September 12, 2023
Guest Blog

Guest Blog: Why Do All of Today’s Female Singers Sound the Same?

[Susan Andrews is a frequent reader of this site. We got into an email exchange about the state of today’s music which resulted in me inviting her to write up her thoughts in a guest blog. If you have an opinion on anything, lemme know and maybe we can arrange something.  -AC]

My name is Susan and I’m an opinionated bitch in my late 40s.  I’ve lived in Canada for most of my life, and have followed and been intrigued by all of the musical trends since the early 1970s to the present.  I was never in a band, as I was a) somewhat shy and b) have no musical talent whatsoever.  The opinions expressed here are mine alone, and Alan has been kind enough to let me turn an email into a guest blog.  Address any pissiness to me, please, and kudos too. *pause to listen to the sound of a few million devices googling what ‘kudos’ means*

I like listening to new music and picking out not songs which have legs, and which will be no more than dazzling one-hit wonders. The best songs are built on a solid foundation of good music and, unless the act is a DJ like Moby or Fatboy Slim, or a multi-instrumentalist like Joe Satriani or Mike Oldfield, a good vocalist is needed to deliver the song.

Whether or not the lyrics and music are theirs, a band’s singer has to have a vocal style that is distinctive, so they don’t get lost in the shuffle – yet it has to be distinctive in a way that is appealing to the audience.  Turn to any radio station and listen to your favourite female DJs.  Listen to the pleasant lower register virtually all of them use.  Now keep that in mind and read on.

Music is not much different from photography.  In much the same way that PhotoShop can be used to improve an already good image, too much use of PhotoShop can also destroy that image.  And NO amount of PhotoShop can save a bad image; the best thing to do with a poor image is to hit the delete button. The best photos out there don’t look like anything has been done to them.  (The exception here is PhotoChop, as the practice of blending several different images together is generally called by those in the visual arts.)

But if the first thing you notice about a photo is the PhotoShop, the photo has failed.  No, that is NOT a wax doll of a Kardashian on the cover of People magazine; it’s a heavily PhotoShopped, skin-smoothed photo of a Kardashian.

Now to get to my point.  Autotune and studio tricks are audio versions of PhotoShop, and like PhotoShop, are being badly abused.  And yes, I am going to pick on women here, mostly because I am a woman and have long been annoyed by certain female vocalists and their singing styles.

Let’s start with the ones that use their own voices to create vocal effects. The short list of women who annoy me with their own natural voices include the Stevie Nicks and Gwen Stefani; no matter what song they sing, they both sound like constipated sheep.  For the longest time I thought the song Zombies, by The Cranberries, was by Alanis Morrissette as both singers use the effect of singing like a hyperventilating donkey.

Anyone else apart from me and your parents remember how Mick Jagger likened the breathy squeals of early Madonna to Minnie Mouse on helium?  I don’t mind FUN and Carry You Home Tonight, but just try listening to Some Nights on my car radio. Before that annoying ‘Who I – Who I – Who I – Who I  – aaaahh-aaahhh -aaaaahhh- ahhmmmm’ phrase kicks in, I’ve already switched to another station.  And pulled over and kicked you out.

And the sad thing is that the painful vocal delivery of these songs, by these singers, is that they completely kill the song altogether.  I know these are all successful artists and many have won all kinds of awards.  Still. I don’t give a damn about how meaningful or well-written the lyrics might be and how well the rest of the band is doing – if the singer sings in an unappealing fashion, off goes the radio.

Of course, there are male vocalists who do all kinds of weird things in their songs – Elton John’s joyfully campy falsetto of ‘LAAAAAAA-la-la-la-la-laaaah, la-la-la-la-LAAAAAAAHH’ on Crocodile Rock is epic and fun to wail along to.  Sir Paul McCartney could, and probably still can, go from crooning gently a song like Maybe I’m Amazed to Helter Skelter. I probably will never understand why the half-spoken, half-sung delivery of Mark Knopfler and David Wilcox works so well, but it does.  Mind, the fact that they are both excellent lyricists also makes up for a lot. Michael Jackson’s voice was high and of course he did his signature ‘heh-heh’…but the man was a helluva performer and let’s face it, with Thriller, both song and album, he singlehandedly saved the recording industry from total collapse.  Hell, I’ve seen one-time Metal Queen Lee Aaron singing torch songs in a little bar called the Railway Club in Vancouver; she was amazing.  No tricks there.

