Garth Brooks & The Super Bowl’s Lip-Sync Legacy

January 31, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  50 Comments


Portions of this story were originally posted in Feb. of 2010, and this story has been updated for 2014.

At the 1993 Super Bowl in Pasadena, CA, Garth Brooks was the artist selected to sing the National Anthem. Garth was asked to make a pre-recorded version as a backup even though he intend to sing live, but Garth Brooks refused. Was this because Garth wanted to be authentic? This may have been his alibi initially, but later it would be revealed his decision was part of a much bigger plan.

garth-brooks-1993-national-anthem-super-bowlGarth’s 1992 album The Chase included a song called “We Shall Be Free”, a gospel-esque tune that Garth wrote after spending time in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the 1992 race riots following the Rodney King verdict. Garth was hoping to debut a video for the song during the Super Bowl that included numerous celebrity cameos. However NBC, the broadcaster of the game that year, rejected the video because of “content some felt was disturbing imagery.” The “We Shall Be Free” video included clips of flag burnings, cross burnings, the Ku Klux Klan, intravenous drug use, riots, bombings, war scenes, natural disasters, and other questionable content; images that NBC did not want to broadcast to the family-friendly Super Bowl audience.

So Garth, 45 minutes before he was supposed to perform the Anthem, pulled one of the most bold stunts in Super Bowl history to force NBC’s hand: he walked out of the Rose Bowl stadium entirely, refusing to sing unless they aired his video. As can be imagined, everything leading up to and during the Super Bowl is planned down to the second, and this sent NBC and the NFL reeling.

Producers tried to rationalize with Garth, explaining that there was no time budgeted for the video, but Garth held his ground, and a standoff ensued. With 91 million people tuning in from all around the world, they had no National Anthem performer, and Garth had the foresight to not give them a pre-recorded version that they could use as an alternative.

This was the worst case scenario for Super Bowl organizers. An NBC producer spotted John Bon Jovi in the Super Bowl crowd, and began to prep him as a plan ‘B’. Garth Brooks had NBC right where he wanted them, and the NFL could see that. So the NFL did something completely unprecedented in Super Bowl history: They delayed the kickoff to accommodate the airing of the Garth video.

Garth Brooks had won, but authenticity in nationally-televised live performances lost. According to former NFL executive director Don Weiss in his book The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event, since the Garth incident in 1993, the NFL has made it a requirement that all National Anthem singers make a pre-recorded version of their performances. Ricky Minor, the Super Bowl’s music director for many years and the current bandleader on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show says about pre-recording tracks and lip syncing performances, “That’s the right way to do it. There’s too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live, because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance.”

In 1991, Whitney Houston sang the Super Bowl National Anthem, and it was considered by some at the time to be one of the best Anthem performances ever. Then it was revealed the performance was pre-recorded. In 2009 Jennifer Hudson sang the National Anthem months after members of her family had been killed. She was called “inspiring,” until it was revealed later that she had lip synced as well.

Lip syncing and backing track controversies have also tainted other events of National importance. Cello player Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman faked playing to a pre-recorded track at President Obama’s first Inauguration, and a lip-syncing controversy surrounding Beyoncé also tainted Obama’s second inauguration. And there’s no reason to think many other inspiring moments of national unity will be passed over for the predictability of pre-recorded performances, until the American public begins to demand authenticity over the facade of perfection.

On a bright note, recent Super Bowl National Anthem performances have thought to have been performed live, and in 2014, the NFL has slotted Opra singer Renée Fleming to perform—one who is likely not to need backing track support.

50 Comments to “Garth Brooks & The Super Bowl’s Lip-Sync Legacy”

  • I hate lip-syncing, but many of the artists are forced to do it at the Super Bowl. The cable networks just can’t afford to risk having a repeat of the Garth Brooks fiasco.

    For me, lip-syncing (with the exception of when filming music videos) is the worst sin a singer can commit and I really don’t respect those who do it. Beyonce has a very good reputation and felt she could not risk hurting it by actually performing, so she lip-synced. The cold weather clearly wasn’t an issue because Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor were both able to sing live, and I commend both of them for doing that.

    The thing I get out of this is that crappy pop singers will lip-sync because the money is more important than their music. If anyone thinks Beyonce really cares about the music she puts out, they are wrong – she is first and foremost about money, as evidenced by here choice to lip-sync instead of sing live.


  • It’s worth noting that Kelly Clarkson sang live at the inauguration and sounded fantastic. If I remember correctly, she also sang live when she performed the anthem at the Super Bowl last year. So, there’s that.


