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Melismatic For The People

OK, my comment that race might be playing a part in people saying Alex and Leona are the same has clearly touched a nerve. I’ve been called racist myself for suggesting it, although I’m not sure exactly how that works.

Anyway, let me be very clear about what I meant.

I didn’t, as one user asserted, "blindly suppose" anything. I suggested it MIGHT be an issue in SOME cases. And why? Well, as I said in the original post, I couldn’t see what else they have in common.

Undoubtedly some people will have spoken from a position of musical ignorance. If that’s the case, then fair enough. Being tone deaf is nothing to be ashamed of any more than being dyslexic is.

But there was another issue I wasn’t taking into account. Jimmy The Fish commented, "It’s not about colour it’s about the genre. Do we need another note stretching, tonsil warbling, fist clenching, tear wrenching r ‘n’ b diva?"

Granted, this is a more persuasive argument. But hang on: this is X Factor we’re talking about! That is the genre it deals in. What sort of singer did you expect to win? Ian Curtis? Tom Waits? Bjork?

X Factor is based on a contemporary and restrictive definition of vocal talent called ‘melisma’. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion et al have a lot to answer for in establishing the false notion that a thousand notes are better than one. This has some worrying implications for popular music which have been discussed elsewhere on MSN Music. But I don’t make the rules. It’s what people buy by the bucketful and it’s what they vote for on X Factor.

If your gripe is that X Factor perpetuates the dominance of melismatic singing (ie. "we don’t need another singer who favours multiple tonal variations per syllable)", then I wholeheartedly agree – but that really is a different argument.

The fact remains that within the parameters of this dominant style, Alexandra and Leona are at different ends of the spectrum. In short, although the style in which they (and almost all their fellow X Factor contestants) sing is broadly similar, their voices don’t sound the same. Not even a bit.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have brought race into it at all. It’s a thorny subject at the best of times. I was simply expressing my exasperation at the numbers of people saying they sound the same when they quite clearly don’t. And that’s the last I’m saying on the matter.

Happy Christmas.


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