Guest Blog: Why Do Every one of Today’s Female Singers Sound the Same?

[Susan Andrews is a frequent reader of the site. We got into an email exchange about the state of today’s music which triggered me inviting her to publish up her thoughts in a guest blog. When you have an opinion on anything, lemme know and maybe we are able to arrange something.  -AC]

My name is Susan and I’m an opinionated bitch within my late 40s.  I’ve lived in Canada for most of my life, and have followed and been intrigued by all of the musical trends since the first 1970s to the present.  I was never in a band, as I was a) somewhat shy and b) don’t have any musical talent whatsoever.  The opinions expressed here are mine alone, and Alan has been kind enough to i’d like to turn an email in to a guest blog.  Address any pissiness to me, please, and kudos too. *pause to be controlled by the sound of a couple of million devices googling what ‘kudos’means*

I like hearing new music and picking out not songs which have legs, and which Female rock singers will be a maximum of dazzling one-hit wonders. The very best songs are built on a solid foundation of good music and, unless the act is really a DJ like Moby or Fatboy Slim, or a multi-instrumentalist like Joe Satriani or Mike Oldfield, a good vocalist is needed to deliver the song.

If the lyrics and music are theirs, a band’s singer has to have a vocal style that is distinctive, so they don’t really get lost in the shuffle – yet it must be distinctive in a way that is appealing to the audience.  Turn to any radio station and tune in to your favourite female DJs.  Listen to the pleasant lower register virtually all of them use.  Now keep that at heart and read on.

Music is not much distinctive from photography.  In quite similar way that PhotoShop may be used to improve an already good image, a lot of use of PhotoShop can also destroy that image.  And NO amount of PhotoShop can save a bad image; a very important thing regarding a poor image is going to the delete button. The very best photos available don’t look like anything has been done to them.  (The exception here’s PhotoChop, because the practice of blending many different images together is generally called by those in the visual arts.)

If the first thing you find about a photograph may be the PhotoShop, the photo has failed.  No, that is NOT a wax doll of a Kardashian on the cover of People magazine; it’s a greatly PhotoShopped, skin-smoothed photo of a Kardashian.

Now to get to my point.  Autotune and studio tricks are audio versions of PhotoShop, and like PhotoShop, are now being badly abused.  And yes, I am going to select on women here, mostly because I am a female and have been annoyed by certain female vocalists and their singing styles.

Let’s begin with those that use their own voices to produce vocal effects. The short list of women who annoy me with their own natural voices range from the Stevie Nicks and Gwen Stefani; no real matter what song they sing, they both seem like constipated sheep.  For the longest time I thought the song Zombies, by The Cranberries, was by Alanis Morrissette as both singers use the effectation of singing such as a hyperventilating donkey.

Anyone else aside from me and your parents remember how Mick Jagger likened the breathy squeals of early Madonna to Minnie Mouse on helium?  I don’t mind FUN and Carry You Home Tonight, but just try hearing Some Nights on my car radio. Before that annoying ‘Who I – Who I – Who I – Who I  – aaaahh-aaahhh -aaaaahhh- ahhmmmm’phrase kicks in, I’ve already switched to a different station.  And pulled over and kicked you out.

And the sad thing is that the painful vocal delivery of those songs, by these singers, is which they completely kill the song altogether.  I know they’re all successful artists and many have won a myriad of awards.  Still. I don’t give a damn about how exactly meaningful or well-written the lyrics might be and how well the remaining portion of the band is doing – if the singer sings in an unappealing fashion, off goes the radio.

Needless to say, you will find male vocalists who do a myriad of weird things inside their songs – Elton John’s joyfully campy falsetto of ‘LAAAAAAA-la-la-la-la-laaaah, la-la-la-la-LAAAAAAAHH’on Crocodile Rock is epic and fun to wail along to.  Sir Paul McCartney could, and probably still can, go from crooning gently a tune like Maybe I’m Amazed to Helter Skelter. I probably will never understand why the half-spoken, half-sung delivery of Mark Knopfler and David Wilcox works so well, nonetheless it does.  Mind, the truth that they’re both excellent lyricists also comprises for a lot. Michael Jackson’s voice was high and obviously he did his signature ‘heh-heh’…but the man was a helluva performer and let’s face it, with Thriller, both song and album, he singlehandedly saved the recording industry from total collapse.  Hell, I’ve seen one-time Metal Queen Lee Aaron singing torch songs in a little bar called the Railway Club in Vancouver; she was amazing.  No tricks there.

Why, in regards to Britney, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera (any of them still around?) Lady Gagas and Bjorks and Nikki Minajs and most of the remaining portion of the top-40 crowd do all the more in-studio vocal effects get layered on?  Why do all of them sound virtually the same?  I don’t hear lots of crap that way being done to the Jonas Brothers, One Direction or Justin Beiber.  (Yes, which was probably the most painful 12 minutes of my life).

That’s why I really could tune in to voices like those of Whitehorse, Annie Lennox, kd lang and Metric’s Emily all day. Emily features a clear strong voice that can sound eerily little-girlish, like on Youth Without You, without turning in to a pitchy screech.  Are you able to imagine Madonna in her early years pulling off that song?  Or something with real meaning to it like Amy Winehouse’s sulky, poignant Rehab? Never.  The girls of Mother Mother have a great time doing pitchy vocals on The Stand, however they can afford to – everything else I’ve heard from their website shows lots of talent and range.

Give me the tortured howl of Janis, or Gin Wigmore, whose aptly named album, Gravel and Wine, which may well be what she gargles with each day, and that is clearly a good thing. I didn’t care for her and Black Sheep at first, but she grew on me, much in the same way Radiohead has, because Thom York does so much vocally.  I can also tune in to Shania, Bette Midler and pre-Autotune Cher, which came in handy several years back when I was chilling out with drag queens in Vancouver.  And to offer Madge some credit, at the very least she was allowed to eventually outgrow the drugged-out mouse voice and develop some range and actual dance moves.

But then you will find those people who are pure genius.  And to me that means the main one and only Cyndi Lauper.  She’s So Unusual was the best-named album ever; she was an animation come to life. She could and did joyously yelp her way through Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and She-Bop (hilariously bizarre video, too)…then sing a tortured rendition of I Drove All Night.  Time After Time and True Colours also show the extent of this amazing little woman’s range.

In order I was driving home today and heard Gwen Stefani caterwauling away on radio stations, I couldn’t help but believe that I would give her a break.  I’ve never heard her regular speaking voice before, so I scared up a youtube video of her on the Ellen Show.  Maybe she’d no choice.  Maybe which was all she has.

A couple of seconds of hearing Gwen were more than enough to convince me that yep, she’s just a one-trick pony.  That voice is all she’s got.  Out of curiousity, I scrolled down seriously to the comments below.  And there clearly was this comment:


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