isn’t to belabor the point because I get what you’re saying. But again, you’re asking a very subjective question. Even if we strip away the magic and charisma of “the whole package” and are simply talking about vocal prowess alone- everyone is going to have their own, subjective opinions on what they think a “great” vocal performance is. Some have already pointed out that they think “Gone Too Soon” is an amazing live vocal. You came back and said, no, it’s only “good.” I am sorry, but I’m simply foreseeing a debate that’s bound to go in circles. The criteria we are basing it on is, in itself, too subjective to be of any value. IDK. Maybe if we break it down to something more specific-a live MJ performance that is clearly demonstrating a 4-octave range, for example, we might get somewhere. But then again, for those of us who aren’t that technical, it would be a hard call.

          4. Of course “amazing” can mean a lot of things. I hope you understand that I’m not talking about doing amazing technical things, or having lots of octaves, or belting it out of the stadium.
            I’m just talking about singing a song as well as on the album.
            I think others here have brought interesting views about the process of recording and how hard it is to recreate that on a stage, thus giving possible explanations to the question.
            I just watched again Gone Too Soon (Clinton) and I think my (relative) disappointment comes from the fact that I was hoping MJ would do it effortlessly whereas he’s not that comfortable.

          5. “I just watched again Gone Too Soon (Clinton) and I think my (relative) disappointment comes from the fact that I was hoping MJ would do it effortlessly whereas he’s not that comfortable.”
            Well, singing live at a Presidential Inaugural Gala might have been just slightly “uncomfortable” for Michael as he tried to honor his fallen friend, but of course you, Joel, would have had no problem with it at all, you are just that “amazing”. I’m done.

          6. That has got to be the poorest argument of all. Because I’m not able to do as well or better than someone I’m not allowed to express an opinion or even a mild criticism…

          7. I’m not questioning that you’re a fan. I already understood that you think he wasn’t a good live singer and that he lipsynched because he didn’t want the public to find out. This argument doesn’t make any sense to me because he had done many tours, so the public and the critics had many opportunities to “find out” this “secret”.

            I’m not a singer or a music critic, I don’t have any professional knowlegde about music, I’m simply a fan. By the live performances that i watched, i think he was amazing, but i don’t have the expertise to affirm that he was amazing technically speaking. Maybe you need to discuss this with professionals or Michael’s musical directors, they could be more valuable with their technical opinions.

          8. I agree. I’ll just add that I never thought he was a mediocre live singer. I thought he wasn’t a great live singer. The nuance is crucial. Of course MJ was at least good. But maybe not great.

      2. I think part of what made his vocals in the studio so great was not only simply that he could warm up his voice before recording, but warm it up for exactly the song, he would sing in that session. I remember Cory Rooney talking about Michael’s vocals for Chicago. He said that he sang those lyrics in two seperate sessions, so that he could warm up his voice differently for the two diffrent kinds of singing in that song. And that’s simply not possible in a live concert. He could never be that perfect.
        I really like his live vocals during the Bad Tour. I like them precisely because they are different to the album version, darker and less polished. It hasn’t to be as perfect as on the Album, because that makes the live feeling more real, and you can even feel his dancing through those vocals.

    3. I was saying MJ was an amazing singer in the studio. And I was saying that this fact is not mirrored in his live performances, which are at best good.
      In the studio, amazing. On a live stage, never vocally amazing.

        1. A better version of Michael’s live performance at 1992 Clinton Inaugural.
          And to the naysayers, Michael was never less than amazing, vocally, visually, and inspirationally.

          1. “Many” found that Michael was an angel sent from the heavens above.

            I’m hoping to have a rational discussion on the quality of a vocal performance and not a discussion on how emotionally involved we are about Michael and how we feel him so strongly.
            I was lead to believe that this article had the ambition to discuss the matter of lip-synching from a matter-of-fact point of view.

            Now, to address your comment, many do think that the Clinton performance was indeed amazing. I’ve heard that before. I don’t share that opinion. It’s very nice, but not amazing. On the contrary, it shows how difficult it was for Michael to nail a perfect vocal on a song that is one of his “easiest” to sing (even Babyface face could sing it…).
            [Remember how he cried in frustration in the studio when he couldn’t sing “Keep the faith” ? That would have been more of a challenge than Gone too soon.]

            But for the sake of argument, let’s consider that it was indeed amazing. So now, we have this performance and, I assume, “You were there”, that are both “amazing”. Are there other performances that are amazing or is it just the two ?

  15. Hi, Joel , as said , it is your opinion that Michael’s live performances were never amazing. I found his vocals during the Bad Tour in Rome so impressive not only because I could feel the live concert very real but because Micheal did sing with a passion and dedication that only great artistis can express.The atmosphere he was able to create by means of his singing, dancing, coreography, exchanges with the public and astonishing cooperation with the back vocalists, the musicians and the dancers was so enchanting that my friends and I felt like being in a dream.I hope for you to feel the same sensations for your best artists’live performances, which I suppose have never included Michael Jackson.

    1. Come on Cleis, that’s not fair. I’ve been a fan of MJ’s since 1982’s. I followed him around the world. I love his artistry and his works.

