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I live in a constant state of early 90s.
When college rock was good, and black people were still on TV.

There is a difference between a good voice and a good singer. | SLTA___
     There is a difference between a good voice and a good singer.

I made this little graphic to help you out.  Click it for the fullsize version.

I’ll explain it later, but first the backstory.

I was hanging out with this guy who was trying to argue me up down and sideways that Adele is an amazing singer.  I’ma tell you why she’s so popular: she has a great big black lady voice and she’s white.  The End.  Everything she’s doing is done a million times over every Sunday by the church ladies at New Bethel AME Zion Church of Christ Under an Elm Tree By The River.  Still, she has a great tone to her voice that you can’t teach.  She’s just born with that and she has a great voice.  That doesn’t make her a great singer.

A great singer has great ears.  All of the runs and melisma are possible because they have a great sense of pitch.  They can hear the chords and sing all around, inside, and through them.  Those interesting vocal runs just come out because they have great ears.  On top of that, with vocal coaching and/or practice they can really hone their craft and do some amazing things.

A great voice is born, not made.  You’re either born with a beautiful sound coming out of your mouth, or you’re not.  

So I got bored watching the Walking Dead and made a little graphic.  Left to right ranks great singing ability with the best being on the right.  Bottom to top ranks great voices with the best being near the top.  I graded everyone by Whitney Houston who, hands-down, had the best combination of natural-born-tone and exception singing ability.

Let’s break it down:



Lady Gaga's voice is completely average, nothing special, and she's not the most musical person in the world either.  Her melodies are all the same and her ad libs are almost non-existent.  



Rihanna had the misfortune to be born sounding like a billygoat with a cold, not that anyone minds with enough studio trickery surrounding it.  Still, her voice is awful.  She’s not the worst singer though.  She can hit an ad lib every once in awhile and she’s (mostly) on key.

Katy Perry is loud, but her voice is a mixture of that Alanis-Morissette-yodel and someone being hit in the throat with a baseball bat.  I thinks she may possibly be tone-deaf from the amount of off-key live performances there are on Youtube.  You can’t be a great singer if you’re tone deaf.

Kylie Minogue's voice is fairly pleasant in a girlish, light-weight sort of way, perfect for the pop fluff she records.  If she sticks to the melody — and only the melody — she's fine, but straying from the script is always a disaster.  I'm Team Kylie as long as she sticks to fluffly pop songs, but that orchestral CD she just put out should be banned from the shelves.



Janet Jackson doesn’t have a bad voice, but there’s absolutely no heft to it at all. She’s been singing like a newborn kitten for thirty years now.  Still, she has that Jackson ear for harmony and she always puts the note right where it needs to go.

Mary J. Blige is full of soul, and really awkward high notes.  She sings with so much passion and emotion, it’s hard not to feel connected, but from a purely aural standpoint, her tone sounds painful sometimes.

Beyonce has more runs than just about anybody.  Her ad libs are legendary.  Guitarists bass their improv licks around Beyonce’s vocal runs.  She can sing her butt off.  But when she starts screaming like a banshee at you on a ballad, the only runs that need to happen are me running far away from the stereo.

Keke Wyatt is one of the best singers I have ever heard in my life.  I’m in awe of the places she will take her voice with no preparation or forethought.  She’s entirely self-taught and her pitch is amazing.  I just wish her nigh notes didn’t feel like extreme sinus pressure.



Lana Del Rey has one of my favorite new voice in pop music.  Her mid-range is nothing special, but when she’s down in contralto territory, she sings with this husky timbre that almost makes her music enjoyable.  Too bad she sings with no emotion and all of her songs are monotonously boring.

Sade sings with an easy cool, always sounding like she’s on stage in a smoky lounge.  Her voice is timeless, but I don’t think she’s ever sang an ad-lib in her life and most of her records only have the most basic of harmonies.

Adele sings loud and predictable.  You can sing along to any Adele song the first time you hear it because there are no surprises ever.  Usually singers try too hard to imitate Whitney, but Adele could benefit from a few melisma lessons.

Mariah Carey has one of the best natural-born-talents in music.  Her range is legendary from her moody low notes to breathy whistle tones.  However, with each successive record, she’s fallen into this horribly annoying pattern of Breathy First Chorus, HalfBreath/HalfFullVoice Second Chours, FullVoice Last Chorus, Lackluster ad libs with a few dolphin notes.  That’s it.  She was almost a great singer between 1990 and 1997, but that moment has passed.  If she didn’t have 5 octaves, no one would care about her.



Toni Braxton has the most distinctive contralto in pop music.  She’s been compared to everyone from Anita Baker to Elvis, but her musical ability is all her own.  She can wring emotion out of even the most banal Diane Warren track and her vocals are always Just Enough, never tastelessly overdoing it.

Brandy might not be the most powerful vocalist, but her unique tone is the reason she’s still here after two decades.  Nobody sounds like Brandy, and the older she gets, the more confident she is with her tool.  Already the master of intricate background vocals, Brandy is starting to push herself and really see what her voice can do, and the payoff is immediate.

Christina Aguilera is a singer’s singer.  Her range and power are admirable but her vocalizations are perfect.  A Christina run is instantly recognizable no matter who is singing it because they have a style all their own.

Whitney Houston is the singer by which all pop singers will be measured for decades to come.  She might not have the range of Mariah or the ad libs of Christina, but she has enough of both in spades to make very average songs into monster declarations of musical perfection.  Songs like “Run to You” would fail miserably in the hands of lesser musicians.  Whitney turned them all into classics.


I know a lot of people will disagree, but the way something sounds is subjective.  I will always hate Beyonce’s vibrato.  Forever.  Rihanna will always sound like a llama swallowed a robot.  That doesn’t mean some of their music isn’t good…I’m just callin em like I see hear em.

1:01 pm  •  13 November 2012  •   Let's talk about what you think.

| beyonce| rihanna| lady gaga| katy perry| adele| whitney houston| keke wyatt| brandy| toni braxton| christina aguilera| janet jackson| mary j blige| kylie minogue| mariah carey| sade| lana del rey|

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