Aretha vs. Adele: Rolling in the Deep

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs with tags , , , , on October 8, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

Aretha Franklin, a.k.a. the Queen of Soul is back! Her new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics”, will be out soon and the first single is her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Though I’m not quite sure why she’s covering it because I wouldn’t class it as a “diva classic”, especially when it is among songs by true legends such as Etta James, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand and Dinah Washington. I guess it was mainly for commercial purposes as most of the other songs are quite old or not well known. Anyway, since the audio was released it has garnered mixed reviews from a lot of people. But who did it better and who is better overall?

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Adele’s version (even though I find her to be boring and overrated) and of course being the songwriter she does it well and connects with it, but you cannot deny Aretha’s genius musicianship when it comes to recreating other people’s songs. The fact that Adele’s version is still so fresh in people’s minds and was such a big hit, may be part of people’s problem – it’s already been covered so many times, and usually not particularly well or to the same level. Most comments I’ve seen from people on the internet are along the lines of “Adele wins hands down” or that “I love Aretha, but this is Adele’s song” and that “Aretha is just screaming” or “there’s too much auto-tune”. So, which version is better? Can Aretha still sing? Is Adele better than her? Here I’m going to break down my personal thoughts on the two different versions and the two singers so we can better understand the differences between them.

1) Use of auto-tune

Unfortunately, for some reason, there is quite a bit of auto-tune on Aretha’s version, which could have been to give it a more contemporary feel or cleaner sound – to me, I don’t see that as a huge problem. Whether the auto-tune was used for pitch correction however, is another thing. Aretha is rarely that flat, sharp or out of tune, so I highly doubt whoever did the vocal production thought she was off so corrected it – it’s just that it wasn’t done particularly well, and is sadly, all too obvious in parts. I agree with many who say she doesn’t need auto-tune what with being one of the greatest voices of all time and that her using it could diminish her reputation as a vocalist as some would say she can’t sing like she used to… Well, duh. So in terms of the production/mixing of her version, no it wasn’t as brilliant as Adele’s.

2) Emotion/connection to the song

A completely subjective aspect of singing, which does not necessarily relate to how good a singer or a vocal is. Of course, Adele wrote the song so her connection to it would be greater, but not necessarily glaringly obvious since it’s down to opinion. Then you have Aretha, who may not have a connection to the song’s lyrics but being the Queen of Soul and coming from a strong gospel background where they learn to connect with and understand the meaning of songs that they perform, surely you can presume she sat down and studied it enough to want to take it on and not just did it for the sake of it?

3) Musicianship

Both these women are good musicians and both are great songwriters but Aretha’s iconic interpretations of other people’s songs have sometimes overshadowed even her own material as well as the originals themselves (see “Respect”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”) and while I have not heard many of Adele’s live or studio covers, the ones I have heard (“Fool That I Am” and “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” by Etta James, “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan and “Lovesong” by The Cure) have been pleasant to listen to but not exactly overly different, exciting nor musically groundbreaking. Adele may be one of very few true artists and musicians out there today, but Aretha still stands as one of the best of all time.

4) Vocals

First off, it should obviously be noted that they have completely different voices and styles – Aretha is a dramatic mezzo with a naturally larger, more powerful and voluminous voice that can reach low notes with solidity and resonance and also hit higher notes with great power and ease. Adele is a typical lyric mezzo with a smaller voice and a more lachrymose quality to her singing compared to the metallic, sometimes unyielding sound of a dramatic voice. Thus, comparing them can be open to debate. However, check out the videos below of Aretha’s range, use of runs and basically show-stopping vocal moments:

Adele is a good singer, but is she a phenomenal singer? No, I don’t think so. Aretha is and always has been the superior vocalist when you look at skill and technique – when it comes to range (both low and high notes), use of intricate and complex melisma, vocal delivery and lyrical phrasing, power, resonance and overall technique (breath support/control, larynx position, vocal placement), Aretha is better and there is no debate about it. Even at 72, after decades of smoking, ageing and natural wear and tear, her voice is still rather impressive. The clarity and timbre of her voice may have declined and she may be more nasal these days (an easier placement to sing in to hit higher notes), but the rest of it is pretty much there and in tact. Adele on the other hand, is limited in range, technical skill and isn’t the most technically proficient singer – her arsenal is simply the sultry, rich and husky tone in her voice and her delivery, which some may prefer over the more “dramatic” sounding and powerhouse voice of Aretha and that’s fine but to say Aretha can no longer sing or that Adele is an “amazing” singer or better than Aretha? Blasphemous!

5) Live

Aretha recently performed the song live for the first time on Letterman, and I kept saying that we should not judge her based purely on the studio version until she does it live – where there would undoubtedly be NO auto-tune, reverb or lipping. Of course, as mentioned before, Aretha is about three times older than Adele and both have very different voices as well as their voices being in different states, so you can’t expect a fair comparison between the two. However, Aretha certainly does a good job considering her age and way out of prime voice. The beginning is slightly wobbly and not particularly great when she tries to scale between multiple octaves in just one phrase, and yes some of the belts are rather wheezy and nasal, but the power and resonance is still there. As she gets more into it halfway through though, her voice picks up and becomes a bit stronger and she starts to shine when she creatively mixes in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” towards the end and pulls off a classic church-style Aretha performance with quite surprisingly nice and well-executed belts.

