1. You know that I didn’t write the article, right? The post is quoting a Slate article, which is quoting a number of linguists and studies about the phenomenon, which are linked in the bits I excerpted.
2. I’ve heard a version of your explanation before, but it’s not the whole explanation. As the article points out, there ARE some singers who sound more British, like Billie Joe Armstrong. Now how does he manage to do that? Well, he’s pronouncing his vowels differently and dropping his rhotic r’s. I’m just summarizing the article here, which you clearly didn’t read very carefully. There’s nothing about singing vowels that necessitates British singers to sound American. Many don’t. If there’s nothing technical that’s forcing Brits to sound American when they sing, then it stands to reason that many choose to sing in a particular way.
Also, the explanation as you give it doesn’t make a lick of sense.Why would singing long vowels “[make] you revert to using the true vowel sounds”? How are true vowel sounds only long vowel sounds? Does that mean short vowel sounds are fake vowel sounds? Also, I detect more than a whiff of Anglocentrism in your suggestion that “true vowel sounds”…are actually closer to British”. That sounds like you’re suggesting that only the British pronounce long vowels correctly. I’m not a linguist, but that smells like the true nationalist bullshit here. I mean, “British” is kind of broad, yeah? Are you suggesting that someone with a Northern accent pronounces her vowels exactly the way the Queen of England does?
So I’m not at all convinced by your groundless assertion that Americans “theoretically…sing like the British”.
3. It’s not “ethnocentric” for anyone to point out that many modern pop singers are consciously or unconsciously imitating an American dialect (or mish-mash of them). First, “American” isn’t an ethnicity. It’s a nationality. There are a lot of different ethnicities in this country. I’m guessing you meant ‘nationalist’ or something along those lines rather than “ethnocentric”. Figure out exactly what you’re accusing me of before you come at me, OK?
Second, as I said above, there’s peer-reviewed research by academics and linguists attesting to the American influences/roots of pop singing. I’m not just pulling this idea out of my butt. If you’re mad about the article’s claims, then take it up with the professionals quoted in the piece, not the blogger linking to it.
Third, this explanation for why English singers sound American makes sense given the history of pop music. No matter what some English people might assert—and I’ve heard some ridiculous ass attempts by them to downplay the American roots of their pop music—contemporary pop music began with black American music. White British and American kids listened to guys like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, thought they were cool, and ripped them off. Those white British kids sounded American when they sang because they were imitating the African American blues, R&B, and rock musicians they liked.
Black American music is the basis for modern R&B. Singers like Adele and Dusty Springfield are consciously or unconsciously imitating American R&B/soul/gospel/jazz singers like Etta James, Martha Reeves, and Aretha Franklin because that’s who they grew up listening to. Springfield, in particular, was so good at imitating black singers that some people who had never seen her in person assumed she was black. The Northern Soul movement, which might be pointed to as a ‘native’ influence/source for contemporary British pop singers to draw upon, was just English kids listening to obscure American soul records.
Sorry, white Anglos, but all the music you love was invented in America by black people. Jazz, blues, soul, R&B, hip-hop…African American music spawned pretty much the entirety of modern pop. Pointing out this fact is not ‘ethnocentric’ or ugly American chest-thumping. It’s being honest. It’s giving credit where credit is due. I won’t let people get away with suggesting that the music they love—including the way many contemporary pop singers pronounce their vowels—doesn’t owe nearly everything to African American culture.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying ALL pop singers sound American or Af-Am. Just that the reason why so many sound the way they do has to do with the origins of modern pop music in black American culture. Not all Brits sound American when they sing. Listen to ’70s English punk and ’80s post-punk bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, Wire, etc. “God Save the Queen” has a lot of lines where Johnny Rotten stretches out his vowel sounds, but Johnny Rotten does not sound American. He sounds very British because of how he pronounces his vowels: “man” like “mahn” and “queen” (long vowel sound) like “quain”. Funny, but despite being British, the way he pronounces “queen” in that song definitely doesn’t sound like a “true vowel sound”. Unless ‘queen’ is supposed to sound like it kinda rhymes with ‘rain’.
Sorry for the mini-lesson in music history, everyone. I just don’t like it when people like aylathethespianlady come at me as though I don’t know WTF I’m talking about. It’s annoying to be accused of publishing things that I know aren’t true just to make myself feel better. And anyone who follows this blog knows that I’m not exactly a flag-waving nationalist.
I am also sick of white people glossing over or denying the black roots of modern pop music. This isn’t the first time some Anglo or Anglophile has come at me with a clearly bullshit version of history. I’ve actually had arguments with Brits who have tried to take credit for inventing rock ‘n’ roll!
(Made this post rebloggable by request)