August 12, 2008

Playback Singer Alert: A fraud grows in Beijing

Have you ever heard of Marni Nixon?

Chances are, if you've ever seen a few vintage musicals made into Hollywood movies, you probably have heard of her — or, more accurately, you just heard her. She provided the signing voice you heard while you saw Deborah Karr (The King and I), Natalie Wood (West Side Story), or Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) on the screen. The way people commonly describe what Miss Nixon did was to "dub" the singing for these non–singing actresses.

It's an awkward description, and not really accurate.

But the film industries in India and Pakistan came up with one which I like, and which describes Miss Nixon's movie jobs very well. In Bollywood, we would call her a playback singer. And she would have plenty of company — the celebrated Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle immediately come to mind.

I bring all this up because of yet another faux pas that has come to light during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Yes, after TV audiences learned that some of the fireworks they saw on Friday's opening ceremony were a piece of CGI fakery, we now learn (via the BBC and the Associated Press) that a pretty young girl named Lin Miaoke pulled a mimic on audiences during the "Ode to the Motherland."

Meanwhile, audiences heard the voice of 7–year–old Yang Peiyi, who actually doesn't look like an ugly duckling (glance at the two pictures on the BBC site and decide for yourself). But, oh, no, the powers that be insisted on perfection, a best face for the world to see.

Quoth Chen Qigang, who made the call:

After several tests, we decided to put Lin Miaoke on the live picture, while using Yang Peiyi's voice… The reason for this is that we must put our country's interest first. The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people.

Really, now. This isn't Bollywood, people. This is a global athletic competition, and there are some things you just don't do during such an event. As if fake fireworks weren't bad enough.

It certainly outraged a few folks online, including one Weirderhua user quoted by the New York Times:

Please save the last bit of trueness [sic] in our children… They think Yang Peiyi's smile is not cute enough? What we need is truth, not some fake loveliness! I hope the kids will not be hurt. This is not their fault.

Reportedly, Miss Yang wasn't too upset by these events, and even said so on China Central Television (CCTV) ("I'm OK with it; my voice was used in the performance. I think that's enough"). She also sang on camera, I'm told.

Here's hoping both girls grow up to become beautiful ladies who can think and act for themselves. Maybe Miss Yang will even launch a singing career — without hiding behind another face.

Why not? It worked for Marni Nixon. And Lata Mangeshkar.

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