Here’s a “nasal version” by Adele who isn’t 100% well here, just to make it a fairer comparison… Hehe:

In conclusion, Aretha’s voice may not be as stable as Adele’s but we shouldn’t disregard Aretha just because she’s so much older now and not as amazing or as practically unparalleled as she once used to be 30-40 or even just 20 years ago. I’m sure Adele still has a lot more to give and she definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as one of today’s great young talent (though I don’t hold high expectations from her on her next album, both lyrically or musically) but the Queen of Soul’s voice and musicality and is not one to ever be underestimated and I for one am definitely interested in hearing how she has recreated other “diva classics” for her new album.

What do you think? Which version do you prefer and do you think Aretha has still got it in her or is Adele the new Queen of Soul?

Hot topic: Is Ariana Grande better than Mariah Carey?

Posted in Female Vocalists, Mariah Carey with tags , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

Ever since Ariana Grande moved away from acting to launch a pop career, when she was posting videos of herself singing and performing covers of songs – namely ones by Mariah Carey – she has been constantly compared to the legendary diva. This peaked (for the first time) when she recorded a version of Carey’s song “Emotions” – one of the hardest pop songs of all time. Now, she did quite well actually – her range on the cover spanned 4 octaves, a few notes short of the original, and she managed to do her best to replicate (yes, “replicate”) the same riffs and runs Mariah did. Since then, Ariana has continued to perform Mariah songs – whom she says is her all-time favourite singer and called her “the best singer on the planet” – and her vocal styling is quite obviously very much influenced by her. So does that make her as good or better than Mariah? Many “Arianators” have called their idol “the next/new Mariah Carey”, say she is better than her as a singer (even when Mariah was at her peak in the 90s) and sang “Emotions” better than Mariah, not to mention all the insults towards Mariah’s age, deteriorated voice, image and perceived personality. Well, here I am going to debunk all those opinions (except the last ones) and will provide facts and evidence to back up my statement that no, Ariana is not – in any way, shape or form – a better singer than Mariah… and that not only includes then, but also now.

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DISCLAIMER: This piece is mainly objective and I am using constructive criticism. I am not a “Lamb” – I like Mariah, think she is definitely one of the greatest singers of all time, but am not a hardcore fan. Nor am I a “hater” of Ariana – she seems nice, has talent and a good voice, I just do not particularly like it or her songs and absolutely detest those who ignorantly think she is anywhere near as good as Mariah, let alone better than her. This is also about a comparison between their voices and abilities, not their successes, music, personalities and not the conditions of their voices/health.

Here are some of the opinions I’ve heard or read by Ariana fans or Mariah haters that show that these people seem to be confused with actual facts based on musical knowledge and vocal pedagogy:

1) Ariana’s version of “Emotions” shows more range and skill than Mariah’s.

Really? Mariah’s range in the song spans from C3 to E7, Ariana’s spans from E3-E7. Mariah’s runs were created by her and perfectly executed – Ariana EMULATES these runs to the best of her ability, but they are NOT as well executed. Also, listen carefully to the two versions – Mariah accesses the whistle register with complete ease, while Ariana does not to the same extent.

It should also be noted that Mariah has performed the song countless times over the past 20+ years, while Ariana has NEVER performed it live at all. Could she do that and do it the same way or better? We’ll see… So far, she has yet to show she can emulate the recording and her use of the whistle register since then has been limited, and well, not particularly good. There is also speculation that studio miracles were responsible for “touching up” Ariana’s version… Of course this has not been proven and I’m unsure myself but there is that to think about until Ariana does perform it live – if she does.

2) Ariana has better control of her voice and better technique.

Now let’s break it down, shall we?

Lower register (below Middle C):

  • Mariah: Resonant, can sustain notes in this area and phrase well (and can go even lower).
  • Ariana: Weak, unsupported, breathy from Middle C and below.

Mid range (Middle C to E5):

  • Mariah: Has power, great resonance, good agility, well-supported.
  • Ariana: Limited power, limited resonance, some agility, sometimes too throaty.

Upper belting range (up to A5):

  • Mariah: Retains power, resonance, agility and fullness of timbre pretty much throughout.
  • Ariana: While she can hit notes here easier, this is only really due to her light, high voice and her nasal placement. But her voice thins out, becomes shrill and more nasal in this area.

Falsetto (breathy in tone and lacks vocal dynamics – more flute-like):

  • Mariah: Uses a lot – well supported, great agility, musical and creative (with runs).
  • Ariana: Uses a lot – good agility, but weak.

NB: Falsetto is not considered a real register and should therefore not be considered particularly impressive if one has strength in this area of the voice, since it is not hard to achieve from a technical aspect for practically anyone.

Head voice (fuller in tone – more bell-like, with a “ring” to it):

  • Mariah: Doesn’t use a lot but has great agility, power and resonance.
  • Ariana: Doesn’t use a lot and lacks power and resonance.

