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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 8:32 am 
Lebom
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Why is it that British singers such as the Beatles don't sing with a British accent?


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 10:35 am 
Sanno
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The sociolinguist Peter Trudgill actually wrote an entire monograph on this phenomenon. It's summarised at length in the blog Positive Anymore.

The two-cent summary is that pop music genres tend to be associated with certain accents. When new acts perform in certain genres, they tend to imitate the pronunciations they hear other singers use. The Beatles and their contemporaries were performing rock 'n roll, a genre which originated in the USA, so they modified their pronunciation toward a USAmerican accent. As rock became naturalised in the UK, British pronunciations became more common. (Trudgill actually tracks how "American" pronunciation features declined over the course of the Beatles' career.)

By the early 80s, the whole process had come full circle. New wave music in general and synthpop in particular was heavily identified with the "Second British Invasion", which is how a band formed in Chicago with a lead singer born in Cuba ends up using a faux-English accent on its early recordings (an affectation they later dropped, just as the Beatles did).

And it wasn't just American bands; I was shocked when I first heard Sinéad O'Connor speak how thick her Irish accent was since it wasn't noticeable in her singing at all. Five years later, a band from Limerick called The Cranberries had a number one hit with "Linger", which featured an /r/ so retroflexed it could touch its own toes. That was right around the time that Britpop emerged and--as the name suggests--there was no mistaking at all where those bands were from.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 11:07 am 
Smeric
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linguoboy wrote:
And it wasn't just American bands; I was shocked when I first heard Sinéad O'Connor speak how thick her Irish accent was since it wasn't noticeable in her singing at all.

I had the same experience when watching Celtic Woman in concert back when they were a huge thing in the late 2000s.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 2:01 pm 
Lebom
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I have made some investigation on this subject myself. Heck, I've made a standardized version of this semi-American accent, which I use for singing.

As linguoboy said, it has to do with the fact that singers tend to mimic the singers they like, including their accent. Rock music originated in the US, so the first British bands used American accents - and then settled on a half-American, half-British hybrid. Also, lots of American singers tend to use a non-rhotic pronunciation when singing, even if their normal speech is rhotic.

Another factor is that a lot of what makes an accent noticeable simply disappears when we sing. The accent's particular rhythm and intonation patterns disappear behind the melody; the accent's "timbre" and "vocal setting" are also less noticeable, because of the need to project (indeed, a lot of vocal training is about losing the bad habits we have in everyday speech). So singers automatically have a more "neutral" accent.

All of this also apply to non-native English speakers. Very often, you barely notice that some singers are non-native... until you hear them talk, and then their foreign accent is glaringly obvious.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 2:22 pm 
Smeric
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Ryusenshi wrote:
a half-American, half-British hybrid.


We call this "mid-atlantic"

Quote:
Another factor is that a lot of what makes an accent noticeable simply disappears when we sing. The accent's particular rhythm and intonation patterns disappear behind the melody; the accent's "timbre" and "vocal setting" are also less noticeable, because of the need to project (indeed, a lot of vocal training is about losing the bad habits we have in everyday speech). So singers automatically have a more "neutral" accent.


Honestly I think this is more of a side-effect of most songs being written in standard English anyway, and many of these don't work if you try to sing them with regionalisms (the same applies to Church hymns incidentally), so people therefore will gravitate towards it in order to sing them better; so I wouldn't say it's a general feature of singing pronunciation per se. And of course the same applies the other way, so a song written in, say, Geordie (like Blaydon Races) won't work so well sung like standard.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 2:34 pm 
Lebom
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Frislander wrote:
We call this "mid-atlantic"

As opposed to this Mid-Atlantic accent, or that one?

Frislander wrote:
Honestly I think this is more of a side-effect of most songs being written in standard English anyway, and many of these don't work if you try to sing them with regionalisms

That may be part of it, yes. But rock lyricists also tend to use features of Southern US English and AAVE, for the same reasons as above (e.g. "ain't", double negations, "I got" instead of "I have"...). As Zaarin said here :

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I really think "Old Rocker" is a legit dialect


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 4:10 pm 
Sanno
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Ryusenshi wrote:
As linguoboy said, it has to do with the fact that singers tend to mimic the singers they like, including their accent.

That's not actually what I said. I said certain genres are associated with particular singing accents, at least at outset. A Canadian singing Country music singer may not be mimicking any particular American Country singer when they add a "country" inflexion to their lyrics. That's just the accent associated with that particular style of music (with its epicentre in Nashville). Mick Jagger, for instance, is known for singing with a "Southern American" accent that matches no accent of anyone from the American South, since it's actually a blend of features from various sources.

Ryusenshi wrote:
Rock music originated in the US, so the first British bands used American accents - and then settled on a half-American, half-British hybrid.

Or didn't. I would argue that they tended to start out with a hybrid since they weren't fully versed in American accents. Some of their original accents inevitably crept in--and became stronger with time, to the point where some abandoned American features altogether.