    • See, like I said above, it is these reality show artists that have the goods to deliver live performances in in high pressure, high profile situations without a hitch. The first time I wrote about this Garth story was 3 years ago when Carrie Underwood was performing the National Anthem. She bucked the trend by not lip-syncing. I still have little love for reality singing contests, but they continue to prove to be a better farm system and a better outlet for singing talent than Music Row. If this trend continues, I could see the stigma of reality TV stars that still exists with some music listeners completely fading away in the coming years.


  • I might be taking this article the wrong way, but are you blaming Garth for lip syncing/pre-recorded performances? Or blaming big corporations? The title would indicate your blaming Garth, or insinuating Garth lip synced. Which you clear up later, if people actually read the article.

    I mean, I get Garth might be the birthplace of what we know as pop country, and his mass appeal is everything SCM is against, but he was standing ground on his conviction that he wanted to share his video that was applicable to the times, and he stood up to a few corporate giants (NBC and the NFL) and he won. Like his music or not, he did it how he wanted…kind of “outlaw-ish”, eh? Just because Music Row has been trying to capture his explosiveness ever since isn’t Garth’s fault.

    I’m not trying to say Garth changed country for the better, but music row’s greed that has gotten us where we are today. Looking at how Garth operated, i.e. negoiating his own contracts, taking risks, standing on his convictions…I don’t know that one can argue he wasn’t as hardcore as anyone for doing what you want to do. He should never be compared to Hank, Waylon, Willie, but he has his place in “doing it your way”.


    • I’m actually curious to hear Trigger’s take on Garth too. I always hated him, but compared to “I love Jesus on tail gate of my truck while these hot girls wear american flag bikinis and oh did I mention I love Jesus, my truck, and Bud Light”, Garth is almost a rootsy-folky country singer. It just shows how awful pop country is today.

      I wonder if people consider Hank Sr pop country back in his time? :)


    • Or blaming big corporations?

      Nobody said anything about “big corporations,” except mentioning NBC and the NFL in the story because they are part of the context.

      Oh, and now Garth Brooks was an Outlaw? Come on man, you’re disposition to always try and find threads to create drama around is extremely tiring. You’re not stimulating discussion, you’re bogging it down.


    • I kind of see what Garth did as kind of a bitchy,drama-queen thing to do. Not telling anyone about it beforehand, threatening to go back on his word of singing the National Anthem on the Super Bowl in order to show his crappy music video, and delaying the kickoff to promote himself? Yeah, he did do it his own way, but it still seems a very weasel-y thing to do.

      Compare it to what George Jones did in 1999 at the CMA Awards. The CMAs didn’t want him to play the whole song, only a 30 second clip before the commercial break, and so George simply refused to play. He didn’t threaten to not play if they didn’t let him play his whole song, he simply said, “No, I’m not playing into your hands.” Of course, Alan Jackson played it unexpectedly and got a standing ovation in what I would call one of the classiest moments in country music history. What wasn’t classy, in my opinion, is Garth Brooks’ temper tantrum here, and its consequences. I might be being a little harsh, but that really rubs me the wrong way.


      • I agree. This wasn’t Garth standing up to evil corporations trying to oppress him and his music. It was a mega star at the height of his power expecting the world to bend to his wishes and using mob-like tactics to get his by holding our National Anthem as a hostage. And how about how awful the video is, like somebody watching it said, “Hey, I was gonna join the Klan tomorrow, but because Michael Bolton told me not to, I won’t.” I appreciate the sentiment and what Garth was trying to do, but the video was in very poor taste, even by 1993 standards.


        • “I appreciate the sentiment and what Garth was trying to do, but the video was in very poor taste, even by 1993 standards.”

          I don’t think it’s possible to do ANYTHING in “poor taste” when your shirt is as badass as his. I consider it the re-mix, or “dance version” if you will, of the more traditional American Flag button-up shirt. And it’s awesome. And regardless of what year is will still be of EXCELLENT TASTE. Even in the future. Which is actually right now. End of story.


          • Also gotta love how Garth, who had short hair his whole career, pulled the mullet out of fashion irrelevancy by rocking the “party in the back” look.


        • The assumptions that just because someone is mainstream successful that every move they make is about self promotion and ego is a bit rediculous.

          As ReinstateHank mentions below, Garth’s video was trying to make a statement.

          Garth felt the statement was important. Was it the best video ever??? That is a matter of taste and you can’t argue taste. But to assume it was some ego thing that he demanded his video be spot lighted is rediculous. Do you know how the conversations went about the whole deal? NBC/NFL didn’t want the “offensive images” broadcast? What load of shit. They promised they would air the video then decided $3M for a Pepsi commercial was more important.