Whistle register:

I’ll get to this part in more depth later.

General points:

  • Mariah: Can manipulate her timbre (rich, husky, smooth, light, girly, etc.), good sense of pitch, great interpretative skills, seamless register switches, proficient technique.
  • Ariana: Little weight or colour to the voice (only has one sound – light, high, shrill), good sense of pitch but poor enunciation, limited musical creativity, nasal placement, though has a relatively healthy technique that does not push her voice beyond its limits.

3) Ariana could “sing circles” around Mariah today.

Firstly, check out this video below comparing both of them at around the same age when they both released the debut and second albums. Is it fair? Is Ariana as good as Mariah was back then? Short answer: no.

Now, while it’s true Mariah’s voice has declined over the years – this is due to nodules ageing the voice and overworking in the first ten years of her career more than anything to do with her technique (overall, it’s not perfect but as close as probably any singer could get) – could Ariana outsing her today? I believe it would be close (particularly in a live setting), BUT:

  • Mariah’s enunciation is still better
  • Mariah can still sustain notes with good vibrato
  • Mariah’s technique is still relatively good and healthy (some rasp in the belts, probably the main area of deterioration)
  • Mariah can still sing well in the whistle register
  • Mariah still has a better lower register
  • Mariah still has greater musicianship, creativity and more complex runs, as shown in her song “Heavenly” (see below)

4) Ariana can sing in the whistle register better.

This is a common one! It seems anyone who can hit high notes these days is immediately compared to Mariah (much to the Elusive Chanteuse’s despair), from Christina to Leona and now Ariana. However, unfortunately, none of them – not even Christina – is better than her at singing in the whistle register and the last two still seem to be in shadows of the moniker “the new/next Mariah”…

Now, Mariah’s use of the whistle register is beyond brilliant – her technique is practically perfect, she has amazing agility, is powerful and resonant and can sing words and phrase in the whistle register. However, there is sometimes a slight breathiness/raspiness due to nodules, though this has nothing to do with her technique or ability to hit them. Check out what she can do with ease and consistency in this register and why she is one of the best of all time at using it:

Ariana, on the other hand, prefers to use falsetto instead (note: it’s unhealthy to push falsetto that high) and has rarely shown she can sing well in the whistle register, though there has been some improvement. Unfortunately, overall she has limited control of it and the notes are usually strained or forced and weak. Check out the video of her below singing “high notes” – but very few of those that are live are actual whistle tones.

And lastly…

5) Mariah looks like she’s in pain when singing – Ariana doesn’t.

This is probably the most laughable comment. Facial expressions do not always correspond to how a person is singing. I also, long ago, initially thought that Mariah looked like she was straining – and this is more obvious in her later years – but as mentioned above, her technique is good and she rarely forces or strains any part of her voice, except again, sometimes in her later years. Yes, these days Mariah does struggle singing harder parts of her bigger songs live but Ariana’s flaws are probably just as prominent. So forget about looking at their faces when they sing and listen to them instead and to be fair, here’s two recent live performances by them for you to see and hear for yourselves:

Ariana: The title of this video “Ariana SLAYS Break Free” is misleading (sorry, couldn’t find another video), because slay she does not. Her voice sounds thin, she is not very audible above the backing track (even if you turn it up louder), her enunciation is still poor, she is breathy (and she’s not moving about that much, if anyone wants to make that excuse) and slightly pitchy.

Mariah: Completely live and undubbed (I think, anyway) – unfortunately a rarity for her these days – this is her singing a song that is relatively similar to Ariana’s in terms of difficulty (i.e. not very). Her enunciation is good, her voice has resonance, power, she’s singing with an open throat, quite good support and technique and her pitch is on point throughout most of it. But is she straining? Does she look pained to you?

So, again, who is the better singer then and more interestingly, who is better now? In studio, Mariah is still better and there is barely a trace of any “studio miracles” or auto-tune. Live, they are both patchy (and pitchy) sometimes and Mariah’s performances are usually lipped (for most of the song or the hardest part) or dubbed over for a better sound quality. But of course, we’re looking at how they sing – which includes the technicalities of singing and the command and control they have over the voices, range and registers – not the state of their voices. Even if the question was “who has the better voice?”, Mariah would still come out on top, for hers is more versatile, interesting and more powerful – even today.

Perhaps this post was informative to many of who you read it and maybe even changed the minds of some of you that were not sure or thought Ariana is better. Or maybe you agree with me? Anyway, thanks for reading it – feel free to leave your comments (I’m seriously interested on who comments and what is said, especially from “Arianators”) and I’ll leave you with this rather hilarious image:

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10 sides of Christina Aguilera

Posted in Christina Aguilera with tags , , , on May 2, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

“There are many different sides to Christina Aguilera” , said she herself one time. Of course, she was talking more about her incredible musical versatility as an artist than anything else, but there are actually many different parts of her personality and life that have made her who she is today or that she has been or embodied in the past. Here are my favourites:

10) “Disneytina”

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She never forgets her Disney roots (MMC and the Mulan soundtrack) nor does she tire of going there so often and is constantly being papped or posing there at least a few times every year.

