The performers are singing along in concert, wowing the crowd with their harmonies and lyrics. But then lyrics and music start repeating in a way that only happens on records or CDs! The truth is out: the music and singing was all pre-recorded and the performers were merely lip-syncing — and now they're sunk. Basically, this is when someone is pretending to sing (or otherwise perform), but something (usually a mishap) reveals their deception. Very often an Oh, Crap! moment.
While the fact that lipsyncing is all but expected in several places (live performances involving lots of uptempo dancing or very demanding material, TV appearances where the practice has been commonplace for decades and often not necessarily through the performer's choice) has lessened the general sting associated with it, the general unwritten rule is still considered "don't get caught".
Compare Hong Kong Dub for the movie equivalent.
- In The '90s, there was a commercial for blank audio tapes for recording (possibly Memorex). It shows a band onstage performing while occasionally cutting to a tape playing. The announcer for the commercial says "If music is important to you, be sure to put it on the right length tape." The band's lip syncing is discovered when the tape runs out. Then the band follows suit, followed by an angry mob.
- A soft drinks commercial starring Robbie Williams spoofed this trope by having him field an interview question about lip-synching at concerts and make a pious little speech condeming the practice... which carried on uniterrupted while he took a swig from a bottle of the aforementioned soft drink.
- In Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi gets kidnapped by the Lobelia's Zuka Club and is made to sing in their play. Despite being poor at music, she sings nearly perfectly at rehearsal, which surprises her dad and Host Club members (who are spying on her). Then a girl accidentally unplugs the CD player and it's shown that it's all lipsync. Points for Haruhi continuing to lipsync and not even notice that the music's stopped.
- Done in Archie Comics, when Veronica wants to join the carolers, but is a terrible singer. So she cooks up a scheme where Veronica gets a friend to hide while singing into a microphone, and Veronica will wear a speaker disguised as a pendant. At rehearsals, all goes well. When they go out actually caroling (which is, of course, in the dead of winter), her friend can't take the cold and starts coughing. Veronica tries to play along, but her friends quickly get suspicious. Those suspicions are confirmed when her friend apologizes to Veronica and says she's going home, which is overheard by one and all, exposing Veronica's scheme.
- There's an Urban Legend that for Elvis Presley's last tour(s) one of his "backup" singers was an Elvis Impersonator who was actually singing the lead melody; if Elvis got tired or forgot the lyrics the control room would switch so that the impersonator's mic was the one being sent out over the speakers.
- A magically induced example in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Rainbow Rocks. The Dazzlings, being Sirens, uses their jewels to be amplify their singing and induce a Hate Plague which they feed off of. However when Twilight, Sunset and Humane Five manage to beat them in their musical battle, the jewels are destroyed and the girls' attempt at singing afterward are flat and toneless. Resulting in the crowd they were mesmerizing earlier to boo them off the stage, complete with Produce Pelting.
- One scene of Happy Heroes 2: The Battle of Planet Qiyuan has Happy S., Zelia, and Big M. pretending to be the band Aprilday (a parody of the real-life Taiwanese band Mayday). Big M. does quite an impressive singing voice when they perform at their concert, and the fans can barely tell the difference. And then Big M.'s phone battery goes dead, the audience realizes he was lip-syncing the lyrics, and they're certainly not happy about it.
- In Singin' in the Rain, Lina is forcing Kathy to dub all her performances from now on. When she's asked to sing a song at the movie premiere, she has Kathy behind the curtain singing for her. Don then pulls open the curtain, revealing Kathy to the audience, but Lina is not made aware until Cosmo starts filling in for Kathy.
- In the night club scene in Mulholland Dr., a singer performs a Tear Jerker song during which she suddenly collapses while we continue to hear her singing. That's when the lead couple and the audience realize that the singer had been lipsyncing all along.
- Airheads features a variation of this as the climax: the band The Lone Rangers has managed to sign a contract with an (unknown to them) corrupt records executive that contractually forces them to lip-sync their songs when performing live. None of the Rangers accept this (seeing their love of being able to perform as more important) and thus expose the scam on their very first live performance outside the radio station they're holding hostage, by not playing their instruments as the tape plays their song's opening riff and then finally inciting a riot.
- Get Ready To Be Boyzvoiced: Things start to go downhill for Boyzvoice when the CD that they were lip-syncing to starts skipping during a charity concert.