So why, when it comes to Britney, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera (any of them still around?) Lady Gagas and Bjorks and Nikki Minajs and most of the rest of the top-40 crowd do all the more in-studio vocal effects get layered on?  Why do they all sound virtually the same?  I don’t hear a lot of crap like that being done to the Jonas Brothers, One Direction or Justin Beiber.  (Yes, that was the most painful 12 minutes of my life).

That’s why I could listen to voices like those of Whitehorse, Annie Lennox, kd lang and Metric’s Emily all day. Emily has a clear strong voice that can sound eerily little-girlish, like on Youth Without You, without turning into a pitchy screech.  Can you imagine Madonna in her early years pulling off that song?  Or something with real meaning to it like Amy Winehouse’s sulky, poignant Rehab? Never.  The girls of Mother Mother have fun doing pitchy vocals on The Stand, but they can afford to – everything else I’ve heard from them shows a lot of talent and range.

Give me the tortured howl of Janis, or Gin Wigmore, whose aptly named album, Gravel and Wine, which may well be what she gargles with in the morning, and that’s a good thing. I didn’t care for her and Black Sheep at first, but she grew on me, much in the same way Radiohead has, because Thom York does so much vocally.  I can even listen to Shania, Bette Midler and pre-Autotune Cher, which came in handy several years ago when I was hanging out with drag queens in Vancouver.  And to give Madge some credit, at least she was allowed to eventually outgrow the drugged-out mouse voice and develop some range and actual dance moves.

But then there are those who are pure genius.  And to me that means the one and only Cyndi Lauper.  She’s So Unusual was the best-named album ever; she was a cartoon come to life. She could and did joyously yelp her way through Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and She-Bop (hilariously bizarre video, too)…then sing a tortured rendition of I Drove All Night.  Time After Time and True Colours also show the extent of that amazing little woman’s range.

So as I was driving home today and heard Gwen Stefani caterwauling away on the radio, I couldn’t help but think that I should give her a break.  I’ve never heard her regular speaking voice before, so I scared up a youtube video of her on the Ellen Show.  Maybe she had no choice.  Maybe that was all she has.

A few seconds of listening to Gwen were more than enough to convince me that yep, she’s just a one-trick pony.  That voice is all she’s got.  Out of curiousity, I scrolled down to the comments below.  And there was this comment:


why is she 40 and still sounds 20?!

Finally, another voice in the wilderness, someone after my own heart. So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to drop the little-girl breathiness, Gwen? Hmm?  And grow up and act like a mommy of three, instead of one of your kids?

Juliette Jagger

Juliette Jagger is a Canadian music journalist. She is on Twitter @juliettejagger.

Juliette Jagger has 562 posts and counting. See all posts by Juliette Jagger

18 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Why Do All of Today’s Female Singers Sound the Same?

  • To this day I am still astonished at the success of Alanis' Jagged Little Pill. It had some of the worst vocalizations ever put down on tape.

  • Interesting idea. I’ve been studying voice for about 14 years, so I’m obviously a vocal snob.

    I’m not sure that the problem isn’t more widely based than that. I think that having a nice singing voice (separately from being technically skilled) is considered to be secondary in any genre.

    In the pop world, where manufactured acts flourish, having a girlish voice seems to fit in with the overall image of ditzy, nudge-wink sexiness that seems to sell so well with the teenage demographic

    It’s worth noting that, in any genre, a good singing voice is not considered mandatory. Neil Young is often off-key and Bob Dylan’s style ranged from bad to really annoying.

  • YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mmm…pretty sure I’ve written, recorded, played, and listened to more music in one year than you have in you whole life. This is shy you couldn’t offer any insights on this topic.


  • Give me a Joan Jett or an Anne Wilson over today’s insipid uninspiring spoiled brats any day.

  • I like this guest article, I can agree with just about every point made. This article inspired me to consider the females that have serenaded my life and here are my two cents. Females in todays music (and possibly through out history) have it ruff, in todays consideration it takes so long to filter through what we hear when we turn on the radio, what we see on TV and what we are sold. In truth, the majority of female singers that younger generations have come to know, are known more for their looks, who has the best body, who has the prettiest face and who will sell you the sex you crave so to speak.