      I never got to watch the full Rome concert because it hasn’t leaked yet, but I watched parts of it, and I love this show. I used to watch the bits from TV everyday when the tour started in Europe in 1988. Everyday. I was crazy about that.
      But, even if the Bad Tour was amazing and his vocals very good considering the dancing and the exhaustion, I still don’t think it qualifies as an amazing vocal performance.
      You don’t even say it is either, so we agree.
      You’re talking about the complete package, which is obviously amazing. Nobody’s denying that.

  16. Hi Joel,
    I understand that you refer to the technical aspects not the total performance and experience of a live show, which is ofcourse more than just perfect vocals.
    Can you explain or give criteria of what makes a good live vocal performance to your standards and how it is measured.
    What do you think of the backing vocals in his live shows?

    1. A very good or great live performance would be singing in perfect tune, with no drops in tone, steadily. Michael being the amazing performer that he is, he would add the emotion and gusto and that would make it a great performance.
      For example, had “Elizabeth I Love You” been live, it would have been amazing.
      Or “Who’s loving you” (Ed Sullivan). These two examples being previously recorded “live” tracks.
      That’s what I consider a great, amazing vocal performance.
      I wouldn’t say “I just can’t stop” and “I’ll be there” in recent years on stage, were amazing. They were good.
      Again, I would expect an artist of this calibre to have a few amazing vocal performances in his career. The fact that he hasn’t makes me wonder. Hence the “thesis”.

      As for the backing vocals, to be honest, I was never impressed. I think Sheryl Crow butchered “I just”. Daryl wasn’t much better on I’ll be there. I love Siedah but I don’t think the live duet was great. I preferred Marva Hicks. As for the backing singers as a group, I can’t say that it made any strong impression on me.
      This is not a thesis, this is just a personal opinion based on taste.

      1. “Again, I would expect an artist of this calibre to have a few amazing vocal performances in his career. The fact that he hasn’t makes me wonder. Hence the “thesis”.”

        Makes you wonder what?

  17. Come on guys – ‘in love, L.O.V.E. love’ As Raven said, all opinions are subjective, and there is no right or wrong, so why are some of you getting so hot under the collar and sometimes rude.

    I have wanted to reply but didn’t want to add fuel to the flames, but then I thought, no, I am entitled to my opinion also. I just hope that some of you don’t shot me down for what I am entitled to express on this blog or anywhere else!!

    For me Michael is AMAZING, and why? Because he cared. He cared about his art and he cared about his fans BIG time. He always wanted to do the best possible job whether in the studio or live on stage, and he used all means at his disposal to do so. How can that not be amazing?

    When I first read that he had lip-synched to Mowtown 25 I was disappointed, but then I watched it again, and realised that it was still an amazing performance, in fact more so. How clever is that to be able to lip-synch almost perfectly and still dance like that??? I just love the absolutely fantastic live Dangerous performance for MTM and realised that no way could he sing and dance like that at the same time, and in no way did his lip-synching detract from it, in fact it very much enhanced it!!

    Michael is my superhero, and I know him to be a superhumanitarian, but superhuman he aint!! Just someone who wanted his art to be a perfect as possible, and in my book he more than achieved that.

    1. That Motown 25 performance didn’t disappoint Richard Pryor, who was actually there. He said it was “the greatest performance I have ever seen.”.

      There are many performers who maintain an even tone, span octaves, and belt it out of stadiums. They’re called backup singers.

      Every great star has a touch of the divine, given to them by a benevolent, or mischievous God, that can’t be quantified or qualified.

  18. Live singing is tricky, because there are too many moving parts that are outside the singer’s control. Carly Simon was on The View this morning, doing promotion for her new memoir. She gave a performance of a new song that was an absolute disaster – besides the song being terrible, dull and depressing, she and her background singers were so off pitch at times, she actually made a face. I had to switch the channel in embarrassment for her. She would have been far better served as an artist by lip-synching, or singing along with a backing track.

    Even after forty years, the crew at SNL still does a mediocre job on the sound for the music acts. They totally botched Prince’s recent appearance, so much so, I wonder if it was deliberate.

    1. Live singing is tricky, but they do it anyway.
      Or at least, they try to do it.
      When they try to do it never, it seems only normal to wonder why.

      Why didn’t Michael sing HTW live at Clinton’s inauguration ?
      Was he too spent from his rendition of Gone Too Soon ?
      How could this question not be interesting ?

  19. Because we only know Michael as an extraordinary vocalist, the theory that he may not have been a great LIVE vocalist comes as a shock. Hence some of the defensive reactions . I remember a time when fans were banned from fansites for just suggesting that Michael lipsynced. So the fact that Raven put this up for discussion means we are more open to discuss every aspect of Michaels artistry.

    The questions are simple :to what extend did he lipsync, was Brunei live or not , based on the soundboard, and why in general did he lipsync.
    We can all agree that he raised the bar for his studio recordings to such perfection and was adamant that in his concerts his fans should hear his songs how they sound on his records , which could never be achieved on stage.
    What then could he do to achieve it in a live performance other than lipsyncing?
    Imo the most plausible reason why he lipsynct was to give the audience what it expected and live up to their expectations .It would also solve many problems in one. He could concentrate on the exhausting dancing , which cannot be‘faked’ ,and any vocal problems he might have whether it was due to vocal abilities/limitations or illness would not interfere with the concert going on.