9) “Halloweentina”

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Already always known for her questionable fashion choices, Chris also goes all out for Halloween, with some rather random costumes that she seems to have made up herself, such as erm… Spider Queen?

8) “Marilyntina”

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In mid-2004 she dyed her hair back to its natural blonde colour (well, perhaps bleached is a better term), put on red lippy and began channelling Marilyn Monroe while she geared up for the release and promotion of Back To Basics. And since then hasn’t changed it much at all bar a few red and purple streaks. Will she ever dye her hair a different colour again?

7) “WTFtina”

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After Madonna and Cher and before Gaga and Katy, Christina was making a name for herself with her crazy outfits just as much as she was for her music and from 2000-2003 she had some pretty weird get-ups that she’d go out in and not for what seemed like a “fashion statement” but instead because… well, just because I think. As well as a pink feather dress and a shredded dress that looks a lot like Gaga’s meat dress complete with a wild blonde afro, others include a bra made out of what looks like a scarf, her various Halloween costumes and of course, her Dirrty chaps.

6) “Rifftina”

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Love it or loathe it, Christina’s vocal style – a mixture of Whitney, Mariah and Etta all rolled into one – is one of the most distinctive of all time and while her technique and control may not be on par with the likes of Beyoncé (yawn) and though constantly criticised for “over-singing”, she is arguably still more influential as a vocalist than her fellow peer. What is rather astonishing about Christina’s singing is what seems like her need to try and fit A LOT of riffs and runs into just one phrase, let alone a whole song, which may leave some people questioning her sense of musicality and can be very hit and miss at times, but are certainly always interesting to hear to say the least. She herself has owned up to overdoing it in the past and can also poke fun at her own quirkiness.

5) “Boobtina” and “Asstina”

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Christina has forever been well-known for showing off her assets and being comfortable in her own body, no matter what her size – which seems to fluctuate ALL THE TIME. She controversially but unsurprisingly showed a lot cleavage at Etta James’ funeral and her ass could have easily rivalled Nicki Minaj and her butt implants at one point.

4) “Drunktina”

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She’s been kissin’ all the boys and the girls… Chris is known to love a good drink and a night out – to a point when rumours swirled around the reasons and subsequent behaviour problems – and she was of course infamously taken into a police station one time for being too drunk in a passenger seat while her boyfriend was arrested for DUI.

3) “Shadetina”/”Bitchtina”

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From calling Kelly Osbourne a “sad, poor, angry little child” and throwing darts at a picture of her face to saying she didn’t know if Gaga was a man or a woman, from letting slip about Lip sync-ney’s miming at the VMAs to accusing P!nk of copying her and of course *that* “hug” with Justin Bieber, X has been on one side of many “feuds” with other celebrities, whether they were intentional or not. It’s given her the reputation of a “rude” and “unfriendly” diva but does she care? Nope.

2) “Dirrtytina”

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Madonna has always been at the forefront of mixing sex with her music and artistry but until 2002, no-one else dared to be as brave and overtly sexual as her than Christina – not even Britney. Since her drastic makeover from cutesy, bubblegum teen popstar to “Xtina” (consisting of few and revealing clothes, heavy makeup, dreads and countless body and facial piercings), “Dirrtytina” remains an iconic era in her career, whether it be for good or bad reasons. Nowadays, many others have attempted to follow in her footsteps of being controversially sexy or slutty, including Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna and of course, Miley Cyrus – albeit the latter basically ripping her off.

1) “Blacktina”

Remember when Chrissy was so tangoed and dyed her black then went around on stage speaking with a heavy fake accent? I do. In 2003, while on tour and at the MTV Europe Music Awards, she exuded more swag than some hip-hop rappers did, strutting around the stage, giving face and talking like she sings sometimes – like a southern black woman in what we can only assume was her asserting her independence and reflecting on the supposedly bad attitude she had at the time. Either way, she definitely looked like an almost completely different person to how she was in 2002 and 2004, which was rather bizarre.

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5 reasons why Beverley Knight is awesome

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2014 by dirrtyboy88

Adele, Amy, Leona, Joss, Duffy… Just a handful of the UK’s most famous neo-soul singers who have all achieved international recognition and success. And while they’re all good in their own way and to an extent, there’s one woman who blows them all out of the water when it comes to a combination of soul, technique, power, range, versatility and musicality – Beverley Knight. Bev hasn’t had a whole lot of mainstream success, even in the UK, but has received critical acclaim by many and while Bev herself may not mind or want it, it is a shame that she doesn’t have it and so many people love these other ladies so much more and believe because they’re so popular, they must be amazing. Well, here are 5 simple reasons as to why I believe Beverley is better (in my opinion but I’m also using facts and provide evidence, in case you still remain delusional) and shouldn’t be as underrated as an artist as she is:

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5) Gurl got SOUL.

Soul, like tone, is subjective – some people believe some singers have it and can connect emotionally to a song, and others could think the same person doesn’t. However, surely you can’t argue that Beverley, who grew up listening to and singing soul music and gospel all her life, doesn’t have soul? She can connect to practically every song she performs, both her own and others.

4) Gurl has RANGE!

