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February 4, 2010


Forgive me, I am not generally one to involve myself or my opinions in the happenings of media and popular culture 'but doth I must protest!'this frenzy that has erupted over Taylor Swifts infamous Grammy performance. Perhaps my two cents is not as valuable as the two cents of Pariz Hilton, or Bob Lefsetz, or any number of the bloggers and media moguls in the world, but I'm gonna offer them regardless, why? because I'm an IMPERFECT pop singer and I can only IMAGINE the agony that that poor girl is enduring and will have to endure for the rest of her life.

We are talking about a VOICE. An instrument inside a human body. The MOST difficult instrument to control, to tune, to manage and to predict. Lets be a little forgiving here and really look at her situation with an open heart. Lets break it down into categories.

#1. First there are vocalists that have trained, very strictly, and VERY early in their lives AND also have been blessed with amazing tones (i.e Celine Dion, Michael Jackson...and yes, Lady Gaga). These voices are well oiled machines. These people are masters of their instruments. They have also had the good fortune and welfare to be trained early enough for it to count and by some of the best vocal coaches in the world.

#2. Second there are trained vocalists that have perfect or relative pitch but ZERO tone. These vocalists will most likely be background singers all of their lives. They can hit the notes perfectly, blend well but will never stand on their own.

#3. Third there are singers that are naturally gifted, no training, great ears, great control, great tone. Stevie Nicks would fit into this category.

#4. The fourth and final kind is the singer that is NOT trained (and if so only in later years and a very small amount), nor has a lot of control (FYI tuning issues are generally ALWAY's due to difficulty with vocal control and has NOTHING to do with poor ears), however, this category of singer has a GREAT tone. This is Taylor Swift and almost 99.9% of pop singers. Again, 99.9% of ALL POP SINGERS. Gwen Stafani, Katy Perry, John Mayer, Avril Lavinge etc. These are not vocalists that are particularly 'strong' vocalists. They are simply naturally gifted with a beautiful, unique tone. I have heard each of these artists sing out of tune on various occasions. So what should we expect from these pop singers? Certainly not perfection! Taylor is not in category #1 and NEVER will be. She's not in category #2, cause we all know she doesn't have perfect pitch but she's got TONE. She's not #3 cause she's not naturally gifted with perfection. So again, what should we expect? She's not trained! Not freakishly, naturally gifted! NO what she is is a POP singer. Not a MASTER of the art! Very very few are masters and may I point out, amazing technique and vocal control doesn't make a star.

**It's unrealistic to expect every successful pop singer to be flawless when the VERY NATURE OF THEIR STYLE is raw and untrained. Yes, even GRAMMY winners.

I watched Taylor's Grammy performance a MILLION times and she sounded fine when she was singing her songs, a little pitchy here and there but certainly nothing to write home about! It was only when she started singing 'Rhiannon' that she got really pitchy. Taylor's songs are not melodic marathons. They are appropriate to her ability as a singer. Rhiannon on the otherhand is a TOUGH song, a REALLY TOUGH song. She was singing way outside of her ability as a singer. Her ears are fine, it's her vocal control! Her vocal chords are not accustom to those melodic phases. Taylor songs are no where near as challenging as 'Rhiannon' and her vocal chords don't have the training or the muscle memory to make the adjustment! Not to mention that there are MANY factors they are employed when talking about an instrument so vulnerable as a voice. NERVES can affect vocal control (she was performing at the GRAMMY's with STEVIE FRIGGIN' NICKS!). ILLNESS. HUMIDITY (or lack of). POOR MONITORING. STRESS. POOR SLEEP. The list could go on for days. We can't pretend to know the physicality of her vocal chords or any other circumstance associated with this event.

So she couldn't sing 'Rhiannon'! So she had a less then perfect performance in front of a million 'flawless' viewers and peers! So now she deserves to be stripped of her Grammy and paraded around in the media like an impotent dog? Not many singers can pull off Rhiannon, let alone a 20 year old teen pop/country singer. A POP GRAMMY winner to boot! Oh GOD forbid! (cause every one that possesses a GRAMMY has sung in tune every single moment of their musical career)! Moreover, as terrible as Taylor may have sounded singing Fleetwood Mac, Stevie didn't sound much better singing Taylor Swift. These are clearly two singers that are so totally different, both lyrically and vocally, that it was a ridiculous idea to pair the two.

