Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
19

Is Mariah Carey's Voice Just Done For?

Making allowances that Mariah Carey was, in fact, at a funeral yesterday-"Sorry that I wasn't able to pull it together and really do it right,but I was literally choked up when I saw him there in front of me," she posted to Twitter-there's still a reasonable question to ask: is her voice damaged beyond repair? I was out with noted homosexual and vocalist Julian Fleisher this morning, and he was pretty much reeling in shock at hearing a legend-a bona fide legend, and one that is all of 39 years old-sound the way she did yesterday.

A couple years back, I talked to The Lady Herself for a terrible piece for a terrible lady magazine. (It paid in pounds sterling though! I bought shoes!) Mostly I was interested in vocal production, which, eerily enough, the magazine wasn't too interested in? I was concerned about how chaotically, it seemed to me, she'd been singing for a number of years, and how byzantine her methods of producing various sounds were. Singers find methods and shortcuts to making sound through the physical inconsistencies of their body, as visualized in the mind. Often, the methods we come up with, particularly without outside help, for both singing and speaking, can be damaging in the short or long term.

"I do really have different vocal cords. It's because they're not–I don't use my voice the way different people use their vocal cords. A lot of people couldn't sing through the nodules the way I do; I've learned to sing through my vocal cords," she said. So she would regularly go to Dr. Scott Kessler and together they would look at pictures of her vocal folds. To produce her trademark high-pitch sounds, she sings through her nodules, or at least, conceives of singing through them; sites of damage created most likely by, well, creating those high-pitch sounds.

Over the years, it's pretty obvious that there have been changes to Carey's voice. (Also she seems like a much happier person, and one that is making better music!) And what remains is a pretty luscious, hissy thing. But you also get the sense that everything is so completely jury-rigged between her mind and her throat. And it looks to me, watching both yesterday's and other recent performance, that while she is singing, she's seriously thinking through what will "fail" in the right way, to produce a stop, or allow her to pull off melisma, or jump about between voices, producing a pleasing effect-and what might possibly fail in a bad way, ending in disaster. I think that while she is singing, she is in a bit of panic about manufacturing sound.

Also? One slightly disturbing thing also comes from her Twitter, posted at 3:20 a.m. EST in the middle of June: "4:20..how is everyone?" Oh boy, let's hope she's baking it in brownies, not smoking the stuff.

And here is an insane year-by-year retrospective of 18 years of live performances.

19 Comments / Post A Comment

mathnet (#27)

His falsetto is clearer and more pleasing than her trademark high-pitched sounds ever were. Major irreparable harm here. And not just to my ears.

My voice teacher said that she really has or had in her youth, a 4 octave range, and that her falsetto is (was)not like a normal falsetto – it was basically her upper register. But this was, uh, 12 years ago?

brianvan (#149)

I watched that first clip without reading the title, and thought, "Well, not only does she look great but she sounds just fine!"

Whoops.

Then I saw the Jackson tribute clip, and basically, it's all over. She has Ashlee's voice now.

sunnyciegos (#551)

When I was a teenager, I decided the reason I wasn’t Mariah-crazed was because you simply couldn’t sing along with her songs, not even “Honey” or “Always Be My Baby.” (Any Weezer song would do just nicely.)

So while I was never really a big fan, I was admittedly a bit sad when it was obvious she was lip-synching “Touch My Body” in her various appearances last year. One of the world’s genuine vocal talents, reduced to auto-tune. It’s a shame.

katiebakes (#32)

Good point, as anyone who has ever ignorantly selected a Mimi song at karaoke and subsequently destroyed friendships and/or windows can attest to.

I don't think anyone performed all that great yesterday. No one really had all that much time to rehearse material that was not part of their repertoire in addition to it not being the most joyous occasion.

mathnet (#27)

She knows that song. It sounded as if she hadn't warmed up. At all. In decades.

Any musician will tell you there is a difference between knowing a piece and being able to perform it.

Anyway, I am cutting them all some slack for the occasion and the early hour. I was also underwhelmed by Jennifer Hudson's performance. But I, perhaps naively, think that most of the performers were deeply saddened by MJ's passing.

mathnet (#27)

If she'd started bawling, I'd understand.

But ignore me though; I'm just cranky because the boy I like owes me a Lexulous word.

I just listened to that again and I would also bet that that was not arranged for her and that they used an old Jackson arrangement for the orchestra. I could be crazy though.

Oh boy, that Lexulous stuff looks highly addictive.

VoxPopuli (#1,060)

I thought Jennifer Hudson was great. In fact, I just listened to it again to see if I was just remembering it better than it was, but I think she did well. The voiceover at the end was creepy, but that's not her doing.
Frankly, I always thought MJ's vocals on that song were too thin, so I thought she improved on the original. No offense to the dead!

katiebakes (#32)

Dreams are hard to follow, Choire. She won't let you or anyone take them away.

Hold on, Mariah. There will be tomorrow. In time we'll find a way.

But yeah, those final notes at the end yesterday made me wince, particularly because Mariah Carey's voice provided the soundtrack to approximately 95% of my middle-school era slow dances.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Related: anyone see tommy motolla making the teevee rounds? Dude used to look like shiny cigars and limo cocaine; now he's getting that wrinkly thin old man look, like a dried fig in a suit.

Choire, Quack to the Stars.

josh_speed (#97)

Interesting! So if one learns 'tricks' to surmount one's 'weaknesses', which in fact produce wonderful sounds, are they still weaknesses?

And Choire: a second question, less rhetorical: if one damages one's vocal chords, are they possible to rehab/repair at all? Seems to me that Julie Andrews is the living illustration of the answer being no. [sad.]

As a non singer who loves to sing and has taken a lot of lessons: voices need a lot of warming up, more as you get older, emotions really do choke you up, and sadness really screws up a voice. I can't sing a note when I'm depressed or tense. and this was no ordinary funeral.

skizdi (#609)

Okay, so she does sound AWFUL, like she's all strangled and dry and like her vocal chords have been irresponsibly ravaged by years of SINGING THROUGH THEM.

BUT! If Liza can do it, so can she! See 8 mins 5 sec: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cr6h5fFEjI

Right? Right?

VoxPopuli (#1,060)

The Emancipation of Mimi's Voice

LondonLee (#922)

Nothing against her personally but I hate what her influence has done to pop and r&b singing these days. Watch American Idol and they're all doing these stupid vocal gymnastics with little trills and frills and runs everywhere while ignoring the bloody tune. And the show encourages this nonsense too.

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