The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, Part 2: So What Do We Do Now?

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To read part 1 of The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, click here!

Okay, so here’s the big question—what do we do about indie pop voice? The trend is clearly very popular and not showing signs of letting up anytime soon, and as such exerts a huge influence on young singers and their vocal habits. As singers, should we use it? And as voice teachers, should we encourage it in our students or quash it? You’re about to hear my opinion, so I’ll openly admit my bias—I’m not really a fan of the accent in its current form, especially when I hear certain words, like “one” or “just,” repeatedly getting the exact same strange treatment from singers. So I came at this article fully expecting to condemn it. But I won’t, at least not completely—and here’s why.

As a voice teacher, I like to let my students craft their own sound as naturally as possible. So, I don’t really impose a lot of value judgements on them, but I let them make their own decisions about how they sound, provided they do three things:

  • Sing healthily—meaning without extra tension and with adequate breath support. Pretty much everything else is not really considered health for my students and me, but style/aesthetic.
  • Allow the way they speak to influence the way they sing—usually in terms of pronunciation and phrasing. From there, if they’d like, they can change things up and experiment to find the sounds they like best and that they feel are most beautiful and evocative in their voices.
  • Eschew imitation at all costs—a singer’s bread and butter is her uniqueness, which usually springs from allowing her speaking voice, which is uniquely her, to be slightly heightened to become singing.

So let’s examine indie pop voice using each of the above points—I can’t find any signs that it’s unhealthy, as it’s purely a pronunciation/resonance issue. It may not comport to the classical-derived standards of singing on the purest, most open vowels possible, but we’re not singing classically, so we’re good there. As to the second point, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that we speak this way—except there MIGHT BE. It’s tough to find recordings of people speaking and pinpoint examples, so this is purely anecdotal evidence, but I have noticed lately that when I ask people how they’re doing, sometimes they say, “guoid!” just like Selena Gomez. What if we do talk this way? Who am I to say we don’t? And if you talk this way, sing this way, by all means!

The third point is the most important—if you sing this way in order to sound like someone else, or because it’s becoming so popular, you should stop. Your voice is your honesty, your point of view—your voice is you, and it’s not believable coming from you if it sounds like somebody else. And maybe you’re subconsciously employing indie pop voice, possibly because you’ve heard it so much, and there’s nothing exactly wrong with that… except now you know. So notice whether you employ this accent, and if you do, ask yourself why! Do you do it because you talk that way and it feels very you? If so, great. Do you do it because it’s kinda fun and you can honestly say you do it differently than everyone else? That’s cool too. Do you do it because you’re trying to sound like Adele or Amy Winehouse, or because you think it makes you unique? If you sound like any of the above people, it certainly does not make you unique, and that should give you pause.

There’s another major reason that I won’t issue a blanket statement that people should stop using indie pop voice, and it’s that there is inherent sexism in the way a lot of people talk about this trend. The mere fact that so many people online call it “indie girl voice” is a clear indicator of that, but that’s just the beginning. Except for the Buzzfeed article, I’ve only seen discussions of women using the trend with no mention of any men. I’ve seen it condemned as annoying, fake, and often babyish in various message boards; even Carson Daly said it reminded him of baby talk. I can’t decide if he’s reacting to the treatment of vowels or to the prevalence of breathiness and head voice in this style; it might be a combination. But I’ll point out that baby talk can be consciously done and a powerful, influential tool, as Paris Hilton will tell you. Some commenters even say indie pop voice reminds them of vocal fry—I’m honestly not sure how that could be possible, unless they’re getting it mixed up with another technique like breathiness or rasp. Vocal fry is a register that occurs below chest voice, and though some voice teachers use it as an exercise to combat hyperfunctional singing, I really can’t think of any singers that actually use vocal fry when they perform. The only link I can see is that it’s another speech trend that people condemn women for using and not men. So yes, indie pop voice is more prevalent among women than men, and yes, it is everywhere—but if those facts alone make it more annoying than, say, every male punk singer trying to sound like Billie Joe Armstrong, who was trying to sound like Joe Strummer, then that’s probably caused by a sexist undercurrent, because they’re very similar phenomena.

In short, I really hate to be another person telling women how they should speak/sing—between uptalking, vocal fry, and now “indie girl voice,” we really get harped at from all sides. So I won’t tell you, if you sing this way, whether you should continue or not; as with all my students, I leave it to you to craft your own sound. Clearly, indie pop voice comes from a long line of employment by incredible singers, so if you use it, you’re in good company. Bottom line: you should be do what feels the most naturally, honestly YOU. If that’s indie pop voice, well I think that’s all “guoid!”

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