          I said Garth isn’t Hank or Waylon or Willie, but he did things his own way. I thought we appreciate that around here? Or only if it fits what we would do?


        • This is a great post, but it misses half the story.

          I would add that the halftime show of the superbowl was performed by Michael Jackson who sang “black or white”, “Heal the world” and “We are the children” complete with having everyone in the audience holding up signs creating a mosaic of bunch of multiracial children holding hands like a cartoon version of a United Colors of Benetton ad, as Jackson surrounded himself with a group of diverse children from across the world. You can watch the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqMSnigL0aA

          On top of this, the Superbowl XXVII was supposed to be in Arizona, but the people of the state voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. Corporations boycotted the state and the NFL moved the Superbowl to California.

          My own views about the politics behind this are irrelevant (I think most of you can guess). What is relevant, is that Garth Brooks was not being an “outlaw” pushing some message that corporate America did not want to hear. He was pushing the exact same message that Michael Jackson pushed in the officially approved half time show, and that the NFL pushed by pulling the Superbowl out of Arizona.


  • I beleive it was 2 years ago during the NBA finals in Dallas Jack Ingram did the national anthem live on national TV with just his accoustic gutiar and his voice. Luckily Donnie Nelson Mav’s GM is a huge Texas/Red Dirt music fan. As a result, It was a fluff free Anthem. Jack is not a great vocalist by any stretch but by doing it in his style he played to his strengths vocally and it came off great. If the suits would get out of the way and take a risk and let performers do what they do while an occasional mistake may happen truly great moments will happen too.


  • In a way I think artists who lip sync are only hurting their performances – and it is just cheesy – but at the same time to each his own.

    To me the bigger issue here is the fact that Garth had the balls and the smarts to stand up for his cause. How many artist are doing that these days?

    I think the younger generation would learn more from actions like that.


  • Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman had to play along to a track at the Inauguration because it would have been too cold for them to actually bring out their decent instruments and play them. I don’t think “faked” is the most appropriate word in regards to them. On the other hand, most Super Bowls are held in the south, so the singers don’t really have an excuse.


  • Very interesting article. I did not know that about Garth Brooks, man I am starting to think he had a bigger ego than Blake Shelton, or just as big. But it’s somewhat understandable that they should lip synch to something as commercialized as the Super Bowl, but a presidential innauguration? My wife informed me that Kelly Clarkson sang both the National Anthem and My Country Tis of Thee without lip synching. Or at least as far as the rest of the world knows, she didn’t.


  • Then again, Garth’s message was in the right while the NFL and NBC just wanted to make money from commercials, Garth wanted to make a statement. I guess in that sense there’s nothing egotistic about that.


  • Beyonce speaks out on National Anthem lip sync controversy at Super Bowl press conference

    “I am a perfectionist,” she explained. She said she was afraid she wasn’t prepared for the inauguration performance — having missed a rehearsal with the Marine Band because she was preparing her Super bowl show — and so she used the tape.

    “I will absolutely be singing live,” she said. “This is what I was born for. This is what I was born to do.”



    • Beyonce is so full of crap her’s eyes are naturally BROWN, Marine Corps Band was there early to practice. You would think an “allegedly” PROFESSIONAL singer could show up for a sound check/rehearsal, guess she was too busy to show respect for co-performers and do her job


  • So sick of this BS. If a person can sing well live, they do it. If they can’t, they don’t.

    My kid is a prof singer and has sung the National anthem live in ball parks, court house steps in cold and wind, on the deck of a ship leaving port in a storm. She sang an IMPROMPTU Italian aria in a European cathedral in front of hundreds. Every time she sings, she sings live and is about 99.9% perfect. She sang The Lords Prayer on the step of the capitol in West Virginia in a wedding and literally stopped traffic.

    Mind you, these were all a capella too.

    We have to stop making excuses and have higher expectations for those who call themselves singers.


  • I had never heard this story before now. I don’t dislike Garth Brooks I despise him and this story reminds me why I do.


  • iv’e always felt garth was a crybaby bi**h even before i read this.

    anyone hoping for a beyonce malfunction?


  • Personally I’d rather see someone sing live with the odd bum note than have them pretending.


    • At her Royal Albert Hall concert, Adele stopped her song and started it over. Chuckling, she explained she had hit a bad note.