    I am still not convinced that because there are no great recorded live performances means that he he did not have the vocal ability for live performances. He just put his priorities on a total experience rather than a vocal experience.
    His concerts were mostly in huge stadiums with often poor acoustic, which would be a waste of perfect vocals anyway.

    Thanks for all the interesting ‘thesis’, opinions and explanations. I love to hear and learn about Michaels music from every possible angle, especially from fans who have studied his music for ages and know every breath, hickup, pause , perfect or false note of every single performance or recording.

    1. Thanks for your response, Sina. I’ve been keeping up with all the discussions here but, unfortunately, as this is the end of semester crunch time for me, I haven’t had adequate time to respond to everyone as I would like. Therefore, rather than individual responses to everyone, I will try to compress all of my thoughts into this one comment, piggybacking somewhat off what you’ve said (but I will also use it to follow up on some of the other points that have been raised by Joel and others, as well).

      There are, of course, two polar extremes to this debate which are both equally absurd-those who refuse to believe that Michael lip synced at all-and get very defensive about it- and then those who insist that he NEVER sang live in the 90’s and 2000’s, or that every live performance was sub par. Again, whether or not they were “sub par” is a subjective matter. I think by now most fans are aware and accepting that Michael did lip sync many of his performances, especially during the HIStory tour, but rather than either condemning or defending him for the practice, it is important to look at why he did it and the aesthetics behind the particular type of performance he was trying to achieve. I do believe that in the later stages of his career, Michael had become more and more obsessed with the idea of perfection. He wasn’t approaching performance from the same school of thought as those who automatically equate raspy “off notes” and pitchiness with authenticity, or with the idea that authenticity should necessarily be the aim of every vocal performance.

      However, it is equally absurd to assume that Michael was simply lip syncing his way through his last two decades, or that he had somehow lost his ability to perform live. We have ample evidence to the contrary. Again, as to whether these examples could be considered “great” live vocals is a matter of subjective debate. My point is that Michael was singing live much moreso during this period than he is often given credit for, but that isn’t to say he was always giving 100% live vocals. Sometimes he was giving what I call “hybrid” performances, whereby a playback track was being blended with his own, live vocals. There are some purists who would even look at this as a kind of deception; however, it is a common practice that many artists engage in, and proves the theory that Michael was looking at the idea of performance itself as an art form, rather than as simply getting up on a stage and delivering (as per the “rockism” aesthetic). In other words, he was looking at the overall package and how that illusion could best be accomplished. For this, I don’t fault him. It shows he was a master showman and craftsman who knew how to get the results he wanted.

      However, some here are trying to make the argument that he simply wasn’t capable of delivering a great live vocal. Well, again, that is subjective but it is absurd to suggest (as some have) that he never sang live during this period, or was incapable of delivering a live vocal. For example, since it had ignited so much discussion here, I went back and listened to his live performance of “Gone Too Soon” at the Clinton inauguration. This is a very good, solid vocal-not weak at all, as was being claimed. True, he was singing it in a lower register than on the record, and wasn’t aiming for the high notes. But this is quite common for most singers when they do a live vocal. I have heard very few live performances in which the performer can hit all of the same high notes as on the record. The fact is, the performance is delivered on pitch; he isn’t singing flat or out of key. He isn’t winded or raspy. His voice isn’t weak. In other words, there are none of the obvious flaws here that have caused many singers to be called out for their live performances. He delivers a performance that is appropriate for the solemnity and dignity of the occasion. I wouldn’t call it a great vocal (especially as compared to what he was capable of in the studio) but it isn’t as if he stood up there and gave some dog of a performance, either. I’m not sure that we are judging him by a fair standard if we are expecting a live vocal that sounds “exactly” like the record-again, as we have pointed out, very few singers can accomplish this). I think it is to Michael’s credit on this performance that he chose a lower key and did not attempt the high notes. If one pays attention, this is good advice that the judges often give contestants on shows like American Idol, X Factor and The Voice. If there is any doubt whatsoever, it’s better to alter the key and arrangement than attempting risks that might not pay off-after all, a live performance is one shot and one shot only.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1uhuQwnAEs

      Interestingly, I’ve been looking and listening around at other live, or semi live, performances from this era. I’m sure most of you guys are familiar with this, but here is a performance of “You Are Not Alone” from Korea that has some pretty amazing live vocal work during the improvisation at the end (which seemed to be a common practice for Michael, even during lip synced performances like YANA-to at least go out with a live bang at the end!).

      Lastly, I think we can all agree that to pull off something like “Earth Song”-whether in the studio OR live-required some amazing chops. Just listen to how badly the song can be butchered by someone who CAN’T sing a lick (lol) and I think we can all appreciate what an outstanding vocal talent Michael was:

      1. Hi Raven,
        Allow me to respond to some specific points you made, because I think they are directly referring to things I said.

