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Britney, Beyonce and the game of lip syncing

FILE - In this Sept. 24 2011 file phosinger Britney Spears performs stage during concert Moscow Russiduring her European tour.

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2011 file photo, singer Britney Spears performs on a stage during a concert in Moscow, Russia, during her European tour. A source says she is joining Simon Cowell's singing contest as a judge on the singing competition series "The X-Factor." (AP Photo, file)

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:38PM

In November of 2001, a very young Britney Spears performed her “Dream Within a Dream” show as a live special on HBO.

And what a show it was. Most Broadway productions aren’t as elaborate. We’re talking aerial acrobatics, a gyrating wheel, bungee cords, laser lights, artificial fog and snow, a giant wall of water. There were myriad costume changes as Britney slipped into one sexy outfit after another; lots of dancing, with Britney shaking her rear end and grabbing her crotch while her background guys rocked the oversized hoodies and jeans; some banter with the audience along the lines of, “Are you guys having a good time so far tonight?”

And oh yeah, there was the singing.

Or at least Britney holding the microphone and singing along with her own vocals. Watch snippets of the special on YouTube and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a moment when it DOESN’T appear as if lil’ Brit is just along for the visuals, with the heavily modulated recordings of “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” and “I’m a Slave 4 U.”

This pretty much set the tone for Spears’ career as grown-up artist. Lots of skin-tight outifts and halter tops, tons of heavily produced, synthesized, auto-tuned pop hits, a charismatic stage presence, some amazingly elaborate stage shows — and not so much with the singing.

As reviewer Larry Nager wrote of the “Dream Within a Dream” tour in 2001, Britney’s show was “packed with more technical wizardry than ‘Harry Potter,’ but almost no actual singing.”

Eight years later, the Australian media, a number of fans and even some government officials criticized Spears for lip-syncing her way through entire shows on the “Down Under” leg of her “Circus” tour. Some politicians even called for disclaimers on tickets letting audiences know if a singer wasn’t going to sing in a concert.

Spears’ manager expressed surprise anyone would be surprised she was lip-syncing. “It’s been all over the Internet for nine months,” he told Rolling Stone. “The show is about an incredible spectacle, which it is.”

And now we’re hearing there’s a bidding war among three major Las Vegas hotels for Britney’s longtime services. Any deal she makes will probably include multiple concerts each week, plus nightclub appearances.

From the New York Daily News: “It’s believed she may even rake in more dough than Vegas resident Celine Dion, who signed [for] a reported $100 million in 2012 to perform 210 shows over the course of three years at Caesar’s.”

I’ve seen Dion’s show in Vegas. (Hey. You play poker all day, you’re going to make some compromises for the evening entertainment.) I’ve seen Elton John’s show in Vegas. In both cases, these enormously gifted performers seemed to be, you know, singing.

In Britney’s case, it would be an upset if she performed even one acoustical number. As John Mayer tweeted during the ’09 controversy in Australia, “If you’re shocked that Britney was lip-syncing at her concert and want your money back, life may continue to be hard for you.”

Well, she still LOOKED great.

We had our latest lip-syncing “controversy” this week with the revelation Beyonce was mouthing along with her own vocals for “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the inauguration ceremonies Monday, while Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor managed to perform live.

I’ll say this much: that was one of the best lip-syncing jobs I’ve ever seen. Usually it’s pretty obvious when a Britney or a Madonna is faking it, but Beyonce sold the heck out of her “performance.”

We should be used to this by now. Whether it’s a Super Bowl halftime show, the national anthem at a major event or an Olympics spectacle, odds are the headliners are playing along with prerecorded tracks at least some of the time. (Even the Who and the Rolling Stones played it safe at the 2012 Olympic ceremonies in London.) Some can bring it and sing it; others somehow have managed to become multiplatinum-selling multimillionaire singers without being able to carry a tune in a bucket.

If I’m going to a concert, I want to hear a performance as well as see it. If you’re going to pretend to sing, how about I pretend to pay?

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