Highly Marketable Yet Audibly Marginal

Driving in the car with my kids this morning a Miley Cyrus song came on the radio. I started to change the channel and I was verbally attacked. “STOP!” they cried, “We LIKE that song!” I turned to my daughter, age 17, surely a voice of reason. “Seriously?” I asked her. I mean, I get #1son and #2son liking it. It’s pop music and they’re 5 and 6. “Yeah,” she said to me with a look that said she was more than ready to defend her position.

I don’t get it. And quite frankly, I’ve never gotten it. Even way back in the day of Fleetwood Mac. I loved Fleetwood Mac. But Stevie Nicks? Her voice sounds like a cigar smoking chipmunk to me. (Uh-oh. I just lost a few readers I fear. 😦  Thanks for stopping by!) When I hear her version of Silent Night on the album “A Very Special Christmas” it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. How dare she massacre such a sacred song?

But then, I liked Rush. And Geddy Lee’s vocal quality isn’t exactly pure. Or Janis Joplin. Or Kim Carnes. Or Bon Scott of AC/DC. Even Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles had a touch of that chipmunk quality. But I could listen to her without cringing. What was it about Stevie Nicks that bothered me so? And what was the secret to her mass appeal?

And then along came Britney Spears. My daughter was in early grade school when Britney first hit the pop charts. I predicted her a teeny bopper flash in the pan. Whoops! I did it again.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. Another nasal voiced chipmunk dressed (or not dressed as the case may be) up as a credible pop singer. I just don’t get it.

I began formulating this post in my mind in the car. When I sat down to the computer to type I saw this article on msn.com. Evidently the Aussie’s are in an uproar because Britney Spears dared to lip sync her concert. I’m sorry. But ever since you could lip sync and get away with it pop stars have been doing it. Now the article I’m referring to actually brings up the Milli Vanilli debacle – but I’m not talking about lip syncing to someone else’s voice. I’m talking about lip syncing to your best recording or the one of your voice that been washed, scrubbed and tweaked in every way digitally possible to bring forth a version that is palpable to the ear. To some.

Music through the decades is a very interesting subject to me. I could spin 100 posts on the subject. But what interests me today is the highly marketable yet audibly marginal voices you hear on the radio. On American Idol last season (yes, I watch, unashamed) there are episodes when highly established pop singers perform. They sing live – as the contestants do. If you follow the program I’m remembering when Lady Ga Ga appeared. (I still giggle every time I hear that ridiculous stage name) She was horrible. Every AI finalist left at that point in the show had a better voice than she did. What is her appeal?

I’m not saying you need a PhD like Brian May of Queen or be an esteemed alum of the Juilliard School. Let’s try this. Let’s celebrate singers that can actually sing. Let’s honor people who have honed their craft and not simply covered themselves in glitter and called themselves a star. I could do that. We all could. When I turn on the radio I want to hear good music. Not the manufactured tones of a souped up studio mimed by a made up kewpie doll.


Filed under Music, Soapbox

20 responses to “Highly Marketable Yet Audibly Marginal

  1. Steven Harris

    Something is rotten in the state of pop music these days. It has to be bad when I’m even becoming nostalgic for Tiffany’s repetitve and anodyne ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’. Come on American guitar bands, time for yet another kick up the pop backside.

  2. Ha! You’re a new discovery for me, via Motherese (thank you, Kristen!)… and you will certainly smile as you read about my teen trials and tribulations. 17. Hey – that’s past the worst of it! (Except you have two more coming up, don’t you… but then, I’ve found it to be not nearly as daunting as most make it out to be, though #2 is full of surprises.)

    As for music – I’ve been delighted to see my sons adore the classics that were on my hit list as a teen and later – I mean REAL classics, like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and (of course) the Beatles, and even Queen! They also rock the house with French techno music (that I admit I like) and CDs for the car with some great new groups (whose names I never remember… must I have more Omega-6, tuna, blueberries, and caffeine???).

    Let’s face it, when they aren’t worrying us sick or driving us crazy (with their driving), teens rock. Um, and so does their music. If only it rocked at a slightly lower volume…

  3. I love Britney, Lady Gaga and good old Miley Cyrus. Sorry.

    I do agree with you about Stevie Nicks.

    Music is all down to a matter of taste though isn’t it?