        “However, some here are trying to make the argument that he simply wasn’t capable of delivering a great live vocal. Well, again, that is subjective”
        It is subjective, true. But we wouldn’t be able to communicate if we didn’t have some common references for great, good and else. And from what I read from people here, including you, I think we more or less have the same opinion on those vocals. It’s just that because some love Michael so much, “good” becomes “very good”, and “not really good” becomes “not bad at all”. It would be easier to call a spade a spade if we were talking about any other singer.

        “I went back and listened to his live performance of “Gone Too Soon” at the Clinton inauguration. This is a very good, solid vocal-not weak at all, as was being claimed. True, he was singing it in a lower register than on the record, and wasn’t aiming for the high notes. But this is quite common for most singers when they do a live vocal.”
        It may be common for most singers not to be able to hit the high notes, or sing in a lower register than the one on the record. But that only means most singers are not great singers. A great singer is great because he can deliver. We can all think about singers who do deliver, if not always, most of the times. Michael is not supposed to be a common singer. That’s my whole point. He’s supposed to be an amazing vocalist. And let me remind you that this Gone Too Soon performance was just one song. What in the world prevented him from killing it like he did in the studio ? I know singers sing in lower registers to protect their voice in concert and because it’s harder to do when you have to sing for 2 hours. But here, it’s like a studio session. Just one song. And it’s not such a difficult song, is it ?

        “I have heard very few live performances in which the performer can hit all of the same high notes as on the record.”
        First of all, I don’t think I agree with that assertion. Secondly, I don’t think MJ needed to do an exact replica of the studio version to make a great performance. I don’t especially care for a singer who always does the same exact version of a song as on the record. I’m just disappointed when a singer goes for the record version but cannot really deliver.

        “He delivers a performance that is appropriate for the solemnity and dignity of the occasion. I wouldn’t call it a great vocal (especially as compared to what he was capable of in the studio) but it isn’t as if he stood up there and gave some dog of a performance, either.”
        So we agree on the “not great” part, which is all I’m saying.

        “This is good advice that the judges often give contestants on shows like American Idol, X Factor and The Voice. If there is any doubt whatsoever, it’s better to alter the key and arrangement than attempting risks that might not pay off-after all, a live performance is one shot and one shot only.”
        And there lays the problem. Michael Jackson cannot secure a vocal performance of a song within his range, that he had time to prepare? He’s not a karaoke contestant. He’s the King of Pop !

        Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer.

    2. Hi Sina, you made a good summary of the matter.
      Michael was undoutedly trying to give the audience a performance as close to the record as possible.
      It wasn’t possible most of the times because of the dancing and because of the very sophisticated vocals that he recorded. And maybe sometimes, he had other reasons, like being sick, not in the mood, etc.
      That being said, does this explanation cover all of the instances when Michael lip-synched ?
      I’ll focus on the HIStory era TV performances alone, because TV is really where (I think) it doesn’t lie.

      Why would Michael lip-synch to a song that is not a vocal prowess, like Heal The world.
      At Clinton’s inauguration gala, he wasn’t ill, he had just performed GTS, he wasn’t dancing either. The song cannot be described as a vocal challenge, can it?
      “Elizabeth i love you”, no dancing and not previously released, so no possible comparison with studio vocals. Why did he lip-synch ?
      “You are not alone” BET awards 1995, that’s a stand-alone performance, no dancing, pre-taped. « Not alone » is hardly an « Earth Song » type of vocal performance. Why is it lip-synched ?
      « You are not alone » Soul Train 25th. There was a break after the Dangerous performance, during which he arguably could have gotten ready.
      “Will you be there” Mtv 10th. Michael lip-synched even though it was pre-taped and there was no dancing (and it wasn’t taped right after the BorW performance, so he wasn’t too exhausted by that).
      I obviously left out the « Earth Song » performances because it is a hard song.

      No one could claim that Michael always lip-synched on TV because he was lazy, because he put a lot of work in some of those performances. So it’s not laziness.
      Also, it wouldn’t be reasonable to pretend that Michael didn’t perform live on TV because he was never satisfied with the acoustics of the studio or other things. He could have demanded any type of environment and they would have given it to him.

      Then, you have to listen to the timid vocal performance he gave for « We are the world » at the VH1-Honors in 1995.
      And the Clinton Investiture concert, where they performed « We are the world ». Michael is eclipsed by most of the performers. And what speaks volumes to me is that he didn’t even sing the bridge, leaving it blank, coyly pretending that he didn’t know he was supposed to sing it.

      Finally, I would mention a song that Michael did sing live many times : « Dirty Diana » . It is an interesting example of what Michael could do with a song (that is surely a difficult one to sing) when he truly tried to give it his best on a live stage. The result is quite far from the studio version, obviously, but the energy and feelings he puts into it make up for the difference in quality.
      That example fuels my theory that Michael had to put much more efforts in his live singing in order to achieve an OK result. It was not easy for him to give a clean performance of an easy song like « We are the world », « Not alone » or « heal the world ». Otherwise, he would have done it.