- The Marx Brothers' classic Monkey Business has a scene where each of the brothers tries to get off the cruise ship they've all stowed away on by imitating Maurice Chevalier (whose passport they've somehow gotten a hold of). When it's Harpo's turn, he starts "singing" "You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me" in Chevalier's own voice... only to reveal that he's got a portable wind-up phonograph strapped to his back, which starts winding down.
- In Fairest, this is done through ventriloquism. The new queen is awful at singing and hates it as well, but singing is deeply embedded in the culture of Ayortha. So when she discovers the heroine Aza performing ventriloquism to amuse herself, she hatches a scheme for Aza to be her singing voice. Unfortunately, they're exposed when a courtier spills water on the queen. The queen berates them without thinking, while Aza doesn't realise and carries on singing.
- In Star Island, two years before the story begins, Cherry Pye, performing at Boston Garden under the influence of crystal meth, fails to lip-synch through three of her songs before breaking down completely. This incident leads to the cancellation of her Down and Dirty tour, but her career as a fake singer goes on.
- In an episode of Fantasy Island Scott Baio plays the oldest of a group of siblings who want to make it big in music. Mr. Rourke gets them an audition for a record producer, but Rourke makes them lip synch instead of performing live. Baio's character ultimately confesses rather than getting success based on a lie.
- Friends: Phoebe lands a recording contract for "Smelly Cat," but after they shoot the music video the gang, and eventually she, discover that the record company has replaced her vocals with another singer's. In typical Cloud Cuckoolander fashion, Phoebe's initial response is "Oh my God! I sound amazing!"
- In the last episode of Are You Being Served? Mr. Spooner gets discovered and is off to become a famous singer. In his first TV appearance he sings the song which got him discovered, "Chanson D'Amour." He makes a demo reel-to-reel recording to send to the talent scout. He is booked on a TV show but his voice is getting tired. During the TV performance his voice gives out so they switch to the recording - but the cheap recorder they used and the studio use different speeds, so it comes out sped up to double time.
- In one episode of 'Allo 'Allo!, Rene persuades Edith to mime to a record rather than inflict her own singing voice on the customers. Then he gets the records mixed up and she ends up having to mime as the very deep bass voice of Paul Robeson sings "Ol' Man River". The audience still find it an improvement on her usual performances.
- Played for laughs in a sketch in A Bit of Fry and Laurie where Hugh Laurie accuses "Michael Jackson" (played by Stephen Fry) of miming in a performance. He denies it, but it turns out even his lines denying miming are mimed.
- WWE: During an episode of Raw guest-hosted by Dusty Rhodes they recreate the "Shockmaster" incident, where a debuting new wrestler breaks through a wall, falls down, and makes a fool of himself. In the original the Shockmaster's voice was provided by Ole Anderson offscreen. In the recreation, Arn Anderson is revealed reading the Shockmaster's lines. He looks up, makes a Loud Gulp, and runs away.
- WWE: Jeff Jarrett's gimmick is as a country singer who is using wrestling as a springboard to success in the music industry and his entreance theme song is his "big hit." After Jarrett left, it was revealed that his assistant Roadie (aka Road Dogg Jesse James) was really the one singing on the song.
- Kandi Kisses "sang" on the Wrestlicious stage, where she was jeered for doing a poor job disguising she wasn't the one singing and continuously mocked by Jimmy Hart for it.
- In BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!, the side story for the band Pastel*Palettes has its members performing for a concert, with their staff having them just sync their movements and lips to the pre-recorded music; the band members are rather conflicted about the concept but are willing to go along with it if it means they can get their big break in music. Unfortunately, an equipment malfunction in the middle of the concert causes the music to go dead, revealing the true nature of the band to the audience.
- At the disastrous Coolfest 99 festival in Hypnospace Outlaw, people are already suspecting Coolpunk of Selling Out, which is not helped when the pioneering Coolpunk artist FRE3ZER is caught lipsyncing at his concert. His few fans claim he just had to sync along with a bit that had pre-recorded effects, but videos of the failure get swapped around online and the Coolpunk Paradise hub page begins shifting over to a more general 'music creators' hub.
- Narrowly averted on The Flintstones, when Fred takes over the role of a popular rock singer who came to Bedrock but wound up unable to perform. The record he used for lipsyncing starts jumping, and he somehow has it fixed before anyone notices.
- Disney Channel's Shorty McShort's Shorts multi-part episode "Boyz on Da Run" involves the titular band on the run from angry fans after their singing talents (or lack thereof) is exposed a la Milli Vanilli.
