Or, a Case for Diction in Popular Music
This may be the first in a series of several
rants posts about popular music.
I often listen to the radio, especially while driving. My current listening tastes extend to a select few local music stations – I refuse to pay a single dollar for XM Radio (however nice it might be to have, their spam mail is incredibly annoying so I refuse on principle), and I can’t listen to talk radio because it stresses me out.
Strangely enough, two of my most frequent stations are for “popular music” – or, to be funny, I like to describe it as “what the kids are listening to these days”. I have mixed feelings about the music on these stations. I generally listen to keep abreast of the current music scene, to occasionally hear a nostalgic favorite, and because for as many songs as I don’t care for, there will be a song or two that I like, or at least find myself singing along to.
Mostly, I’m listening for the words. Music lyrics are a form of poetry, more or less, so beyond a catchy tune or beat, I’m really keyed in to the message of a song. I regard most of the messages I hear in the popular music scene as drivel (at best) but every once in a while I’ll hear something very earnest and genuine, something that if you took the music away would still be poetry worth reading aloud, which makes wading through all the other nonsense worthwhile.
But that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about diction. Or rather, the tragic lack of it in modern music.
Americans are notoriously lazy in their speech patterns. For example, while in British English the “t’s” in “letter” are generally pronounced clearly and crisply (though it depends on your particular British dialect, I’ll admit) Americans are much more likely to gloss over the “t’s” and turn them into “d’s”. Letter = British, Ledder = American.
I know I’m making sweeping generalizations here – but blogs are about brevity so I’m rolling with it.
I can’t tell you how many times I listen to popular music and the only reason I can understand the words is because I happen to be a native speaker of English. Just today, I heard a song (that may have inspired this post) that included the words “hot” and “stop” in the lyrics. But that is definitely not what was actually said. I will try to recreate them phonetically:
Stop = St-aaaaaaaah
Hot = H-Ah
I solemnly swear that that is what I heard.
This is only one of limitless examples. Now, I fully admit that pronunciation can be a stylistic thing. In certain instances it would sound stuffy and stilted to over-enunciate every syllable of every word. But in the above example, there are consonants at the ends of these words that aren’t simply being glossed over or lazily expressed, but downright ignored.
There’s a reason that there are entire classes devoted to diction in classic vocal training. Because if your audience can’t understand what you’re saying…then what, I ask, is the point?
Lazy or nonexistent diction is also why, I kid you not, whenever I hear Taylor Swift’s song Blank Space instead of hearing the actual lyrics (Gotta long list of ex-lovers) I can only hear her saying:
“Gotta love those Starbucks lovers.”
On the other hand though, I do enjoy laughing at examples of misheard lyrics, which we wouldn’t have if every vocalist had perfect diction. It’s a dilemma…more laughter, or proper pronunciation? I’m torn.
I’ll close with one of my favorite examples of misheard lyrics I was ever told from the The Beach Boys’ classic, Barbara Anne:
“Went to the dance, looking for my pants, saw Barbara Anne so I thought I’d take a chance, Barbara Anne, Barbara Anne…”
I laughed for days.
Have favorite misheard lyrics? Leave them in the comments below!