      Sina, you said it was difficult to discuss basic obvious subjects on MJ forums not long ago. How true. And the reactions of some persons here go to show that Michael is still a deity to many and trying to express something that may appear like a critic on his legacy or talent is not well received.

  20. Ben in 1981 was great IMO. MITM adlibs in Grammy 88 had almost his studio tone and he did very well there, I’d say it’s the best he has ever sounded singing those adlibs compared to other MITM performances. Also, MITM adlibs in Bucharest after the band introduction sounded really good and powerful (also he sang in higher key as the key changed after the band introduction). I’d say he was an okay live singer until 1992, it went down afterwards. He had some good moments in 1992 Dangerous rehearsals (when he actually felt like singing out).
    As for amazing vocal performance, as others mentioned, amazing is subjective. Of course he never matched his studio record. But then again I’ve no idea why he chose to lipsync a song like Heal The World.

  21. Joel says, “It may be common for most singers not to be able to hit the high notes, or sing in a lower register than the one on the record. But that only means most singers are not great singers.”

    No, singers do not commonly sing in a different “register”. Every voice has an optimal range, a “tessitura”. It is not necessarily easier for those with a high vocal range, such as a soprano, or a tenor like Michael, to sing in a lower key. In fact, it’s usually quite difficult, and the resulting vocal lacks power and tone. A singer under vocal strain may have trouble singing certain high notes, but it doesn’t change their register. They may “mark”, sing in half voice, but changing keys requires a lot of rehearsal.

    One thing that can greatly affect vocal performance is nervousness. Carly Simon may have been especially shaky on The View because she suffers from stage fright, so much so that she rarely sings live on tour. Barbra Streisand also experiences crippling stage fright, and has curtailed her career because of it.

    Michael is known for being a very assured performer, most at home on stage, but that doesn’t mean he was never nervous. Singing at the Presidential Inauguration, in front of the new President, surrounded by Congress, the Supreme Court, and the media, ever ready to pounce on any perceived weakness, must have been terrifying.

    Gone Too Soon is NOT an easy song to sing. (Very little of Michael’s oeuvre is, the main reason he isn’t covered much by other artists.) He was visibly nervous at the Inauguration – he made a slight error on the lyric. But he nailed the money note at 4:27. (He also sings it in the same key as the recording – the song modulates up a step.)

    Michael sang professionally throughout his adolescence and youth, which is very unusual for a male singer. Most voice teachers recommend that boys not sing at all while their voices change. As a great admirer if James Brown, he often took on Brown’s gritty, raspy tone when he wanted a more “street” sound, which is hard on the voice.

    Joel seems to want us to “admit” that Michael was not actually a great singer, nowhere as good as the countless singers he invokes. That he had some unnamed flaw. My only question is why? If we didn’t believe in his greatness, his singularity as an artist, we wouldn’t be here. And neither would he.

    1. Simba said:
      “One thing that can greatly affect vocal performance is nervousness. (…) Barbra Streisand also experiences crippling stage fright. (…) Michael is known for being a very assured performer, most at home on stage, but that doesn’t mean he was never nervous. Singing at the Presidential Inauguration, in front of the new President, surrounded by Congress, the Supreme Court, and the media (…) must have been terrifying.”

      So, I would like to make one thing clear : if you’re saying that Michael was probably nervous during the Clinton gala, that means you’re trying to explain why his performance was not greater, right ? So you agree that it was not amazing/great ?
      Secondly, stage fright may not be the best justification for a “simply good” performance by Michael Jackson. He’s been on stage all of his life, said himself he was more comfortable there than anywhere else, has performed before kings, queens, presidents and tens of thousands of people all his life. Sure, it’s always intimidating to perform in front of important people, but it’s Michael we’re talking about. The ultimate pro, the consummate performer. If nervousness was affecting his vocal performances to that extent, he probably couldn’t have made it in this business.
      As for Barbra Streisand, stage fright never prevented her from delivering amazing live vocal performances, in concert and on TV. Just look at her live TV appearances, like the early B&W TV Specials. Amazing vocals. The live concert clip at the end of “As star is born”, and numerous TV appearances. She may have been scared, a nervous wreck, but the vocals speak for themselves. So not a good example.
      But let’s assume that it was, indeed, nervousness that prevented Michael from delivering 100% vocally, was it also nervousness that prevented him from singing HTW live that night ? And the other songs on live TV that I mentioned earlier ? The congress and the newly elected president weren’t always there watching, were they ? Nervousness cannot justify the systematic lip-synching on TV. If only because some TV performances were taped and could have been redone if necessary. [Like the “Earth Song” performance for the WMA in Monaco. He redid it because he wasn’t satisfied with it (it was lip-synched, by the way).]

      “Gone Too Soon is NOT an easy song to sing.”

      Well, all things considered, I think it is not a hard song to sing. As I already said, Babyface did sing it, which has got to say something, because he really has not much of a voice.
      I can also sing it (in the shower) and the audience is always impressed.
      Gone Too Soon is not a hard song to sing. Am I the only one to think that way ?