People argue that Leona has a huge range and must therefore be better than Beverley, but here’s the truth – both their ranges span about 3 octaves but Bev has a strong, even and well-connected range from bottom to top and throughout all registers (Leona’s lower register is like breathy air whereas Bev’s is solid and well-supported, and she can go lower) and she can belt a lot higher – with consistency and ease (up to Bb5 or B5, taking on a more dramatic timbre) and even though her head voice hasn’t gone above a C#6 from what we’ve heard from her, it’s all pretty impressive.

3) She has practically perfect technique

Very few pop singers have perfect technique, but there are a handful who do have practically perfect techniques – and Bev is one of them. From her low notes to her upper belting and into her head voice her voice is strong, powerful, resonant and healthy. Adele, Amy and Leona have quite good techniques, but they have bad vocal habits and the former two were well-known to have had smoking and/or drug or alcohol addictions, meaning the more they sang while smoking and doing drugs, the more they damaged their voices.

2) She can sing Whitney songs – and sing them brilliantly

She was recently cast in the lead of “The Bodyguard Musical” as Rachel Marron and is the perfect person to sing Whitney Houston songs. She once said she wasn’t worried about singing the songs but more so about the acting – and she doesn’t have anything to worry about due to her amazing voice and her ability to sing them just as well as Whitney did – something hardly anyone can do. While her tone isn’t the same and might not be to everyone’s taste, she is in fact a superior technical vocalist, enabling her to have no trouble whatsoever with these songs.

1) She is a consummate musician

Beverley writes or co-writes 90% of the music she records, with only a handful being covers or written by other people, and she is an accomplished pianist (though doesn’t play it live that often). Check the video above of her performing the song “Gold” that she wrote and playing the piano with flawless vocals – even while clearly tired and slightly out of breath at the beginning when talking. Her technical skills of lyrical phrasing, riffs and runs and interpretative abilities when singing other people’s songs (which she usually injects with a bluesy, soulful or gospel twist – see second video below) is second to none, making her vocal ability and musicianship right up there with Annie Lennox as one of the top two female musical virtuosos in Britain.

Whitney Houston: the rise, the fall and the legacy of The Voice

Posted in Whitney Houston with tags , , , , on December 24, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 20.32.56Whitney Houston was undeniably one of the greatest and most influential vocalists – if not the greatest – of all time, but was unfortunately yet another highly successful and well-respected musician who fell victim to the pressures of fame and drug addiction to eventually suffer a very tragic – yet also sadly predictable – fall from grace. We’re all aware of the achievements Whitney, a.k.a. “The Voice” accomplished throughout her lifetime: she sold an estimated 200 million records, had a string of worldwide and record-breaking number one albums and singles, won well over 400 awards, was a talented actress as well as singer, helped bring African-American artists (especially females) to the fore in a formerly white-dominated music industry (particularly on MTV) and influenced a legion of other vocalists who came after her by setting a standard in pop singing. She was well-known for critically-acclaimed performances – many of which she did with no dancing (or even any moving from the spot whatsoever) or no backup dancers, no visual effects and backed by a full orchestra that her powerful voice could be heard above (first video) – and her ability to memorise audiences, as well as take other people’s songs to make them her own with her unique vocal stylings (second video).

But what happened? Why did she allow her once spectacular voice to worsen so much and so quickly? In this blog post I will not only look at the background to Whitney’s career and analyse the varying reasons behind her stark vocal decline, but I will also explain why I will and do defend – with my own subjective opinions, as well as facts and evidence – against those who ignorantly claim she had “lost her star quality, voice or talent”.

1985-1991

whitney-houston-sing_400While I could ramble on forever about what was so brilliant and seemingly flawless about Whitney’s voice, I’ll try and keep this short. She was the perfect combination of a vocalist with an incomparable timbre (yes, that’s subjective but I have yet to come across someone who didn’t like it) – rich and velvety with a slightly metallic and at times almost operatic-like sound to it; a large, even, well-supported and connected range; heaps of emotion and soul; a lot of power and a huge volume output; incredible vocal stamina; a well-controlled vibrato; strong and resonant belts and a full, piercing head register; and she had a host of technical skills and great musicianship that allowed her to do almost anything with her voice. And when she sang live, she was – unlike many others – able to replicate or surpass the same tone, power and range she displayed on record on stage as well. It’s no wonder she earned the simple yet self-explanatory nickname “The Voice”. From 1985 to 1991, Whitney was a force to be reckoned with, with very little in the way of a worthy contemporary rival – even Mariah Carey and Céline Dion, as brilliant as they are in their own right – could not match her in terms of power, the purity of tone, fluidity of lyrical phrasing or consistent live performances.

1992-1994

imageHowever, just like a musical instrument and one’s body or a muscle, if you don’t look after the voice properly, it will start to weaken and decrease in quality. For the first few years of her career Whitney seemed to take good care of herself and her voice (even with smoking and drugs she reportedly began doing in her mid to late 20s) and despite her busy schedule she was able to maintain it well with very few below par performances. But she was often still performing even when she wasn’t 100% well, and when most singers would cancel, she would continue with the show – a factor that would also eventually play a part in her vocal decline.

