Music History

Ever hear of “cursive singing?” It’s apparently a thing that requires study.

This post begins with an email from Chris:

“I have noticed a trend in music in the last few years (maybe more like 6 or 7 years) that I had a really difficult time describing or labeling and I was curious as to whether you have noticed this too or have any thoughts on it.

“It seems that at some point it became almost mandatory to sing with a strange affectation that I initially could only describe as baby talk and it drove me nuts. I’m obviously too old to get it.

“I thought for sure that people would get sick of this pretty fast, but I was very wrong. Like trap beats, it seems to have never-ending popularity.

“The alternative station that I listen to all the time in Edmonton [Ongoing History affiliate Sonic] plays a lot of this kind of stuff. When I have asked them what they think of it, they don’t seem to know what I’m talking about.

“After some googling, I found that musicologists and linguists were calling this cursive singing or the indie-pop voice.

“The singers all use this vowel breaking technique ‘characterized by turning monophthongs, or pure vowels that are associated with only one sound, into diphthongs, which are two vowel sounds that are kind of smushed together,’ The ‘uh’ sound in ‘good’ as you or I would probably say it, is a monophthong.
Whereas ‘oi’ in ‘boy’ or Selena Gomez’s ‘guoid’ is a diphthong.”

“It’s been described as “associated with a breathy voice, vocal fry, distinct vowel choices, and a thin, delicate style of singing.”

“Some examples of artists that have gone all-in on cursive singing are Halsey, Billie Eilish, Melanie Martinez, Selena Gomez, Lorde, Tones and I, Shawn Mendes, Amy Winehouse, Sia, and Grandson.”

Chris helpfully supplies some websites that examine this style of singing

This reminded me of several other vocal trends, including the yelpy/yodel-y delivery of a lot of New Wave and techno-pop singers back in the late 70s and early 80s. Note to self: Must investigate.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37808 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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