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Why people love Lip Sync Battle so much, in one clip

Tanya Pai heads the standards team at Vox, focusing on copy editing, fact-checking, inclusive language and sourcing, and newsroom standards and ethics issues. She’s also a founder of Language, Please, a free resource for journalists and storytellers focused on thoughtful language use.

The current TV climate is such that 350 brand new reality shows debuted in 2015. Many of those shows were truly awful (remember The Briefcase?), but the best ones managed to transcend reality-show schadenfreude to become something genuinely enjoyable in their own right.

One of those shows is Spike TV's Lip Sync Battle, which the network announced Tuesday has been renewed for a third season. In the season two premiere on January 7, husband-and-wife competitors Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum went head to head in lip sync performances, resulting in the glorious video above wherein Tatum takes on Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" with the help of a "surprise" guest.

It's just another reminder that the half-hour series, which involves celebrities fake-singing to win a pseudo-competition, is perhaps one of the most purely fun reality shows currently on the air.

Here's how it came to be and why it's so popular.

What's the format?

Lip Sync Battle is exactly what its title suggests: a lip-syncing competition. Two celebrities lip-sync songs of their choosing, and audience reaction decides which performance reigns supreme. Each "battle" involves two rounds. In the first, each contestant gives a relatively straightforward solo performance, while the second often involves an elaborate spectacle complete with costumes, props, backup dancers, and choreographed routines.

Between rounds, viewers are treated to "backstage" segments that reveal how each contestant prepared for his or her numbers. Host LL Cool J and "color commenter"/hype woman Chrissy Teigen provide feedback — and over-the-top reaction shots to rival Taylor Swift's. Once the winner is named, he or she is presented with the champion's belt, which Teigen told Esquire is "basically a custom-made wrestling belt, and it's a million pounds." The real prize, though is the glory.

How did Lip Sync Battle become a show?

Lip Sync Battle was born May 8, 2013, on an episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Guest John Krasinski challenged the host to a lip-sync duel featuring portions of such tunes as Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" (Krasinski), Melissa Manchester's "Don't Cry Out Loud" (Fallon), and Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" (Krasinski again).

Though it debuted as a bit on Fallon's show, the premise was Krasinski's brainchild — the Hollywood Reporter writes that the idea was hatched on a road trip Krasinski took with his wife Emily Blunt and their friend/Office writer Stephen Merchant, as the three brainstormed what Krasinski could do during his upcoming Late Night appearance.

Fallon also battled Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Merchant on Late Night that September, and then took the bit with him when he headed to The Tonight Show on February 17, 2014, taking on Paul Rudd in just his second week.

The segment really took off, though, thanks to Emma Stone. She smoked Fallon in an April 2014 battle with her mastery of Blues Traveler's tongue-twistingly rapid "Hook" lyrics, and the clip went viral:

The segment eventually got so popular that in late 2014 Fallon, Krasinski, and Merchant pitched the idea as a standalone show to NBC executives, who turned it down. According to THR:

NBC already had bought a Make Me Laugh-style project from Fallon, with whom it has a rich deal, when the host came back with Lip Sync. "There was a feeling of, we're not just going to buy everything Jimmy brings us," notes an insider. Plus, the concept at the time seemed small. "It felt like a segment within Hollywood Game Night rather than its own show," adds a second NBC source.

Next, they pitched other NBCUniversal channels, including USA and Bravo, before Jay Peterson, who's now a producer on Lip Sync Battle, suggested Spike TV, a network originally marketed as specifically for men but at the time was trying to rebrand itself.

Spike liked the idea, and network executive Casey Patterson brought on LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen as hosts and hired comedy veteran Beth McCarthy-Miller to direct; it fell to Krasinski and Merchant to recruit some celebrity pals as participants. After a few tweaks — such as having contestants perform full songs and use costumes and props — a show was born.

When it premiered on Spike on April 2, 2015, Lip Sync Battle became the highest-rated non-scripted debut in Spike's history, drawing in 2.2 million viewers. It's still, according to a Spike press release, the most-watched original series the network has ever had.

What makes a great battle?

The most important thing is to really commit. The most fun performances to watch are the ones by performers who sink their teeth into the silliness of the premise, and go big and bold without a scrap of self-consciousness. This comes more naturally to some, like the musical-theater-trained Anna Kendrick. But even those with little song-and-dance experience can find ways to play up their strengths.

In season one, for instance, former NFL player turned actor/national treasure Terry Crews delivered a rendition of Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" that began with fake piano playing and somehow ended with Crews ribbon-dancing shirtless in all his glistening-eight-pack glory.

Unlike with karaoke, no individual battle is ever really bad — at worst, it'll be just mildly entertaining. But some performances are certainly more impressive, and memorable, than others.

How does Lip Sync Battle get so many big-name celebrities to participate?

Lip Sync Battle's deep roster of A-list contestants has a lot to do with the show's celebrity producers and hosts. Krasinski and Merchant have both performed on the show, and the first female matchup was between Blunt and Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, her Devil Wears Prada co-star.

As producer Patterson told Business Insider, the bigwig guests are mostly a result of some friendly arm-twisting on the part of the show's cast: "'Everyone called their friends, absolutely, and it was a family affair, 100% every single person around the table, including myself'" reached out to friends, she said.

The result is a range of pairings that spans the logical (Broad City co-stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) to the slightly creepy (siblings Derek and Julianne Hough, the latter of whom chose Lonely Island's "I Just Had Sex" for one of her performances) to the plain bizarre (Justin Bieber and Deion Sanders).

What makes this show so successful?

Simply put, Lip Sync Battle is internet catnip. It indulges viewers' love of watching beautiful people do weird shit, and the format is tailored to produce easily shareable clips.

Plus, Lip Sync Battle has the same gentle, utterly nonthreatening attitude as Jimmy Fallon's late-night show, which lets celebrities lower their guard a bit and have fun. Yes, this means it's the visual equivalent of a "puff piece," but viewers seem to love it — Fallon's show is currently running circles around the competition, and LSB, while not a ratings juggernaut, is a reliable performer and a bona fide hit for Spike.

It's a boon for celebrities, too: As with the "off the cuff" anecdotes told on late-night shows, stars can use their Lip Sync Battle appearances to boost their image by making themselves seem relatable.

There's a whiff of "Stars: they're just like us!" about it — who among us hasn't done a goofy song-and-dance routine along to the radio in front of our bedroom mirror? But the celebrities are so charmingly goofy, so confident in their stupid costumes, that it just serves to burnish their Hollywood sheen while paradoxically making them seem more genuine and likable (hence why even the famously selective Beyoncé deigns to make an appearance).

It also gives celebrities a chance to declare, "I Am Fun," and show off a side of their personality they might not always get to express. Hathaway, in particular, has long been saddled with a reputation for being "affected and actressy," but her Lip Sync Battle appearance — an utterly straight-faced, tighty-whitey-clad homage to Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" — leaned into that supposed overly dramatic affect in a way that might even have convinced some people to rethink their Hathahate.

Got any more clips?

Sure thing. Here's my personal favorite battle to date: John Krasinski doing NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" versus Anna Kendrick's version of One Direction's "Steal My Girl."

Lip Sync Battle airs Thursdays at 10 pm ET on Spike TV.

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