Then there is the questionable debate as to how technically perfect she was as a vocalist, for she was never formally trained, having only learnt what she knew from gospel church and listening to and imitating her idols (including her mother). Many vocal coaches say that from a vocal pedagogy standpoint, her signature belts were often produced with an unhealthily and incorrectly placed or tense larynx – yet they were (surprisingly) still executed with little to no obvious strain and with so much power, volume and clarity. She was also known for pushing her chest voice dangerously high, where trained singers would mix their voice, but Whitney never learnt how to do this properly and constantly singing like that for so long and particularly during The Bodyguard world tour with very little rest, and of course coupled with smoking and drug use, meant her voice was undoubtedly going to experience problems. She had begun smoking from quite a young age and passed off the outrage by arguing that her mother, cousin Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin all smoked as well, and it was revealed not long after her death that Whitney had initially started doing drugs in the 80s – introduced to them by her own brother who said that while he was guilty for getting her into drugs, he claimed that during that time it was “acceptable in society because everyone was doing it”. It was soon to become apparent that the once seemingly perfect athlete of the singing world was not as flawless or innocent as many thought she was.

Even though for the most part of 92-94 her voice was at its peak and probably strongest (it had matured, was richer than a few years earlier and her lower register was more solid too), Whitney’s rigorous schedule took a gradual toll on her health and voice and by 1994 she had developed nodules on her vocal cords – she was unable to take time off to recover and the last thing she probably wanted to do was risk losing her voice completely if she had them surgically removed (like Julie Andrews). It was a double-edged sword and she seemed to choose the more predictable, and maybe even the best option of keeping them (though it must be noted it has never been confirmed whether she did actually keep them or not). She was stressed out – trying to find ways of relaxing and escaping her hectic life, while at the same time was torn between having to live up to the clean-cut, pop princess image that she was marketed as being and branching away from it (this was the same time she had just married notorious bad boy Bobby Brown). The world saw her as nothing less than a superhuman with an otherworldly voice – another huge amount of pressure she had to deal with as many expected her to keep her voice in peak condition and always sound great. And as bad as it might sound, one can almost sympathise with her as to why she turned to smoking and drugs to relieve that stress (though I don’t actually condone it).

1996-2000

whitney1999_2145768i.jpgWhitney’s voice began to show signs of deterioration since recording songs for Waiting to Exhale in 1995; her tone was slightly more gravelly and when singing live there was the odd time when she sounded more and more out of breath or would dodge or crack on higher belts or head voice notes (see video above). However, on The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack (1996) she still seemed to be in great condition – in spite of rumours that she was doing drugs every day around this time – and when she duetted with Mariah Carey in 1998 and released her My Love Is Your Love album her voice, though a bit deeper than it was only a few years before, was largely still in tact and her power was still there even if her performances were not as consistently good (see the performance from 1999 below). Around this time she was definitely more of a mezzo, whereas before she was a darker-voiced soprano.

2001-2008

VH1 Divas Duets: A Concert to Benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation - ShowFrom 2001 until 2008, Whitney’s voice was in its most inconsistent and probably worst state – up until 2004 there were times when she still had lots of power and volume and was able to unleash it, despite a much rougher and more strained sound on the higher belts and a limited, diminished head voice range that was once effortless, beautiful and expansive (check out the first video below of her at the 2004 World Music Awards). Rumours were rife about her personal life and her “bitchy” and “volatile” personality yet she was still the star of the show at the World Music Awards. But then between 2005 and 2008, she barely made any public appearances – let alone performances – and that seems to be when the main decline really began as her drug-fuelled life began to engulf her, with there being reports that she completely lost her voice and could barely utter a sound. During this time it was sad and at times, painful to watch or listen to her, especially if you think back to how her voice was just five to ten years before, however that is not to say she could no longer sing at all. In 2008, she performed “I Will Always Love You” (second video below) and while it’s obvious her voice was not in top shape, there are still hints of power, some spine-tingling moments and a nice little bit of head voice in there too.

2009-2012

In 2009, Whitney returned to the big time with I Look To You - it was probably the biggest comeback by a living legend the popular music world had seen (though would have been topped by Michael Jackson if he had survived) – and it seemed her voice had started to recover in parts; her lower register was husky yet stronger than before and some of her mid-range belts still had quite a bit of richness in them – but above all, the self-confidence and passion for singing and music that we knew she had in her was back and obvious to see after the past few years of trying to clean up and get back on track.

Prior to this, hardly anyone seemed to believe she could make a comeback (either to the music scene or just get her life back on track after hitting rock bottom) but she did and the fact that the album sold 5 million copies worldwide, hit No.1 in the US and No.3 in the UK and “Million Dollar Bill” was a Top 5 single in the UK showed that although figures and sales were not on the same scale as material she released 15 years before, she was still able to stir up interest and make an impact. Whitney was certainly no longer a “has-been” and could still draw crowds and sell records purely based on her name and legacy, whether or not people truly enjoyed her new music or whether they were simply interested in listening to and watching her just to see how she now looked and sounded, knowing full well she wasn’t the same person or had the same voice as she used to. And despite mixed reviews of her Nothing but Love World Tour and reports of fans angrily leaving her concerts, nearly all shows were sold out and it grossed US$36 million without doing a leg in America, which would surely have pushed it further up the rankings if she had done one.