  • I think the article you wrote on Garth was spot on Trigger. If you really just truly look at the music and don’t think about anything else in Garth’s career, it is very honky-tonk and hard country music. I have always had a thing for songs that were real story songs, such as “Lonesome Dove” and “Much Too Young” is one of my all time favorite songs. Even the last album of new material he released where Jerrod Niemann co-wrote a lot of songs, was a very honky tonk album. George Strait is always considered very country by a lot of people, but if you just line the two artists songs up next to each other, they are no more country than Garth’s were and I would even say a lot of George’s later songs became very safe and followed a formula. I always thought it was odd how a person whose music was very country, created a flood of so many artists who were so pop. He just became so big. His antics were always so rock starish, but his music was really country.


    • Great comments Brian, I agree. His songs are country (some are cheesy, but no one is above that) and his stage/show antics are probably what turn so many off. But he got that from Chris Ledox and KISS.
      If he just stood at a microphone and sang, he probably would be considered in the vein of the legends, but his stage shows, and mass appeal detract for some.

      “Much To Young” is an awesome song. Many more are hard honky tonk. His ballads can get sappy, and his videos didn’t always help him.

      I think he is good for country music. He has a lot of respect for it. And to be a chubby, blading guy that could reach so many, I don’t think it was manufactured. I think it was just him being him…some like it some don’t. But I don’t think any of it was fake…(a good marketing mind doesn’t make it fake).


      • I find the stage antics to be a distraction and used to makeup for lack of talent.


        • Fair and matter of opinion.
          I find a lot of the some need for distraction in some “underground” bands in the rhetoric they sing about or the over the top “attire” or “stage persona” they put on to distract from the lack of talent.


      • “If he just stood at a microphone and sang, he probably would be considered in the vein of the legends,”

        I agree Brian. Garth has a stage presence that few have and he has a great voice. VERY few can stand still with a mic and enchant an audience.

        Whenever I hear him sing The Dance, I am blown away. That is why I am constantly preaching that real singers are those we LISTEN to and don’t need the “american idol” treatment, i.e., visuals and distractions that so many of the pop country people could not “perform” without.


        • “VERY few can stand still with a mic and enchant an audience.”
          I agree with this statement. Very very few. I don’t think Garth choose the big stage show because he had to cover his lack of talent as some suggest, or that he couldn’t capitvate a crowd with just his singing, I think his stage show was just who he was. If you’re influenced by George Strait and George Jones, Chris Ledoux and KISS… It is probably going to come out something like Garth.


          • Let’s see George Jones, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard Dale Watson and other old school singers just stand at the mic and sing and enchant an audience.


    • That’s what makes it so hard for me to hate Garth Brooks. His songs were so damn good. But then stardom gets the better of you and you create a rock star alter ego and your career goes to hell. Sorry Garth.


  • Garth may have wanted to make what he considered an important statement, but that is not what he was there for. Whether it was a paid gig or not, he didn’t honor his commitment, and abused the privilege.


  • “The underfunding of arts and music in education from the federal level down has caused such a deficiency in both talent and musical appreciation throughout the country.”

    There was no federal funding of elementary or secondary education by the federal government until 1958, with the National Defense Education Act, and that was limited to Science and Technology programs. There was no funding of any other non-science programs until the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. I’m not sure if this included Music education. But let’s assume it did.

    Somehow The Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizell, Farron Young, managed to learn music without federal funding of education.

    I’m not saying that the federal government spending on music education is somehow responsible for the fall of good mainstream country music, but the idea that we need to waste our tax dollars for “deficiency in both talent and musical appreciation throughout the country.”

    And yes, I know you said from the “federal level down”, but I am pretty sure that there wasn’t much music education on the local level until the 1960s either. My dad went to school in the 1950s and their school band and chorus were entirely funded by bake sales and the like, and they had no music education.


    • I thought that comment was a bit off mark, but I wasn’t going to discuss as I didn’t have support as you presented.

      I agree, I don’t need the government to assist me in figuring out good music or how to learn music. I’m learning some right now, and I have no “assistance” to do it.

      I’m actually surprised no one else picked up on that line and surprised a purveyor of independence in music would lean on the government as a reason that mainstream music is where it is at today.


    • As far as the defunding of the arts from the federal level, this is the cause of “No Child Left Behind” legislation, and it’s effect on the arts has been well documented.

      No Child Left Behind Increases Gap in Arts Education


      “One potential reason for this, according to Secretary Duncan, is that schools are being denied access to Title I and Title II funds for arts education, a mistake on the part of State departments of education. Another, of course, is the rigorous No Child Left Behind testing and funding requirements and the harsh economic climate facing public schools, both of which have forced districts to cut courses that are not critical to standardized test performance or graduation. Unfortunately, arts education falls into these categories, making it one of the first programs to go.”