    I really hate American (and British) guitar bands. My partner loves U2 and Oasis etc. I just don’t get it.

    Each to their own. As a dj I play it all, and have tearnt that it means something to them, who am I to question it?

  4. I actually like Stevie Nicks because her voice is unique (bearing in mind that she was surrounded by incredible talent). I don’t like all of the pop princesses that all sound exactly alike.

  5. What is a ticket to a concert? It is a free market exchange. One of those win-win situations. You are plunking down your hard earned scrilla in exchange for what? That’s where it gets dicey. Do you have a contract that outlines exactly the form of entertainment you’ll get? No. Britney would appear live via satellite via DVD and guess what? That ticket you are holding doesn’t promise you anything else. Is it a contract for live-only performance? Not unless it so explicitly states. Anything else is an assumption on the part of the customer.

  6. Stevie Nicks — it’s funny ’cause it’s true! I still kind of like her, though. And I agree with you that the state of music is an inscrutable tangle of market forces. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I don’t find the odd Miley Cyrus song catchy. I like music from all areas, by all kinds of people. I do agree that the marketing machine can really skew things in favour of people with little talent or originality. I remember hearing about some artist complaining that she couldn’t make a living at music and Jane Siberry telling her ‘if you really love music, just do it, and ask your friends to clothe and feed you’. That seems wrong.

    • That Miley song IS catchy. I just don’t get the appeal of her voice – it’s marginal, at best. Now if she’s a singer/songwriter and she just insists on singing her own material (and the material is fantastic) that’s a different story.

  7. Kristin

    Funny; I’ve always loved Stevie Nicks. Her voice is unique and I like the way it sounds. Michael McDonald comes to mind as well, totally unique voice! I could never understand the appeal of Neil Diamond and some of the twangy modern day country singers. I think the appeal of the pop stuff is the rhythm and attitude, not so much the singing. One of my favorite groups is Outkast, and they surely wouldn’t be classified as great singers. Sometimes technically correct singers are just boring to listen to.

  8. Stevie Nicks sounds like a nervous goat. Seriously.

    Britney can’t sing. Miley barely passes.

    And man, Bob Dylan cannot sing to save his LIFE!!!

  9. angelcel

    I think the thing is that the majority of pop singers are a complete package nowadays – quite literally ‘all singing all dancing’. Singing is just a part of it. I personally would be disappointed to go to a concert where the performer didn’t sing well but then the concerts I attended were the likes of Bowie, Genesis and Elton John. They may have been flamboyant in stage *make up* but they weren’t gyrating around (well, not to the same extent singers do now). Britney’s ‘whole package’ includes dance so I understand why she has to lip sync. I mean come on, just try *talking* whilst jumping up and down! I think if you go to one of her concerts you have to accept that she either lip syncs during at least some of it, or she pretty much cuts out the energetic dancing entirely.

    All that being said, some complete packages warrant a few allowances. Most, IMHO, do not. Since the advent of computers that can tweak to give perfect pitch, the pop world has become awash with performing monkeys who don’t know their A from their A flat. 😉

  10. Husband loves Stevie Nicks…has been a fan for over thirty years. (Linda Ronstadt is his other favorite.)

    Don’t worry–I won’t tell him you “diss-ed” Stevie.

  11. I was very lucky. I indoctrinated my kids with the music I love from the day(s) they were born. And when they were teens I found that I also liked THEIR music as well. We all agree on almost all types of music and when we get together we all share CDs to load on our iPods.

  12. Is it sad that I like Taylor Swift and Miley’s new song? I’m almost embarassed to admit the latter one.

  13. I totally agree (except about Stevie Nicks:)! It should be talent and not image.

    And about the lip-service….I have always thought a truly live concert humanized the rock star. You can hear they are a real person and each performance is a little different.

  14. submom

    Agreed with you 100% on this. Lady Gaga’s appeal? Her costumes are even more outrageous than Björn’s, if that’s even possible…

  15. Interesting topic. I agree that so much of the music today is about packaging and not about singing and that this is a shame. To me, it raises a more fundamental question about success in this culture of ours. Is it hinged on actual prowess, on talent, or on some admixture of luck and publicity and physical “perfection”? I am not so sure. But I am sure that it is not predicated on that old school ability to croon and make us swoon…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s