the baby-voice phenomenon

Now, I don’t want this post to be woman-bashing or female artist-bashing, but there is a current trend in music that gets right up my nose and it is the Baby-Voice Phenomenon (or BVP). This is where women with beautiful voices, ample songwriting talent and great vocal range adopt the voice of a four year old while singing.

The absolute worst (and admittedly extreme) cuplrit of this has to be Joanna Newsom. Here is Joanna speaking. Now here is Joanna singing. Now I’m not denying that this woman has talent. But she is clearly emulating a young child’s voice in order to achieve some sort of floaty ethereal effect. I can’t bear it.

Other culprits include Regina Spektor and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), in their earlier days. They have now embraced full voice thank goodness, and would blow the socks off you live. Feist is another one, although her particular issue is unnecessarily slurring her words softly together, making it difficult to catch what she’s saying. The slurring effect really bothers me, too.

One who is guilty but to a lesser degree would be Lisa Hannigan, who almost whispers her words and sings in the softest tones possible, with a little bit of slurring, and a complete elimination of her Irish accent. Again, very talented, but seemingly holding back on full voice and full expression.

Why are women doing this?

I have a theory, and it might be bullshit. But it seems to me that rather than women embroiled in the BVP wanting to be perceived as little girls, or being romantically linked to their girlhood, it is instead something of a rejection of their womanhood – their strength of presence in adulthood. All of these women are photographed and filmed and styled to be as alluring as possible. I get this: their beauty is an added element that helps to sell their records. They’re not wearing pigtails and gingham dresses and saddle shoes with white socks.  They are, for the most part, hipster to the max. They are twenty-something girls…sometimes a little older. Except that they’re not girls: they’re women. I am frustrated when I can hear a beautiful voice that just won’t reach a powerful pitch – its own peak; not some imagined peak. I’m not asking for the terminally despised so-called cheese of Celine or Mariah: just full voice of the singer in question. To me it seems to be linked to the all too common need of women to shrink themselves – to be smaller, thinner, quieter, daintier. Some women love “mini” things (and not so that they can pretend they are giants either) – miniature cupcakes, tiny dogs, tiny phones, small cars – and God forbid they would drink out of a pint glass – so ungainly! And women notoriously shy away from leadership and centre-stage, preferring to take a back seat.

I was once talking to someone I know who was trying to overcome her crippling self-consciousness. She said something that really struck me: “I deserve to take up every inch of space that I occupy. I just need to believe this.” I was stunned! Why do we as women do this: why do we try to shrink down, to hide our talents, to be less than we can be?

Time for a change. I’m off to sing some power ballads at the top of my voice, to the utter horror of the neighbours.

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2 Responses to the baby-voice phenomenon

  1. canalways says:

    funny, the last time I was listening to the Lisa Hannigan album I was thinking that her Irish accent was coming through….however,that’s probably because my ears have been tuned to Belfast ….Whitney sort of combines the baby voice and the power ballad in ‘I Will Always Love You’…

  2. I agree completely. ARGH! Kimya Dawson (described by you as a ‘talentless chancer who got lucky’) is also guilty of this.

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