Mayday, mayday! A pop band in some distress over lip-syncing allegations

Lu Feiran
The verdict is still pending on whether the lead singer of the popular Taiwan band Mayday is guilty of violating Chinese law and not doing all his own singing on stage.
Lu Feiran

Zoe Yan was still tingling with excitement as she left Shanghai Outdoor Stadium after seeing her first live performance by the popular Taiwan band Mayday. But the afterglow has been somewhat compromised by subsequent accusations of lip-syncing.

Two weeks after the show, online reports appeared, claiming lead vocal Ashin was partly lip-syncing during the eight Shanghai performances. The city's Bureau of Culture and Tourism launched an investigation, but no findings have been revealed yet. In China, lip-syncing in front of paying audiences is technically banned.

"After I saw the news about the lip-syncing, I recalled something fishy during the concert as well," Yan said. "Especially during the final part, when Ashin put the microphone down on the stage and competed on high notes with fans. Now that I think about it, I think that part was him putting on a show. But the fans were too excited to notice anything."

Mayday, mayday! A pop band in some distress over lip-syncing allegations

Taiwan pop-rock band Mayday held eight live concerts in Shanghai, only to be accused of lip-syncing during performances that attracted more than 360,000 fans.

Since its debut in 1999, the five-member pop rock band has released nine studio albums and received multiple awards, including the Golden Melody Award for Best Band in Taiwan in 2001, 2004, 2009 and 2012.

The band developed a solid fanbase among Chinese around the world, and this year it held 59 live global concerts. In Shanghai, the eight concerts, which had ticket prices ranging from 355 yuan (US$50) to 1,855 yuan, attracted more than 360,000 fans.

The first accusation of lip-syncing came on the video platform Bilibili from a netizen with the screen name "Maitian Nongfu." The uploader published three videos of several Mayday live shows this year, including performances in Shanghai, Beijing, London and Hong Kong.

"I received many videos that fans sent me from the live shows," the uploader said. "They asked me to try to verify if the singing was authentic or lip-synced."

He selected some videos with relatively good tone quality and analyzed them with Melodyne, an audio-processing software. He found that Ashin's vocal level was not consistent during the concerts. Sometimes he sang parts or all of the songs in perfect key; other times he was off-key.

The uploader also found that vocal tracks of the song "Forever, Forever," extracted from several concerts, were identical, concluding that Ashin lip-synced to the same pre-recorded audio source in at least three different live performances.

His revelations caused a big stir online, and later, an online music blogger calling himself "Shengwuke" officially filed a complaint with the China Consumers' Association.

"Lip-syncing on live shows severely violates consumers' rights, and Mayday should bear both compensation and legal liability," Shengwuke wrote on his Weibo account. "I call for the government to investigate the issue thoroughly and get justice for consumers."

Mayday's label B'in Music later issued a statement that denied any lip-syncing at live concerts and called the allegations slanderous. The company is now cooperating with authorities to clear up the matter.

Ashin, in a post Instagram, insisted that all his singing was authentic.

"Every note of it came from the throat that I have been relying for 24 years," he wrote.

Mayday, mayday! A pop band in some distress over lip-syncing allegations

Ashin, lead vocal of Mayday, denied accusation of lip-syncing during the band's live concerts.

But not all fans buy the explanation, leaving the online realm of Mayday fans divided on the issue.

"I have some friends that have been their fans for years and go to their concerts every year," Yan said. "They told me they have always known about some lip-syncing during concerts but they just accepted it."

Legal experts told Shanghai Daily that it is against law in China to lip-sync in concerts. According to the country's Regulations on the Management of Commercial Performances, commercial performances should not deceive audience by lip-syncing or fake playing of instruments. It's up to concert organizers to ensure that all performances are genuine.

"According to the law, an artist found to be lip-syncing the first time is subject to public disclosure; a second violation may result in the loss of performing permits," said Liu Chunquan, a lawyer based in Shanghai.

He added, "The artists and the organizers could also face fines of between 50,000 and 100,000 yuan. At the same time, audiences may also seek compensation under the Consumers' Rights Protection Law."

However, very few cases of lip-syncing are officially publicized or penalized.

In 2010, in a live concert by artist Huang Shengyi, two obscure guest performers were found to have lip-synced and were fined 50,000 yuan each. Both subsequently left the entertainment industry.

Last month during a gala organized by Hunan Satellite TV, 41 performers, including some top-flight names, were suspected of lip-syncing but nothing came of the suspicions. No other cases have been officially verified.

Indeed, lip-syncing isn't particularly big news in the entertainment industry worldwide, amid a widespread perception that the practice is not all that uncommon.

It was reported that Grammy Award winning singers Jennifer Hudson and Faith Hill both lip-synced when performing the US national anthem at Super Bowl football games.

Mayday, mayday! A pop band in some distress over lip-syncing allegations
Mayday, mayday! A pop band in some distress over lip-syncing allegations

American singers Jennifer Hudson (above) and Faith Hill were reported to have lip-synced the national anthem at their Superbowl performances.

And with the development of modern technology, it is getting harder to draw clear lines separating lip-syncing and actual singing.

In Korean pop, recordings may carry the term AR, or All Recorded, which signifies that the record contains the sound of a singer's voice and the singer basically just dances to the record. A second label, LAR, or Live All Recorded, means the recording contains not only the accompaniment and singers' voices but also the sounds of singers' labored breathing. And LMR, or Live Music Recorded, means the singers' sing live on some parts of their songs.

While AR and LAR are mostly panned, LMR is quite controversial – and Mayday's performances are apparently included in LMR category.

Music critics said it's hard to completely confirm or debunk if LMR is equivalent to lip-syncing under the LMR label.

"You can't say that an artist doesn't make efforts if using LMR," a music critic whose pen name is "San Shi Yi Sheng" said during an interview with Jiemian Culture. "The artists sometimes make more efforts when using LMR because they need to make sure that their real voice doesn't collide with the recorded one. And in fact, the technology is usually used only in fast-paced songs but rarely in ballads."

Is Mayday guilty? Did the band just take advantage of modern technology? We await the final verdict.

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