    2. Simba said:
      “Joel seems to want us to “admit” that Michael was not actually a great singer, nowhere as good as the countless singers he invokes. That he had some unnamed flaw. My only question is why? If we didn’t believe in his greatness, his singularity as an artist, we wouldn’t be here. And neither would he.”

      When you resort to misquoting what your interlocutor has said in order to simplify his position to make it sound stupid, you’ve really hit the bottom…
      I obviously never said Michael was not a great singer. I said a great “live” singer.
      I never said that “countless” singers were “much better” than him. I said “many” singers are better “live” singers than him.
      I never spoke of an “unnamed flaw”, I just raised the question that he may not be a great live singer, which is what I think.
      What examples of great live performances by MJ have you brought up to contradict me ? This is not a discussion about the definition of “great” or “amazing”. We all know what we’re talking about. Some are just incapable of admitting that MJ wasn’t the best at everything he did. He was not a good actor either. Dare I say that or are you gonna tell me he was such a sweet guy that it doesn’t matter and that he was probably nervous in front of a camera ?
      It’s well enough for one man to have accomplished what he has. He’s a king all right even if he’s not a great live singer.
      You’re absolutely right on one thing, though: if I didn’t think he was a genius, I would definitely not be here ranting about this.

        1. Simba, I’m not familiar with the expression “concern troll”. Can you explain the “concern” part ?

          I don’t think I fall under the category “troll”. I have been asking repeatedly since the discussion started that someone name some live vocal performances by Michael that would show he is “an amazing live vocal performer”.
          Because I don’t think he is.
          Besides some bitter remarks, all I’ve got in return is people telling me that exhaustion, nervousness, old age and bad times were the explanation to lackluster live vocals (of which we have very very few examples because Michael just didn’t like sing live on TV).

          I still think it’s an interesting question and I resent you calling me a troll because I don’t let go of my position.

          Fortunately, some people did share some of my views and commented on them. Which show that this is a forum where people manage to express themselves, in spite of the bullies of the MJ police.

          Aren’t you concern with the fact that “Caro” wrote on this thread:
          “I have wanted to reply but didn’t want to add fuel to the flames, but then I thought, no, I am entitled to my opinion also. I just hope that some of you don’t shot me down for what I am entitled to express on this blog or anywhere else!!”

  22. “Personally I think Michael was an incredible studio vocalist and a decent to at times very good live singer. The Triumph Tour probably is the tour with his best singing, the Bad Tour at times also contains very good performances, especially given the amount of dancing he did at the same time. From the end of the Bad Tour onwards I think his live vocals went downhill pretty rapidly, whatever the exact reasons for this may be. The very limited live vocals during the HIStory Tour are at times painful to listen to and never really good imo… Even at his peak I don’t think he ever came close to the quality of his studio vocals though.” SoCav

    “A great singer is great because he can deliver. We can all think about singers who do deliver, if not always, most of the times. Michael is not supposed to be a common singer. That’s my whole point. He’s supposed to be an amazing vocalist.” Joel

    I think some FACTS are in order here–namely, that MJ was singing on stage as the main performer for 2 hours or more in large venues, while ALSO doing strenuous, athletic dancing. Even opera singers do not do that–they are pretty stationary for the most part and have a specific singing role; even though it may be the main one, they are not the whole show. So if we compare a “live” performance of the nature of MJ’s performances to someone who sings sitting on a chair, or who sings as part of a show, are we not comparing apples and oranges, i.e. two different situations and circumstances? What “live” singer sang in huge stadiums while vigorously dancing for 2 hours, as the main show, the main draw, and was consistently “great,” always on key, etc? The other factoid here is the allegations and how they might have affected MJ’s comfort-level in getting up on stage, not to mention his age during the later performances. I think he was concerned about how he would be received, and people with him in Mexico when he was performing during the 93 allegations said he wept because he was concerned about what the audience might be thinking. Yes, he may have felt more comfortable singing in the studio “live” because, as one poster said, he could focus on his vocals. That makes sense to me. In fact, the process in the studio was to perfect the music and then when that was in place, drop the vocals afterwards as the “icing on the cake.” I guess, to me, live is live–whether on stage or in the studio–as in the Childhood video or in the Smile vocal done in one take. I don’t really get the big distinction. We never saw what MJ could do in a small venue with singing “live” and without the extraordinary dancing–maybe he would have been fantastic. Marvin Gaye said he did his best singing lying on his back on the sofa.

  23. P.S. I never heard that the Ed Sullivan show was not live–I thought he insisted the performances on his show be live. So anything to verify that MJ was not singing live on Ed Sullivan?

  24. iutd said:
    “I think some FACTS are in order here–namely, that MJ was singing on stage as the main performer for 2 hours or more in large venues”

    You may have noticed that I don’t dispute all the things you said about singing live on a tour. I’m very aware that it is very difficult and probably impossible to deliver a great vocal performance at any point during a 2-hour concert where you dance and sing constantly. So I’m not considering the concerts as examples to base my opinion on. I’m mainly referring to other settings, like TV, in which Michael didn’t have the obligation to dance, or run around, or be the star of the show for two straight hours.