- The Ashlee Simpson incident on SNL is parodied in a Cutaway Gag from the Family Guy episode, "Brian Goes Back to College" when "Ol' Man River" from Show Boat starts playing when she opens her mouth.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Filli Vanilli", Fluttershy is a great singer, but she won't perform in public because of her crippling stage fright. When Big Mac loses his voice right before an important performance, Fluttershy's friends convince her to hide behind a curtain and provide Mac's singing voice. The ruse works for several shows, but Fluttershy gets so into performing that she starts ad-libbing, and Big Mac has trouble keeping up. At the planned final show, Fluttershy accidentally knocks the curtain down, exposing the ruse. The audience applauds her, but she has a nervous breakdown and flees.
- In the Rocket Power episode "Beach Boys & A Girl", the kids form a band but later find out they sound awful. Sam remixes their recorded audio to make them sound better, and they become a hit. They're later asked to preform live, but since their music isn't genuine, they resort to lip-syncing. Their cover is blown, they get laughed off stage, and they decide to end the band.
- Looney Tunes:
- In "Daffy's Inn Trouble", Daffy Duck dresses as a can-can girl to attract customers to his hotel, but is exposed when the record he's lip-synching to gets stuck. Just like Ashlee Simpson, he tries to cover it up with a little softshoe, only to receive a Produce Pelting.
- "Pigs in a Polka" has The Big Bad Wolf sneak into the Three Little Pigs' house by disguising himself as a beggar woman playing a violin. One peeks under his dress and discovers a record playing violin music. He switches the record to the other side, which plays an upbeat polka. The wolf immediately starts dancing and sheds his disguise in the process.
- Tom and Jerry:
- In the short "Texas Tom", Tom tries to impress a girl cat by singing to a recording. Jerry has some fun by changing the speed on the record player, forcing Tom to lip-sync faster and then slower.
- The later Gene Deitch-era short "Carmen Get It" has Tom posing as a concert violinist to get into an opera house where Carmen is being performed, so he can get Jerry in there. He has a violin with a reel-to-reel tape recorder inside, which he plays during the actual performance, and mimes playing the violin to the tape. Jerry gets into the violin and changes the speed setting of the tape to fast, upsetting the conductor, who proceeds to break the violin/tape recorder over Tom's head.
- Subverted in a Pluto the Pup cartoon. Pluto discovers that he can act as a gramophone by putting his tail on the spinning record and opening his mouth. He uses this to lip-synch to a Frank Sinatra song, much to the delight of a crowd of girl dogs. Pluto's tail skips during the final chorus of the song, and he briefly panics, but he's able to correct it before any of his adoring fans notice.
- The Regular Show episode "Mordecai and the Rigbys" played straight and then defied this trope. When Mordecai and Rigby meet their future selves who are already popular musicians, they teach their present selves how to properly play guitar and sing. But when they go on stage at the Open Mic to impress Margaret, Mordecai trips mid-song, and realizes that he's not the one singing. He looks over to see all the equipment unplugged, and that the music is actually coming from a boom box. Mordecai stops it, and chews out their future selves who reveal that they made their career through lip-syncing, which is what they tricked their present selves into doing. Then and there, Mordecai and Rigby break up their "band", stopping those future selves from existing.
- In The Simpsons episode "New Kids on the Blecch", a Navy lieutenant disguised as a talent scout persuades Bart and several classmates to form a Boy Band as part of a Subliminal Advertising campaign to gather recruits. The boys are all terrible singers, so the lieutenant uses real-time Auto-Tune to fix their singing at their live shows. When the lieutenant is told that the band is no longer marketable thanks to a scathing article by Mad Magazine, his commander ends the band in the bluntest way possible: turning off the auto-tune in the middle of a song. Upon hearing their uncorrected singing, the crowd immediately leaves.
- An episode of Sally Bollywood starts with a famed singer named Melody M being found out that she uses an auto-tuner to mask her singing when it malfunctions during a performance. Sally and Doowee are prompted to look into the matter and see who sabotaged it. While it doesn't damage Melody's career too much, a fan shows dissatisfaction with her for using it and, at the end, Melody promises to learn to sing better on her own.
- In the Scotland episode of The Scooby-Doo Show, Scooby appears to be playing the bagpipes when part of his tune repeats. It's revealed that he has a skipping phonograph under his costume.
- In short, Milli Vanilli and the Repetitive Audio Glitch Of Doom, the Trope Codifier. In length and (some) detail...