2009-ama-awards-showBefore she began touring at the end of 2009, most of Whitney’s public appearances and performances were strong and well-received but when the tour started, her voice began to show more inconsistencies again; on some occasions she was still good despite the circumstances, but her overall physical health was not. So what made her carry on? In my opinion – one name, two words: Clive Davis. Even though I know he should be commended for discovering and mentoring Whitney and helping her to reach international superstardom, as well as for bringing her back to form, I do believe her overly trusting attitude towards him meant it was easier for him to instil his own confidence in her and convince her that she was well enough to keep going even though it was obvious she couldn’t and shouldn’t have. Did he really believe in her that much or was the chance of banking in on what was a potentially big fortune for him just too tempting? And was her love of singing, performing and wanting to entertain her lifelong fans too much for her to keep up with and fulfil? Whatever the reason, Whitney toured until June 2010 – with some forced cancellations – whether she truly wanted to or not, and though she her strength and courage to do so is surprising, it was another factor that aided her second swift downward spiral from her return to the top. And of course, with the backlash from so-called “fans” and critics added to her stress and poor health, it is no wonder she once again couldn’t resist escaping the harshness of reality by unfortunately getting back into drugs as she reportedly did.

However, whether she could “still sing” has always been a debate; nobody’s talent for singing and ear for music disappears just like that. Sure she struggled and her once glorious tone was gone and had changed drastically but when she didn’t attempt to belt or sing too high Whitney was still, for the most part, able to sing in tune, in time and in the right key – and with a vocal range that spanned around 2.5 octaves, this was not a huge loss from her original range of 3 octaves 10 years or more before. While it’s true and needless to say that she was no longer able to sing in the same way she could 15 years before, to say she couldn’t sing at all or any more is a gross over-exaggeration but it was astonishing and good to see and hear how well she could still pull it off after years of abuse. Check out the videos below where her voice sounded more robust and as powerful than it had in recent years for proof.

It should be noted that singing is an art – and while there are of course correct or “healthy” ways in which one should sing, each and every person is entitled to express their art in their own way – and Whitney was always a master of this art. In her final years, from a technical level she was to put it bluntly, really bad, but from an artistic level her lyrical phrasing (even with now limited breath control and stamina), vibrato, use of dynamics and melisma were still skills she could employ and did so very well. And if she wasn’t able to perform a song like the original, she would do something different with it – change the arrangement, key, tempo and play around with the phrasing – like the true and adventurous musician that she was. Other examples of her musicality in her later years include clips of her singing “I Have Nothing” with a fan in Australia and immediately being able to tell the girl was singing in the wrong key after just a few notes, and her helping to mentor the X Factor contestants in 2009 by giving them tips on expressing themselves, melodies and harmonies.

sparkle-whitney-houstonIn 2011 and 2012, Whitney made few appearances in public and didn’t do any major performances but she did get back into acting again by co-starring in Sparkle, released in 2012 after her death (she died only a few months after filming finished). When the film and soundtrack was released, although lead actress Jordin Sparks recorded more songs and was obviously in better voice, it was Whitney’s heart-stirring yet bittersweet version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” that was the main scene stealer – though her voice was raspy and a fraction of what it used to be, she could still sing with soul and her distinctive vocal style of phrasing and runs were still there. Her duet “Celebrate” with Jordin also saw Whitney still managing to shine through in spite of the younger singer’s higher and clearer voice, proving that even this older and less vocally capable Whitney cannot be overshadowed. Even her final live performance, where she got on stage with her friend, R&B and gospel singer Kelly Price (with whom she worked with several times) for an impromptu duet to sing a few lines of “Jesus Loves Me”, Whitney’s star power and stage presence prompted the crowd to go wild even though her voice was very coarse and barely audible in the video.

“I rise and fall, yet through it all, this much remains…”

whitneyhoustonilooktoyoupromoIt seems that whenever immensely talented people like Whitney and others fall apart, people are quick to call it “a waste of their talent” and point fingers directly at the superstars themselves, and while most of the time they are partly or mainly to blame for their own downward spiral, we must remember that as soon as they share their wondrous gifts with us they are immediately subject to the pressures of having to live up to their seemingly perfect images. Whitney never seemed to catch a break from touring, performing or recording and though smoking and drugs most certainly played a huge part of her decline, the stress she suffered, the pressure she faced, the hounding media and even her not-so flawless voice in itself was in fact to blame as well. For example Aretha Franklin – a self-confessed chain smoker for many decades – and Chaka Khan, who also battled with drug abuse and alcoholism for many years, are still fantastic singers today despite their past lifestyle choices because their techniques are better and they eventually managed to find the strength to quit their bad habits completely.

