There is a terrible trend happening in popular music these days – something that had been on the fringe of the music business going back to the 1980s, that gained traction in the 1990s and was glorified and hammered over our heads in the 2000s. Now, it’s a part of our everyday lives. Noise – or as I call it, oversinging – is an assault on all of our ears.
Why do singers feel that by screaming their vocals that they somehow sound better? It’s part of a trend not only in music, but in our daily lives – noise. Oversinging is just noise pollution. Every TV talent show, every radio station, every YouTube video has something or someone engaged in destroying our hearing with their over-the-top singing. I’m glad my TV has a remote, my radio has a dial and my computer has a mouse so I don’t have to listen to this assault. There’s a time and a place to belt a song, to become emotionally connected to a power ballad – but 24 hours a day? Enough.
It wasn’t always this way. Vocally, songs were a lot more quieter. But something happened in the 1980s. I’m not quite sure what the touchstone was, but it might have had something to do with the me me me decade and its excesses. Singers (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey to name two) started this oversinging trend. At first, it was remarkable to listen to because no one had ever done that type of singing before – full on, over-the-top, multi-octave, ear splitting screaming. Looking back at their catalogue, I am less impressed with this and more impressed with their ‘regular’ singing.
That really started a wave of oversingers (yes, I made that word up) in the 90s – singers who used the power ballad as an excuse to shine in the spotlight of cookie-cutter, appeal to the lowest common denominator to gain the most fame. At the turn of the century, just when you thought that they had had their time in the spotlight, along comes American Idol, which only exacerbated the problem of oversinging and took it to a whole new level – bringing it into everyone’s home and making people think that oversinging was natural. Guess what? It’s not!
Does anybody watch American Idol anymore? It was an interesting experiment on the concept of Star Search back in its day. Now, it seems like it has become what drives entertainment today – celebrity tabloidism (yes I made that word up too) – car crash moments involving the lives of celebrities that are known more for being celebrities than for possessing any kind of talent. Unfortunately, Idol has spawned even more oversinging contests. Amateur singers see oversingers oversinging and think that they can do it too. Please, I beg you, for the sake of all of our aural senses, don’t do it. It’s not natural.
I am more impressed with singers who have a way with a lyric and who can do more with a song with much less bravado. I’m thinking specifically of singers like Anne Murray and Karen Carpenter, who, when they open their mouths to sing, their voice comes out effortlessly and naturally. There is more power in this than the scream singers who buzzkill their way through a song. I am of the schooling of less is more. Less is also better. Murray and Carpenter are both highly, highly underappreciated singers because their singing is less about bravado, glass-shattering, moment-stealing singing and more about technique, breathing, confidence, professionalism and understated talent.
I just have to wonder what the next trend in singing is going to be. The oversinging trend has worn out its welcome. I’m waiting for the day when clean, clear, nuanced, effortless, natural singing catches on. We deserve it after 25 years of being bludgeoned over the head by the scream singers.
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