Opinions and Rants #9: Reflections on Contemporary Music (and Why It Sucks) Part 2

I won't rant on and on in this installment. Instead, I'll just throw out one word:

This is when pop diva wannabes sing sixty notes for a single syllable - it's octave showboating and a form of auditory abuse. It's on display with basically every American Idol contestant and almost every pop/hip-hop/R&B song on the radio.

Message to young pop stars: Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston have been there and done that. Move on. No more of this nonsense - not on American Idol, not while you're singing the National Anthem, not ever! You are fracturing words into a soulless slur of syllables.

Your vocal gymnastics have become predictable and alienating. A steady note can be transcendent - try it sometime. Your amateur warbling is a trite, self-indulgent form of exhibitionism.

I'll admit, very rarely a song can be enhanced by a dose of melisma. Roberta Flack could pull it off sparingly to great effect. But, most of the time "there isn't any musical justification of what they are doing. Their runs interfere with the flow of the melody, of the lyric, of the harmonies, sometimes of the rhythm itself. It's frequently a very vulgar and ugly display." (quote from NPR)

So quit it.

(BTW: Frank's singing book can actually be found here in its entirety - I'm talkin' to YOU Jennifer Hudson!).

[related post see Reflections on Contemporary Music (and Why It Sucks) Part 1]


  1. I listen to very little contemporary music. I definitely don't want American Idol. I've never actually even watched a single episode of it.

  2. The title of George Harrison's triple album "All Things Must Pass" is appropriate here. This is simply an annoying phase in music that will soon join the likes of Right Said Fred and C&C Music Factory in the bargain bin.

  3. Been saying this for years. I blame Stevie Wonder for a lot of it. The bastard.

  4. Thank you for this post, which puts a name to the horrors that Mariah and Whitney begat.

  5. Preach on, brother! I couldn't agree with you more. As the cool kids are saying now, I like your ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  6. Frankie had the right idea, if you follow the link you provided and read the introduction. He talks about emulating other singers' styles to develop your own but in doing so "being careful to always employ intelligence and good taste."

    I agree it will pass, it just sometimes takes too long.

  7. AnonymousMay 12, 2010

    Excellent post. My two cents' worth on this issue: most of today's Mariah/Whitney/etc-influenced vocalists - and their audiences - confuse having a voice with being a singer. The former is the prerequisite for the latter, of course, but there's a HUGE difference between being able to carry a tune and do vocal loop-the-loops, and having the judgment (and experience and, oh yes, talent) to put your voice in the service of the song, not vice-versa. Whitney Houston is a good example - her early singles were essentially her bellowing the lyrics - no build-up, no subtlety, no nuance, just 0-to-100 in 2.5 bars of music. Around the time of "The Bodyguard", she finally learned to rein in her (actually good and powerful) voice for effect; there's a world of difference (and, I suspect, learning her art) between "Saving All My Love for You" and "Shoop Shoop". Sadly, with most musical acts having the lifespan of a mayfly, most of the overemoting, self-aggrandizing singers of today won't get a chance to learn how to actually sing. Pink ever being able to embue a song with the sensuality and restraint Dusty Springfield gave "The Look of Love"? Fat chance!