Move over, reality singing competition shows. Singing is so last year. What’s hot now, apparently, is performing in a way that has all the characteristics of singing, except without any pesky vocalizing whatsoever. The time has come for competitive lip syncing on TV—and possibly at your place.
According to legend, the seed that grew into Lip Sync Battle, the new hit show on Spike TV, was planted on a road trip from Ojai to L.A. in the spring of 2013. The Office star John Krasinski was driving with his friend, The Office (U.K.) co-creator Stephen Merchant, and they were reportedly jamming the hell out. Upon regaining their composure, the two began an earnest discussion of what Krasinski might do during his imminent appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Merchant suggested he merely repeat what they’d just been doing: rocking out without actually singing.
Krasinski brought the idea to Fallon, and thus was born the first “Lip Sync Off.” By the time Emma Stone tore the roof off of Fallon’s Tonight Show studio in a lip sync battle a year last April, with 48 million YouTube views to show for it, a deal was already in place for a spin-off show, with Krasinski, Merchant and Fallon as producers.
Lip Sync Battle, which airs Thursday nights at 10pm, debuted on April 2 to 3.2 million viewers, the strongest series premiere in Spike TV’s history. On the show, co-hosts LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen judge guests like Dwayne Johnson and Anna Kendrick as they attempt to outdo each other at silent singing. But what exactly makes for a killer competitive lip syncing performance? Co.Create spoke with the show’s director, Beth McCarthy, an 11-year SNL vet, and executive producer Casey Patterson to find out how to enhance your performance without raising your voice.
The best way to leave an impression when lip syncing is to show how much you love the song—by just going for it.
Beth McCarthy: Commitment is absolutely number one. Some people you see the incredibly precise lip syncing and you’re blown away; other people, it’s style points and the interpretation of the song. But when somebody truly loves the song, it’s the most fun to watch. You can always tell when someone’s done this in the car and in front of the mirror about 50 times.
Casey Patterson: We felt early on that people would only be comfortable going all out if it was a song that actually meant something to them. Not in a hokey way but because they know it, that’s their jam. So since there couldn’t be any limitations on the music front, we decided there’d be no songbook. Let the guest choose the song they’ll be into the most.
Use what people expect of you against them.
Patterson: The most successful bookings are when someone has a huge persona, and then they’re playing against type. Emma Stone was a great example of that on The Tonight Show where she was dressed in a prim and proper way and we know her and love her in a very specific zone—and then she came on and did DJ Khaled and she just owned it and crushed it and you absolutely knew that she didn’t learn that song for The Tonight Show.
When lip syncing, you have more weaponry at your disposal than just numerical hand gestures when an integer is mentioned in the song. You have a butt—consider shaking it.
Patterson: Mike Tyson put on tight Mick Jagger pants. They were essentially leather leggings. I’m not sure that he knew any of the words to the song he did, but he was so into the dancing that you literally could not watch anything else. When someone delivers a killer performance, whether they know all the words perfectly or not doesn’t matter much.
It’s not called Lip Sync Battle for nothing. Pick a person out of the room and lip sync at them to heighten the drama.
McCarthy: Some of the people kind of give the nod to their opponent, which is fun.
Patterson: They’ll choose songs in certain cases where the lyrics are taunts. Like the “Wrecking Ball” lyrics, some of them, like Anne was swinging around on the wrecking ball and actually when she would sing towards Emily she seemed to be singing very specific lyrics to her.
McCarthy: Then when Anna Kendrick did “Everybody Wants To Steal My Girl,” she basically sang it about Emily Blunt in front of John Krasinski, who is obviously her husband.
On Lip Sync Battle, nobody knows what the other person will be performing beforehand—which sort of recreates the karaoke mystique of pushing in the numbers of a song when nobody is looking and surprising everyone when “Rock You Like a Hurricane” comes on and you confidently grab a microphone.
Patterson: Other people’s reactions are key. We take great measures to make sure that they don’t know what their opponent is doing, so that you have those reactions on camera. We clear the space, take them to a different building to their dressing rooms before we’ll start the rehearsal for the other person.
McCarthy: Queen Latifah did the show and she actually surprised LL Cool J. She wanted to do one of LL Cool J’s songs but she wanted it to be a surprise. So she did a full rehearsal in front of him, and it was a decoy rehearsal of a different song that she never intended to use in front of him. He was giving her notes on that performance.
Patterson: And giving the dancers notes.
McCarthy: He never saw it coming.