From 1988 to 1990, the German R&B/dance duo Milli Vanilli was one of the most successful pop acts in Europe and the US. In 1989, however, rumors started circulating that they had never sung any of their songs themselves, instead just lip-syncing and dancing along. As they performed live onstage on MTV in July 1989, the recording of the song "Girl You Know It's True" played and began to skip, repeating the partial line "Girl, you know it's..." over and over on the speakers — in other words, these guys provide the example in the description. They continued to pretend to sing and dance onstage for a few more moments, then they both ran offstage when they realized what was happening. While this didn't keep them from winning a Grammy for Best New Artist in February 1990, people began to wonder — especially after Charles Shaw (one of the actual singers) announced that it was a scam, and only retracted his statements after being paid off to do so. Their poor English skills when interviewed also fueled speculation.
When producer Frank Farian finally confessed to the scam, a massive media backlash erupted, with their Grammy being revoked and twenty-seven lawsuits filed against them for fraud. It didn't help that member Rob Pilatus proclaimed himself to be "the new Elvis", reasoning that by the duo's success they were musically more talented than Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger. Their debut album Girl You Know It's True was pulled from shelves and the masters deleted (making it the highest-selling album to ever be taken out of print), while their once-anticipated second album was hastily re-credited to the actual singers, branded "The Real Milli Vanilli" (also known as Try 'N' B), and only released in Brazil, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand. The duo became a punchline for jokes about bad pop music for the rest of the decade.
- During Michael Jackson's last few TV concerts, he was pretty obviously lip-syncing, including that he'd cover up his mouth so people wouldn't catch on to the fact that he was mouthing along with the music.
- During her 2004 performance on Saturday Night Live, Ashlee Simpson was revealed to be lip-syncing when her voice started singing even though she wasn't. She gave some embarrassed dance moves (which she described as a "hoe-down") before sheepishly walking offstage. The incident proved to be the beginning of the end for her music career.
- 1990's singer Betty Boo was famously booed off stage (Betty-booed?) when the audience realised she was lip-syncing her songs to a backing tape. Her career never recovered.
- A number of early commercials for the Xbox Kinect didn't actually feature live gameplay; the screen displayed prerecorded video, which played while the "player" tried to awkwardly synchronize his movements with the action. A number of viewers were able to pick up on this, and it became painfully noticeable when it was found that the first Kinect games weren't even close to as responsive (or loading as fast) as the hype led them to believe. To a lesser extent the same happened regarding the Wii and its motion controls, which was hidden mostly by way of not showing gameplay and the person playing the game in the same shot; the Red Steel trailer, for instance, had one scene with the "player", contemplating whether to finish off an enemy after a sword duel, making a motion that would have most definitely registered as "swing sword and execute them" in the actual game.
- According to a StarCraft developer, the game started out as a complete clone of Warcraft II, including nausea-inducing graphics and clumsy controls. Then at a game show, the booth next to them showed a revolutionary (for the time) RTS game that led Blizzard to make the game as we know it. Only later did he find out the demo was prerecorded with the demonstrators pretending to play.
- Mariah Carey had this happen to her during the 2017 New Years' Eve celebration in New York, prompting jokes that the last death of 2016 was her career.
- This The Rock-afire Explosion skit for Showbiz Pizza in the 80s involved Rolfe Dewolfe claiming he would be singing a tribute to Frank Sinatra, to the dismay of his sentient ventriloquist puppet Earl. But Rolfe simply lip-syncs to a record of Sinatra's song "Witchcraft," and Earl notices something screwy when the record glitches...
- In the very beginnings of U.S. network television (1946-47), the American Federation of Musicians forbade its members from performing on television until an agreement was reached with the networks and its president, James Petrillo, was dragging his feet on reaching said agreement because he wanted to see where this whole television thing was going first. As a result, singers who performed on television had to prerecord their performance, then lip-sync to that recording on the air. This article from the May 20, 1946 edition of LIFE Magazine shows Evelyn Knight miming along to a phonograph record that was very likely shown on camera as much to avoid deceiving the home audience as to show Petrillo they were not flouting his interdiction. This strange rule particularly affected NBC's Hour Glass, the very first regularly scheduled variety show on U.S. network television.
- The British rock band The Outfield did this a lot during their prime (the mid to late '80s) for some reason, to the point that actual live performances of their Signature Song "Your Love" are rare. The most commonly uploaded video of them lip-syncing is their "performance" in Montreaux, Switzerland to the original Play Deep album recording of the song, which is also what they lip-synched to in other footage. They did release an actual live album of their performance in Tyler, Texas, and more recent performances from the band (at least until they broke up after guitarist and main songwriter John Spinks's death) are also genuine live performances, as well as Tony Lewis's (the lead singer) own solo live performances.