Ray Davies of the The Kinks, for instance, never sounded as "American" as the Beatles despite being influenced by some of the same American acts. But he also listened to a lot of Black British R&B which tended to be sung with more Caribbean accents, and you can hear the influence in his work. During the second wave of ska in the UK, white singers like Dave Wakeling of The Beat and Ali Campbell of UB40 adopted pseudo-Jamaican accents and Steven Kapur did the same when he popularised ragga under the stage name Apache Indian because they were performing styles which originated in Jamaica.

Listen to UK punk rock and you won't hear any American influence on the speakers' accents at all. It would have been foreign to the working-class punk ethos, which was all about rawness and authenticity and thus favoured thick working-class London accents. From this point on, British accents are the default for UK singers, to the point where, as mentioned before, Americans start imitating them when performing styles which originated in the UK, like synthpop.

It's not just a matter of US vs UK either. The punk movement in the USA was split into various regional "scenes" and you could identify where a band came from by the accents they used. There's no mistaking Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys (San Francisco) for Joey Ramone of the Ramones (NYC) or either of them for Joe Genaro of The Dead Milkmen (Philadelphia). The same was true of hip-hop and--to a lesser extant--of "college rock" which grew out of a several distinct scenes.

Ryusenshi wrote:
Also, lots of American singers tend to use a non-rhotic pronunciation when singing, even if their normal speech is rhotic.

This is a result of the ongoing influence of the blues and R&B on American popular music. A lot of influential singers had naturally non-rhotic accents and it's natural that this feature has been associated with the "smoothness" of their delivery. But not every American vocalist wants to sound like an R&B singer.

Ryusenshi wrote:
Another factor is that a lot of what makes an accent noticeable simply disappears when we sing. The accent's particular rhythm and intonation patterns disappear behind the melody; the accent's "timbre" and "vocal setting" are also less noticeable, because of the need to project (indeed, a lot of vocal training is about losing the bad habits we have in everyday speech). So singers automatically have a more "neutral" accent.

Except this again is heavily dependent on genre. Some genres (e.g. dub, hip-hop, some metal) incorporate a delivery which is closer to ordinary speech than formal singing and those vocalists naturally have more opportunity to incorporate their native accents. If the genre emphasises comprehensible lyrics then the singers will be under pressure to adopt a more conservative pronunciation (I think this may be part of what you're getting at when you mention "losing...bad habits") as well as writing them in standard English, as Frislander pointed out.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 13, 2017 3:52 pm 
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http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SingingVoiceDissonance

These are some good examples of singers who put on another accent when singing compared to their normal speaking voice.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InternationalPopSongEnglish

This is about having an accent somewhere between a British & American one when singing.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 13, 2017 5:23 pm 
Sanno
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The genre theory is strengthened when you look at singers like the Beatles, who moved between many genre influences even on a single album. It may be true that they became more native over time (I don't know them well enough to judge), and they probably never sang in their real singing accents, but it's not just a time thing. If you compare,say, the more 'authentic' Yesterday (1965) with the overtly genre Why Don't We Do It In The Road? (1968), you see how the same singer has at least some local edge in the first, but makes the second essentially a vocal impersonation.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2017 5:38 am 
Lebom
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linguoboy wrote:
That's not actually what I said. I said certain genres are associated with particular singing accents, at least at outset. A Canadian singing Country music singer may not be mimicking any particular American Country singer when they add a "country" inflexion to their lyrics. That's just the accent associated with that particular style of music (with its epicentre in Nashville).

OK, I'm sorry for putting words in your mouth. But that doesn't contradict what I said. Why does a music genre become associated with a certain accent in the first place? Mostly because the genre was born in a particular place, with singers using their local accent; and then singers from other places started imitating this accent in general, not necessarily mimicking a particular singer. As the genre grows, the boundary between "imitating singers" and "using the accent associated with the genre" gets increasingly blurry.

linguoboy wrote:
Listen to UK punk rock and you won't hear any American influence on the speakers' accents at all. It would have been foreign to the working-class punk ethos, which was all about rawness and authenticity and thus favoured thick working-class London accents. From this point on, British accents are the default for UK singers, to the point where, as mentioned before, Americans start imitating them when performing styles which originated in the UK, like synthpop.

It's not just a matter of US vs UK either. The punk movement in the USA was split into various regional "scenes" and you could identify where a band came from by the accents they used. There's no mistaking Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys (San Francisco) for Joey Ramone of the Ramones (NYC) or either of them for Joe Genaro of The Dead Milkmen (Philadelphia). The same was true of hip-hop and--to a lesser extant--of "college rock" which grew out of a several distinct scenes.

Yes, in genres where "authenticity" matters (whatever that means), singers tend to keep their local accent. From UK punk rock ("we're working-class louts and proud of it!") to indie-rock (including what Geoff Lindsey calls Arty White Bands).