    That said, the good ones are there, they might include for example; Adele, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, India Arie, Carrie Underwood, Emily Haines, Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Sarah McLaughlin. All of which possess the voice, the presentation and talent we consider lacking. My generation grew up listening to the likes of Whitney Houston, the Wilson Sisters, Patty Smith, Tina Turner, even Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, all of whom carry influence today.

    I will say that the only point I had to disagree with was Stevie Nicks, her voice carries through time seamlessly. She is as angelic now as she was in her 20’s and still has the voice, she carries the stage and commands our attention….

    All in all, I think what should be taken into consideration is that it’s not the female artists who are lacking so much as its the industry that is supporting them or should be anyway.

  • cracked me up reading your outpouring, as I only found it becoz I was looking to see if I was imagining things, maybe just being a cynical ole biddy!!! but you got there before me – very reassuring. Its doing my head in, the same tone and style being performed by everyone. Talk about formulaic, we have gone beyond that, this is loss of individuality on a grand scale. But then perhaps it is down to us to look elsewhere and find the obscure original where we can. It is not at my local this weekend for sure, just checked that out and it is the gasping, listen to how poignant I am, (not), girlie voice so will avoid that. Gritty and real is what we want, but these kids are just a symptom of a made up culture, dont blame them. Just dont settle for it and strive for and encourage the NEW and the REAL. Enuf said!

  • I agree with your article. Obviously, by your words, you are pissed about it, too. I am sorry, but Stevie Nicks’ vibrato always sounded like a billy goat to me. Give me the Fleetwood Mac during the Peter Green days. Rolling Stone magazine’s “people to watch” is perplexing too. CBS This Morning on Sat. has some interesting groups in their cafe segments. Yes, I am a musician, guitar and vocals.

  • Couldn’t agree more! I especially loathe all the fake affectations and deliberately weird pronunciations many female singers use these days, making them sound like English-as-a-second-language spastics. Give me the pure and sweet voice of a Susan Jacks any day over these fake ingenues. Now THERE was a voice!

  • Thank you for your post!This tutorial is fabulous! Lots of great info including,In the music world, there are many great female singers, but only a few have risen to the level of greatness that these giants of American pop culture have. I believe in Famous Women Singer are the best singers in American history.

  • @Angie, Adele, Rihanna (when she was doing reggae, pre success), Alicia Keys (not my style, but horses for courses), etc…. are fine singers. The only exception being that Lauren Mayberry. I listened to some of her recordings and live performances. She can’t sing. Terrible control of her voice, weak projection, more concerned about style than technique, failing to make up for a bleak performance. So bad.

  • A lot of the problem is the material. Another part is that the audiences are brainwashed into believing that a certain soulful style is preferable over all other styles (see any of the TV talent shows). Only rarely do we hear someone unique anymore. The vast majority try to sound like whoever is currently popular–promoted by those who have an interest in selling the offering.m If it sounds and looks cheap, take a look at who is managing the “talent”.

  • Randy Marsh: I am Lorde

    • YA YA YA I AM LORD LOL!!!!

  • Yeah…no doubt about it….80% of the female pop singers today sound alike. And that is to say, they sound like whining petulant untalented children. The culprits are two fold…less emphasis placed on musical talent in lieu of simply manufacturing a sound that is ripe for the time….and secondly, and prolly more significantly to blame….AutoTune, which is an electronic signal or voice filter that corrects off key vocals to the nearest true semi tone. Thus, we see many different but equally off key talentless twits having their vocals tweaked to the same musical key.
    Viola! They all. Sound. The. Same. Which is OK for the the young zit cream set who listen to and like this shit, but blows for us who actually know something about music and who came of age when modern music was at its height….the 1970s.
    Classic rock, baby! This shit is so good that we still hear it on the radio today…some forty years later.
    Do ya think anybody will be hearing any of the top selling pop singers of today in 2058?
    Not bloody likely!



    • Classic Rock, don’t even go there brother! and again this is not about generation-gaps but about recognizing talented people. Those Rock Monsters knew how to caress the guitar and had amazing stage personas.

  • This has nothing to do with generation gaps or not recognizing talented people. I myself love Mario Lanza, and I wasn’t even born when he was around. My dad loved the 80’s music and he was older than that…Today you don’t hear anything good just merchandising images and voices.
    Music is tied to the times, and what are flourishing stars going to sing about? About people being glued to cell-phones all the time and how shallow our world is today due to it!


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