    “I guess, to me, live is live–whether on stage or in the studio–as in the Childhood video or in the Smile vocal done in one take. I don’t really get the big distinction.”

    The distinction may be that, as others have mentioned, Michael would prepare a lot for a particular song, would rehearse it a lot and then would lay the vocals down in one or several takes, keeping the best one.
    As great as it is, the “Childhood” take we have heard from the seminars has a couple of flaws. Notably he’s flat at the end on a high note (when he sings “watch me fly” at 5:15) and he’s clearing his throat a lot, which was obviously edited out. Watch it on Youtube.

    “We never saw what MJ could do in a small venue with singing “live” and without the extraordinary dancing–maybe he would have been fantastic.”

    I love maybes, but they’re just maybes.
    We can rely on what did happen to form an opinion.
    Remember the “unplugged” type of show that MJ was supposed to do for HBO ? It was a small venue, it was supposed to be acoustic. That’s how it was first marketed. And gradually, the show became more and more of a regular MJ spectacular with pyrotechnics, group dancing and… lip-synching. Until it got cancelled, of course.
    I’m not saying it got cancelled because of the “singing live” matter. However, I think the trouble with the quality of the live singing has played a part in Michael’s decision to cancel it. (Before anyone says that it got cancelled for health reasons, let me remind you that the show could have been postponed, that HBO and Sony wanted it to happen in the future and that a plan to do it in South Africa was even in the works for a while.)

    “Marvin Gaye said he did his best singing lying on his back on the sofa.”
    There’s a Woody Allen picture called “To Rome with love”, where a guy sings opera amazingly but only while in the shower, so they build a shower on stage so that he can perform.

    1. “However, I think the trouble with the quality of the live singing has played a part in Michael’s decision to cancel it. ”
      “I love maybes, but they’re just maybes.” Joel

      And I think that ‘I think” is very similar to “maybe.” You are speculating that maybe he decided to cancel the HBO show because he was supposed to sing in a small, acoustic venue.

      You didn’t mention, in your reply, anything about the effects of the allegations on public performances, rather than studio recordings. That IMO goes beyond just ‘making excuses’ for him that you seem to think some are doing. This could seriously affect a sensitive performer IMO. You do put yourself out there in those public performances and you don’t know what will happen to you–will you get booed, etc. I read that MJ was very very reluctant to go on stage at one post-allegations award event and practically had to be forced to go out there by being reminded of his contractual obligations. And that was just to go out and get an award, not sing.
      “Notably he’s flat at the end on a high note (when he sings “watch me fly” at 5:15) and he’s clearing his throat a lot, which was obviously edited out.”

      Ok, the underlying issue is what is a ‘great singer’ vs. a very good one. There is no disputing taste (De gustabis non est disputandum). This is a matter of taste IMO. To me, a great singer is not one who can hit all the exactly perfect notes–a great singer is someone who can move, emote, convey meaning, touch people deeply. This MJ did. For this reason, even if there were technical flaws once in a while, he is a great singer–no question. I have read that other features of his voice, besides his range, are considered remarkable, such as the speed of his voice. His voice also has great warmth IMO, and that accounts for its ability to penetrate the ear. People who do not speak English, for example, respond powerfully to his voice. His timing and rhythm are also remarkable. This is why he is a great singer in my view.

      1. iutd said:
        “And I think that ‘I think” is very similar to “maybe.””

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that I though it was wrong to imagine things, I just meant that it seemed to me too far-fetched to imagine that Michael was a great live singer but we never got a chance to see it. We should have plenty of evidence of this if it were true.

        iutd said:
        “You didn’t mention, in your reply, anything about the effects of the allegations on public performances, rather than studio recordings. That IMO goes beyond just ‘making excuses’ for him that you seem to think some are doing. This could seriously affect a sensitive performer IMO.”

        Well, the effect of the allegations should be taken into consideration, sure. But not for all the performances. Not for the ones prior to the allegations, obviously. And not for the ones that happened a long time after the allegations. Interestingly enough, the first time Michael sang live (on TV) after the allegations was the Jackson Family Honors. He sang a verse of the Jacksons’ “If you’d only believe”. It was not a bad performance, by the way, but a bit short to really take it into account in the live-singing debate. So he did manage to sing live right after the allegations, when the whole world was watching. And the crowd did boo him that night, interestingly enough, not because he was bad or because of the allegations, but because people expected him to perform more than a verse (which was what they were promised for the hefty price they paid to attend the show).
        So I would definitely think it was harder for him to perform live right after the allegations, but not to the point where he just couldn’t perform at all. It may have been an added stress, but since it didn’t prevent him from doing all those performances in 1995, I assume he would have been able to sing live if he wanted to.
        Can you argue that the allegations made it too difficult for him to sing live in late 1995, in 1996, 1997 and the following years ? He did sing some songs live in concert during the HIStory Tour, so the stress wasn’t that incapacitating.

        iutd said:
        “You do put yourself out there in those public performances and you don’t know what will happen to you–will you get booed, etc. ”