Also, why is it that female singers have to be perfect or damned to hell? I have NEVER once heard any one scrutinize a male singer, or male musician for that matter, this badly (so badly that it would ultimately end their careers). I heard a live LP of Leonard Cohen the other day and it was so bad I laughed out loud! Bob and Neil as well. And give me a break! Call these guys what you want, poets or whatever, it's still POP music...and yet when they sing every one thinks the pitchiness is endearing and artistic! How many Grammies has Leonard Cohen won?

If the academy expects all Grammy winners to be world class vocalists then they should expect to hand out a very very small number of statues, if any at all. Music is not about who can hit the high notes, or who has been financially or circumstantially fortunate enough to be trained to have excellent vocal control and pitch. Music is not about technique. It's not about vocal Olympics, or crazy licks. Music is FEEL.

There are plenty of great singers out there but only a few that make it as far as Taylor, why? Because it takes ALOT more then just a good set of pipes to sell 10 million records. She writes songs (or presents songs or whatever the hell you want to argue) that relate and connect with people on a very personal level. A LOT of people. How many of you 'perfectionists' can say the same? Perhaps her daddy is a rich man who wanted to see his baby make it to the top....and maybe he could buy her a seat at the table but he couldn't buy her the love of 10 million people. Taylor did that all on her own. Bad singing and all. It's a damn damn shame the scrutiny and ridicule she is facing. It will bury her. All for a couple bad notes.

'This is the world that we live in; I feel myself get tired' (The Killers)


phil said...

one thing may be is that people are secretly jealous, that such a young woman is achieving such a high degree of success while still remaining humble. people also just need something to bitch about. so these two things together spell out 'controversy' for things like e-talk. she didn't use autotune live, and thats admirable.

which brings me to: lady gaga. i love her music. its rediculously well produced and catchy as hell; but her voice is laden with autotune on every track. there's ones where its very evident and used as an effect, then there's ones that its more transparent, until you hear the pitch and timing perfect vibrato, and then there is tracks where you probably couldn't even tell at all. I saw her paparazzi performance on some awards show... AUTOTUNE, massive autotune. Shes got good vocal timbre, but she uses autotune even live. now, i must clarify, im not opposed to autotune, i think its great actually; it saves money and time, which are practically the same thing, while also making song writing and production much easier. but something should be said for a performer that is being touted as an amazingly gifted singer that not only uses it in the studio, but also live. that tells me that she is more focused on the overall performance, which is also a good thing. that says that her vocal skills are maybe not what everyone thinks they are.

srry. tldr. offtopic.

What It's Like To Run A Red Light said...

Hey Phil! Agreed. I have no qualms with auto tune either. If it gives the performer confidence, which will then give them the freedom to perform with certainty, then I think it is a useful tool. It takes nothing away from the audience and in fact will enhance their experience if the singer is in fact having trouble staying in tune.

I think it's massively unrealistic to expect a pop vocalist to be a MASTER vocalist. Though there are many ways a singer that is having pitch problems can and SHOULD (if they have the means) improve (ear training and vocal training etc), generally pop singer's have already a well established pattern of bad habits and it takes a great amount of discipline and time to break. Taylor is barely 20 years old but already has been singing for years and even if she trained rigorously every day (which how in the world would she find the time between her promotions, tours etc) we cannot expect miracles. Also you are right. Taylor didn't use an auto tuner. She could have, but she did not.Though, if she had we'd still be having this conversation. Every one expects her to be perfect, yet she would be equally ostracized if she decided to 'cheat' in order to meet unrealistic expectations the world put upon here. Its a case of 'damned if you do and damned if you don't'.

As for Lady Gaga, the reason I included her in my blog is because she is an example of a star that has been extremely fortunate in her upbringing. She attended some of the worlds most prestigious music schools at a very young age. She is very very gifted but she is also a product of her circumstances. Who's to say how Taylor would have flourished musically if she were given those opportunities? Lady Gaga is a beautiful singer. I have seen her perform acoustically, with no band, no dancing, nothing, she's brilliant. But she's also has the time, the financial support and the training to enable her to develop brilliance. That was my point. As for whether or not she uses auto tuner, I can't be sure, she is pretty active on stage, and even with her training vocal control would be difficult. Thanks Phil for the comment!