At the end of the day, though the quality of Whitney’s voice deteriorated significantly, she was still a great singer and musician. Within 10 years of arriving on the music scene she had created her legacy of numerous timeless pop, R&B and soul tunes with her larger than life voice that quickly went on to become one of the most influential voices of both her time and of all-time. Up until today I have yet to have heard a singer – both professional and amateur – who has sung the likes of “I Will Always Love You” or “I Have Nothing” and displayed the same amount of power and vocal control or the had a quintessential timbre that was as beautiful, soulful and retained the same quality throughout their entire range. Even in her later years there were few singers out there who could match Whitney’s combined mix of both all-round vocal abilities and star quality – including her rivals on the charts from the 90s (Mariah and Céline); Mariah’s voice began to show signs of deterioration in the 2000s and was on and off-point a lot, while Céline’s nasality has always been an acquired taste for most people.

Anyway, thank you for reading this incredibly long post and I hope it helped open your eyes and ears to the many factors that not only made Whitney Houston “The Voice” that she was, but also aided her decline and will also understand or agree with me on why, even after she began to fall, she was still talented and may have squandered or neglected her gift but never lost it.

Vocal Spotlight: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Christina Aguilera

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Songs, Vocal Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

My_Kind_of_Christmas

To celebrate both Christina Aguilera’s 33rd birthday and Christmas next week, this Vocal Spotlight focuses on her blues-inspired version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which she recorded for her “My Kind of Christmas” album in 2000. Christina performed this holiday standard – written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and first introduced by Judy Garland in 1944 – a lot during her time promoting her Christmas album. On the majority of the album she shows off her vocal ability a great deal more than she did on her début and her tone throughout is light and pure and it is very much so on this song, in which we hear her voice span 3 octaves (Eb3-Eb6).

A lot of people criticised Christina for oversinging a lot on this album (or just in general really) but her vocals here are relatively restrained and controlled with minimal unnecessary inflections or runs. In 2000, she performed the song live with R&B singer-songwriter Brian McKnight, which made for a very beautiful and soulful duet between the both (though perhaps vocals are quite a bit more over-the-top than in the recorded version).

Christina also performed the song again just over a decade later in 2011 at Disneyland where her vocals are back to being more restrained and controlled than before (she was reportedly having vocal coach lessons around this time) and singing techniques showed signs of improvement, making it one of her best live vocal performances in recent years.

5 reasons why Nicole ain’t a “shit singer”

Posted in Female Vocalists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2013 by dirrtyboy88

Over the years many people have passed off Nicole Scherzinger as either not being a very good singer (dubbing her Nicole “Shitsinger”) or completely overlooking her vocal abilities – probably due to her more sexualised image she portrayed during the time she was in the Pussycat Dolls. However, recently some people have just come to finally realise that not only can she sing but she can do so VERY WELL. She’s probably the best current female vocalist out there right now when it comes to range, power and technique and can even blow Christina Aguilera (who trumps her in tone, versatility and artistry – in my opinion) and especially Beyoncé out of the water. And here are five simple reasons why:

Nicole

5) She can take on Whitney Houston songs

You should never attempt to sing a Whitney Houston song (especially “I Will Always Love You”) if you can’t sing very well, let alone at all. Here is Nicole spontaneously belting out the chorus on the US X Factor, displaying control, technique, power and dynamics in a very similar way that Whitney did and probably only Jennifer Hudson’s version has been just as good as this in recent years.

4) She can sing Britney better than Britney can sing Britney (not hard…)

Britney used to be able to sing quite well and had a alright voice (nothing special, but she was once far better than she is now, believe it or not) but here is Nicole imitating Britney (out of “flattery” apparently, but seems to be a hilarious pisstake instead) better than Britney herself can sing. Note the “Britney voice” is Britney’s fake voice that she employs to sound girly and whiny, while her real voice is lower. Even though she’s only singing a small part of this basic song, she shows control over her voice that Britney simply does not have (well, she doesn’t need it since she rarely sings live anyway).

3) She has RANGE!

Nicole has so far displayed a vocal range that spans 3.5 octaves and while her lower register is weak (because she’s a soprano), she makes up for it with a very powerful belting range that can go up to a B5 with consistency and ease (far higher and better than Bey) and a beautiful head voice that can reach the mid-6th octave (comparable to Xtina, though used more frequently than her).

2) She is classically-trained

There are very few popular singers out there who are brilliant technical singers but Nicole is one of them and here she is showing how her classical training (which a lot of people didn’t know about) has helped her become a voice to be reckoned with; her range, tone, control and technique here are flawless.

1) She can overshadow even the so-called “best” vocalist on The X Factor

A lot of people have hyped up about Sam Bailey from The X Factor being a great singer (and she is, don’t get me wrong) but in comparison to true vocalists such as Whitney and Céline (she attempted to sing their songs earlier in the show and they came off as sub-par karaoke versions) she isn’t that amazing. In fact, she reminds me of Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke on the show – poor wannabe imitations of Whitney and Mariah. Many people scoffed at the idea of Nicole being teamed up with Sam to sing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls without knowing Nicole’s real talents and abilities but when it came to, Nicole not only proved them wrong and stunned everyone, she stole the show. Sam was taken to singing school and eaten alive, just as she did to Jahméne Douglas last year when they sang Whitney’s “The Greatest Love of All”.

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