        That’s true. And it was indeed a big concern for MJ. The main performance he did after the allegations for the launch of HIStory was the MTV Awards in 1995. And he was so worried that the crowd would boo him and people wouldn’t cheer that he included in the soundtrack to his performance cheers and applause. It has been well documented. He also had some paid supporters brought in to make sure there’d be some enthusiasm in the crowd. It proved unnecessary because he was ultimately welcomed by the audience at Radio City Hall, but still, it shows how unsure he was. So definitely a concern for Michael, but not an explanation for everything we’re talking about.

        iutd said:
        “Ok, the underlying issue is what is a ‘great singer’ vs. a very good one. There is no disputing taste (…) To me, a great singer is not one who can hit all the exactly perfect notes–a great singer is someone who can move, emote, convey meaning, touch people deeply. (…) This is why he is a great singer in my view.”
        I totally share your view. 100%.
        I have been talking about a very specific matter since the beginning, which is the fact that Michael may not be a great live singer. IMO, he’s just good. Which is strange in itself because he’s so amazing in the studio. I have always found it surprising.
        Sorry if I sound like a broken record, I am just trying to get through.

    2. P.S. If you think he sang great live during Bad tour, what accounts for the less live HIStory tour? What changed–well, one obvious change is the allegations hit him second leg of Dangerous. I heard a powerful statement from Buxer– his description of how MJ was after he returned from Ireland, i.e. after the horrible trial he was forced to endure: “He was cremated while still alive.” The allegations were not something MJ (or anyone else) who got up on stage could just skate over. Justin Bieber got a plastic water water thrown at him that knocked the mike right out of his hands. MJ might have been apprehensive and just nervous about potential events of this nature. Anyone would be after being falsely accused of abusing a child sexually, after being hammered by the press and hung out to dry– and cremated while alive.

      1. iutd wrote:
        “P.S. If you think he sang great live during Bad tour, what accounts for the less live HIStory tour?”

        I think he sang great during the Bad Tour, considering the challenge it represented. The vocal performance is overall very far from the quality of the studio recordings. And I absolutely don’t think it’s abnormal, strange or disappointing. It’s a 2-hour dance extravaganza. Of course it’s not gonna showcase his best vocals. That’s why I’m looking at other live performances of his, on TV, to see if I can find a great live vocal performance. But I can’t. Hence the question I’m asking.
        As for the reason why it got worse from the Bad Tour on, I think there are several reasons (in no particular order):
        -Aging, so not able to display the same energy
        -Drugs
        -Growing difficulty to reproduce on stage very demanding songs that have been polished to the max in the studio, like Stranger in Moscow, that require a process to get the voice ready
        -Unwillingness to offer the public a new version of the song that would be quite different from the record but would be within his live vocal capabilities.

  25. Joel, if you don’t know what a “concern troll” is, as they say in baseball, you could look it up. GIYF. (See also “gaslighting”.)

    Look up a few previous discussions on this forum. We ARGUE here. (The one about Michael’s supposed connection to the minstrel tradition was a real doozy.) If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    1. Thanks for the education, Simba. I looked up the “concern troll” expression but found no relation with what I’m doing here.

      Besides, instead of taking the time to lecture me on how GIYF, you could have been nicer and just explain just as quickly what that insult meant. But that wouldn’t have been as condescending, right.

      You’re talking about heated discussions, but what you’re resorting to is not a heated confrontation of arguments. It’s just old tactics to undermine your interlocutor without addressing what they are actually saying.
      Not impressive…

      1. See, it’s all my fault because I’m not nice enough. Like I said, see gaslighting, too.

        “Concern troll” is not an insult. It’s a tactic.

  26. “Thriller has become the first album ever to be certified 30 times multi-platinum for U.S. sales, marking more than 30 million sales in the States. 

    The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) made the announcement Wednesday (Dec. 15) with the Estate of Michael Jackson, Epic Records and Legacy Recordings, as the new milestone continues Jackson’s reign as the most selling artist of all time with over 100 million sales for Thriller worldwide and 1 billion total sales to his credit.”

    http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop/6812781/michael-jackson-thriller-30x-multi-platinum-album

  27. When people start to understand what good singing is, when they get to understand what unique voice is, what is castrato voice who break through puberty just slightly, then perhaps people will understand what an amazing singer he was, how unique his vocal was, why and how much his voice damaged his lungs (read autopsy good if you don’t understand facts in autopsy, ask doctors for lungs)… Plus, when people understand that being 20 or 38 or 45 is not same. .. When people get to understand psychological problems this man went through (going on stage in front 70 thousand people, while world break news saying that you are pedophile)… When people understand all that, then they will understand Michael. Only to totally clueless person, uneducated person can write that Michael was not good singer (even worse, that because of that he lip sync)… And clueless is really not to discuss. It’s same when I say that his voice soprano from childhood remained (French opera teacher wrote great book about it), it did change but hey, Michael didn’t use falsetto!!! That was his soprano. When people accept these kind of facts, then they will understand how amazing vocal he was. Amazing.

  28. I often wondered why Michael lip-synched “Ben” at the Oscars but sang it live during concerts back in the day. I know this was not his choice but Motown’s. I would have loved to have heard a live vocal of “Ben” during the Oscars.

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