I’ve been tuning in a lot to this trend of singing pop songs in a ‘vintage’ way, bringing back a no longer current style (1930’s/40’s vocal qualities seem popular) and applying it to modern day songs. It has inspired me to brainstorm on some questions under the HUGE topic of what is the difference between mimicking and communicating.
It seems the majority of the way artists get across that they are bringing back a style that is no longer current (I’m still thinking of this 1930s-50s trend) is by using, or overusing, affects – a growl, a scoop, an overly pouty-lipped diphthong. Of course, when these vocal expressions originated in the style, they were tools of communication. But when I hear artists bring them back, I often feel that all they are communicating is ‘Look I know how to do this thing with my voice that fits in this style’ (even when it seems that their goal in earnest is to be emotionally engaged and communicate the meaning of the song to listeners) I’m trying to tease this out because I think it’s wonderful to have a lot of different vocal colors, effects, and extended techniques at your finger tips to mix and match in an artistic way. But I when I listen, I’m often overwhelmed and rolling my eyes thinking, Could you just cut the affects and sing it simply, like you’re singing a children’s song? It’d be so much easier to listen to…..
So I’ve wondered-
Is it that they are simply overusing these affects? Would sprinkling them about less and saving them for more specific moments feel more genuine and less gimmicky?
Is it the actual way they are doing the affect? If we analyzed the sound of an original artist from that time period, who many agreed sounds ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’, would there be something in the harmonic output that is missing from the modern day copy cats? Keeping in mind, of course, the difference in recording abilities between then and now.
Is it that artists who didn’t grow up in that time period can’t possibly understand the cultural influences that led to those vocal trends in expression, and therefore will never sound authentic recreating them? Which of course brought me to the thought of something many of us base our profession on – trying to sing opera! Talk about bringing back a style of singing that is no longer current. And we see the same thing with amateurs and professionals in that field – the use and overuse of affects that start to sound gimmicky (stylistic slurs, attacks, messa di voce, over darkened vowels etc.) as if the number one goal is to say, Look I know how to sound like that style!
So my final thought was, which I think is the most interesting topic is - for anyone to learn and replicate a style, especially one that is not current in the culture you grow up in, you have to mimic those who have come before you. Imitating, in fact, is one of our biggest learning tools and in some voice instruction, the only learning tool. So when does a bad imitation become a good imitation? At what point does it sound like YOU when you have to start out learning to sound like someone else? At a harmonic output level, could we break down the difference between gimmicky and genuine? What about at an emotional level? And, how do we teach the difference?