      If you really want to geek out, here are some specific studies:



      Now as for all the great artists that came up before any funding for the arts in education, this first thing you have to understand is that since the 50’s-60’s, kids are spending on average an hour more a day at school, and a month more a year. This means the state is raising kids more and more, taking them out of the home which is where many of these past country greats learned their craft.

      Without question there are many other factors that have led music to where it is today and that’s a whole other conversation. But I do believe the insistence in our society to test children on a Federal Level on subjects that exclude the arts, and then tie that testing directly to federal funds, has been one of the factors that has led to a musically illiterate society that is easily susceptible to pop music with little or no substance.


  • As far as lip-syncing goes… I don’t like it, but I understand why so many artists do it. Look at the backlash when Christina Aguilera screwed up the national anthem when doing it live.

    NOBODY wants to go through that.

    No, she shouldn’t have screwed it up, but even the most veteran of performers can and will screw up on stage at some point. Unfortunately for her, it happened to be the national anthem, for the biggest sporting event of the year, in front of a live worldwide television audience.

    Am I saying I’d rather have a lip-synced anthem? Hell no. But I am saying I can understand why artists choose to do it on their own, even if/when someone else doesn’t choose it for them.

    I’ve heard the Garth Brooks Super Bowl fiasco being the cause of networks wanting it lip-synced before, but honestly, I’m not sure it holds water. The thing is, if the network has a recording of an artist, they’re not going to play it without the artist being there. It’s a pretty empty threat. It’s not like in “Pure Country” where it’s just a few thousand people and the “singer” is mostly obscured, they can’t just throw a half-assed body double out there and fake it, even if they do have the vocal track.

    What if Alicia Keys decided at the last second she wasn’t going to do the Super Bowl on Sunday? It’s not like they’re just going to play a recording of her in abscentia, they’re going to find one of the dozens of music celebrities sure to be in the audience, maybe someone from the halftime show, and have them do it. Like I said, if threatening someone who’s thinking about pulling another “Garth” is the reasoning, it’s a pretty empty threat.


  • I never got to see Garth’s acoustic show in Vegas, but heard it was incredible. The clip below I think just shows what a voice and talent Garth was. There is no doubt he has the ability to just stand there and captivate an audience.



  • Just look at Madonna last year… Do not tell me that she was singing live. I’m not a fan of hers, I never have been. But I know she use to be a good entertainer…But still, don’t tell me that she can sounded amazing for being so old and blah, blah, blah, because there is no way she was doing that live. Nothing pisses me off more than people lip-syncing. That just shows that you either aren’t good enough to sing live, or you don’t care enough about the music to do it live. They are just money hungry machines that are in it for the big bucks. As long as they get paid who cares if anyone finds out that they didn’t sing. It makes me even more mad when people lip sync at concerts. People pay good money to hear their favorite artists sing, and they don’t even have enough respect to do it. And with the national anthem? That is ridiculous. People get so much shit for forgetting a word here or there, but it is okay to not even sing it? I am no Luke Bryan fan, but people talked about him writing the words on his arm. At least he sang it, and at least he remembered the words. I honestly think it is just a matter of respect for fans and music. If you don’t sing live, then you obviously have no respect as an artist.


  • Didn’t Garth use a special event for Buck Owens to propose to Trisha Yearwood? I’m thinking it was some kind of special event honoring Buck and Garth proposed during it.


    • He does that quite often, he was supposed to honor Chris Ledoux by singing “Good Ride Cowboy” with Western Underground, he made whole performance about himself till end then acknowledged video screen where scenes of Chris were playing..EGO is spelled Garth Brooks


      • I couldn’t remember what he did. thanks. and yes you spell ego GARTH


  • I like Scott Biram’s We Shall Be Free much better.



  • Ya know, it’s as simple as this: if you can sing then do it and if you can’t then don’t. I am one myself and I certainly wouldn’t lip-sink no matter how much I got paid to do it. That’s just dishonest and rude to your fans.


  • Today I learned, Garth Brooks had the stones to take on the NFL and NBC over something that was important to him, and he won. That’s awesome.


    • That’s certainly one perspective. Another could be that Garth was so full of self-importance, he decided the world must bend to his will, and used an underhanded tactic to ensure that was the case.


      • I agree Trigger. I wish the NFL and NBC had used John Bon Jovi when they spotted him. and Garth and his video to stuff it.


    • I learned that Garth is a bigger Asshole than I thought.


  • I still don’t get how prerecording a track would help in a future Garth Brooks scenario. Doesn’t the person still need to be willing to lip sync to the prerecorded track? It’s not like CBS is just going to announce, “Here is a track of Alicia Keys performing the national anthem.” I think their current alternative is to have a back up singer ready to go in case of emergency (see: Jennifer Hudson).


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