Pop Vocal Quirks
10th May 2012
Continuing the subject of pop vocal quirks, I have to say that melisma is not the most bothersome to my ears. Far more annoying are the contrived little grunts and groans… the ‘Oh, I’m so sexy, I can’t bear it’ kind. In the throes of melismating, it has become customary for the melismatroll to moan in this feeble affectation of pleasure, even when lamenting the loss of her hunky boyfriend (whose presence is clearly unnecessary) … while in the accompanying video she is running her hands up and down her swimsuit in a ‘Lost my car keys again’ body search. Can’t she keep a man without all that fakery? I expect the royalty cheques make it worthwhile for some, but surely the budget can stretch to an outfit? Poor girl, shivering and twitching in her undies… all those ghastly gyrations in an effort to keep warm.
Just as abhorrent is the good ol’ country yodel… oh, no, please - not the yodelling! Evidently, yodelling was originally intended for use in the domestication of animals - and in ancient times it is said that one of the Roman Emperors - no, I don’t know which one - complained of wild, shrieking songs from the people of the north. God bless him, he never got to hear the pop charts of today.
From one Tyrolean mountain peak to another, yodelling undoubtedly has its uses when gathering up the goats for milking. The fact that it has found its way into pop vocals is indeed unfortunate. In country music, like it or not, it is easy to make the connection with rounding up the cattle - ‘Yee-haw’ - but in a love song presumably not directed at some bovine creature (but who can tell?), it sounds totally inappropriate.
Combined with the aforementioned fake moan of pleasure, the yodel becomes more of a retch, as though the poor performing creature has inadvertently swallowed a false eyelash and is trying to regurgitate it before the end of the line.
All these unfortunate effects are magnified by the strange compulsion of the singer to scream out her protestations of love at a level above 130 decibels. “I LOVE YOU!!!! YOU ARE MY LIFE!!!”, she shrieks, like a demented banshee in the night. Whatever happened to those seductive ‘sweet nothings’ whispered in the ear? Is it that men have been deafened by all the screeching? What man could resist… running from the room in terror?
As the great singer, Mahalia Jackson once said, (Cerys Matthews’ recent R4 programme) “A moan or groan… it comes from the soul… when there are no words...” She made no reference to a phoney ‘groan from the groin’, particularly offensive when emanating from the larynx of some ten-year old wanabee, who has adopted it with all the other ghastly vocal affectations used by her current role models.
This, coupled with the unimaginative and dated choreography (the same tired, predictable moves for the past two decades) that accompanies every song - writhing, pulsating, a plethora of pelvic thrusts - boring and predictable, is even more grotesque when performed by children as young as three. Are the days of bobbing innocently along to nursery rhymes gone forever, then?
Depressing as all this is, we are blessed that there other areas where musicians don’t need to resort to tacky measures to sell their music. No gimmicks, no sleazy choreography, no special effects required. Good music is good music. Bad music, however scantily-dressed, will always be bad.
… and if I hear another auto-tuned vocal, I swear I’ll go gaga!
Until next time…