Genres that are more "escapist" in nature (e.g. pop, electronica, some branches of metal) gravitate more towards the "mid-Atlantic", "International Pop" accent: basically American vowels plus non-rhoticity, though it's hard to say if the last part comes from AAVE or from British English (probably both).

linguoboy wrote:
Except this again is heavily dependent on genre. Some genres (e.g. dub, hip-hop, some metal) incorporate a delivery which is closer to ordinary speech than formal singing and those vocalists naturally have more opportunity to incorporate their native accents. If the genre emphasises comprehensible lyrics then the singers will be under pressure to adopt a more conservative pronunciation (I think this may be part of what you're getting at when you mention "losing...bad habits") as well as writing them in standard English, as Frislander pointed out.

Sure. Some styles of singing are very close to talking, so singers tend to keep more of their accents (hip-hip is the obvious example, plus there's the matter of "authenticity" you've mentioned above). More "stylized" ways of singing render the original accent less recognizable.

Opera singing is so removed from natural speech that I have trouble even recognizing the language, nevermind the accent. Are classical singers told to do a particular accent when singing in English? I would expect RP in England and American Theater Standard (a.k.a. the other "mid-Atlantic") in the US, but this is just a guess.

In the Geoff Lindsey article I've mentioned, there's a funny example in the same song, "Horny '98". The verses (half-spoken) have the word horny as ['hɔɚni], i.e. typical American. The chorus (sung) has ['hɔːnɪ], closer to the "International Pop Accent" (although maybe it's not the same singer, I'm not sure).

Salmoneus wrote:
The genre theory is strengthened when you look at singers like the Beatles, who moved between many genre influences even on a single album.

The same is true for David Bowie, as is fitting for a human chameleon.

It's funny to notice various idiosyncrasies. A random list.
  • Progressive rock singers tend to sound more English. It's very noticeable for Peter Gabriel (especially when he's singing about England, e.g. in "Dancing Out With The Moonlit Knight"), or Peter Hamill (who basically uses RP).
  • Kate Bush also keeps her English accent when singing.
  • The singers in Pink Floyd sound somewhat English, often using the broad A in BATH or a rounded vowel in LOT. But, in "Another Brick In the Wall Pt 2", you can hear a contrast between them (somewhat Americanized) and the school choir (who sounds 100% London).
  • Rhoticity for English singers is not necessarily a sing of Americanizing. Jon Anderson of Yes uses a rhotic pronunciation when singing, but that comes from his native Lancashire accent.
  • Sting has a bit of Jamaican influence, certainly because he likes reggae.
  • Adele sounds very American when singing. The contrast with her native Cockney accent couldn't be greater.
  • On the other side of the Pond: Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders sings non-rhotic, but you still hear her NCVS.


Last edited by Ryusenshi on Sun Oct 15, 2017 11:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2017 7:27 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2017 4:20 pm 
Sanno
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Ryusenshi wrote:
indie-rock (or, as Geoff Lindsey calls them, Arty White Bands).

Which is kind of shitty to all the POC active in indie rock, like Keke Okereke of Bloc Party, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes, Reggie Youngblood of Black Kids, Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend), Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh of Parekh & Singh, Tjinder Singh of Cornershop, half of The Shins' original lineup, all of The Chamanas and Hello Seahorse!, etc. etc. If Geoff Lindsey himself only listens to Arty White Bands when he listens to indie rock, that's very much on him.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2017 3:14 am 
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Sorry, just sloppy phrasing on my part. He was clearly talking about a particular subset of indie rock. He was saying that Arty White Bands tend to sing in their own local accent, then added as an afterthought that most people would call them "indie rock bands" instead.

(By the way, I find the expression "indie rock" vague to the point of uselessness, but that's a story for another time.)


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2017 12:15 pm 
Lebom
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In the song "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits, the singer uses a British accent.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2017 4:28 pm 
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Fooge wrote:
Why is it that British singers such as the Beatles don't sing with a British accent?


Cerys Matthews, Max Boyce, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, David Bowie, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, The Proclaimers, Sting, Johnny Rotten, Chas & Dave, Kate Bush - all British singers who sing with British accents. Debbie Harry, who's American, has even been noted as sounding quite English when she sings.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 10:55 am 
Sanno
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Fooge wrote:
In the song "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits, the singer uses a British accent.

Also in their follow-up "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am". But I would call both of these "novelty songs". The latter is an old music hall favourite made famous by Cockney comedian Harry Champion and the former was originally featured in an ATV teleplay. Peter Noone was deliberately playing up his accent for the American market. (Recall that both songs were released the same year as Walt Disney's Mary Poppins, featuring Dick Van Dyke's outrageously put-on Mockney brogue.) Compare Noone's delivery on "I'm into Something Good" (a cover of a Carole King song) or "Silhouettes" (a doo-wop standard first performed by The Rays).


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