Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Five Favorite Female Vocalists

DC Comics-based stuff has been ruling the roost on this blog lately, so I thought I'd diversify my thoughts and give you all a countdown of my five favorite female vocalists.

So a few thoughts before I do so: 1. Do not expect a top five male vocalists anytime soon. I have a lot of other things that are higher priority and this blog just seemed like a fun thing to do. (Plus my explanations for this list are better thought out.)

2. I am holding this list to singers who are still active and whose heydays didn't pass before I entered grade school. Obviously, legends like Selena, Karen Carpenter and Whitney Houston would be in contention in a full-time list, but I'm looking to give credit to the artists who put out great efforts today and who I will be listening to decades from now.

3. Feel free to leave me your list in the comments. I'd love to hear them.

Anyway, on to the list!

Honorable Mentions: Adele, KT Tunstall, Elisabeth Hale (Halestorm), Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kimberly Perry (The Band Perry), Imogen Heap, Kimbra, Carrie Underwood

5. LeAnn Rimes

I wavered back and forth about who would be No. 5, and I was prepared to give it to Adele, whose voice has a great range and is just overwhelmingly powerful.

However, then I remembered back to my childhood and this song came into my head:

How could I forget that song and that voice?

LeAnn Rimes is the first country singer that I consciously remember listening to, and her first few songs were absolutely great to listen to.

Even some of her more pop-based stuff has been amazing. "Can't fight the Moonlight," "Nothin' Better To Do" and other songs like that can be added to legendary songs like "Blue," "How Do I Live" and "One Way Ticket."

Her voice had a natural country feel and in her early career sounded at times like she was channeling Patsy Cline. But she had an energy that could allow her to also do fast-paced songs, which gave her a dynamic that really allows her to stand out.

So why isn't she higher? Well, to be blunt, while many of her recent songs are good, there are just as many that are just average. It's a curse of shifting into pure pop - you lose that base that made you so amazing.

Plus, she hasn't done much in the way of new, noteworthy works, so she's kind of lost her edge in the consistency of production category. And as good as her music is, I do have to be in the mood of the song to really like it, so she loses a valuable step in the way of making me want to set her songs to repeat.

On the whole, though, I still love her music and her voice, so she gets in the top five.

4. Taylor Momsen (The Pretty Reckless)

I know what some are thinking of this. That girl from "Gossip Girl?" Really?

Well, first of all, I should note that I've actually never seen her perform on Gossip Girl, though I know those who liked her performances there. Actually, I remember her more for her performance in this movie:

I was going to show her singing "Where Are You Christmas?" but for some reason all YouTube shows is freaking Faith Hill's version.

Anyway, for those who have seen her in this movie, seen her in Gossip Girl but have never seen or heard her music, prepare to have your mind blown:

Yeah, kind of a contrast.

That said, Taylor is absolutely great in her performances, her singing is authentic-sounding and she has a hard rock edge to her despite not being that hard in real life.

Every time I've seen her in an interview I think, 'There is no way you are producing that music,' and then she performs, belts out the songs and I'm floored.

Actually, the only complaint I can issue is that her body of work is still limited. Light Me Up is the only album so far, and I do want to see more from her before putting her any higher.

That said, if you can purchase "Make Me Wanna Die" and "My Medicine," both songs are well worth your money.

3. Sara Bareilles

Anyone else still have this song in their head from time to time?

Incredibly, though, this would probably be only my fifth favorite Sara Bareilles song, behind "Not Alone," "Morningside," "Bottle It Up" and "King of Anything" (in that order).

Sara is the only female performer on this list where I can honestly say I have all her songs in my iPod. Granted, that's due to her relatively few albums, but still an achievement in my book.

Her voice is almost lullaby-esque. Just listening to one Bareilles song will have you relaxed, and a slower song is great to wind down to when you want to sleep.

Additionally, she's completely natural in how she makes music. She plays the piano herself in her songs and as such, her music has an authenticity you can only get at piano bars.

Actually, the only reason she isn't higher (beyond the brilliance of the others ahead of her, of course) is that she lacks the breadth of work that the other two have. Maybe in a few albums she will be ahead of these two, but for now, I'll still be enjoying Sara's music after a hard day.

2. Taylor Swift

A bunch of people who know me knew that this girl was coming. Heck, a lot of people are probably shocked that she isn't at the top of the list. Nonetheless, here we are.

Swift holds a unique position in that of all the people on here, she gets criticized the most. She's too poppy, her songs hold to only two topics, her range isn't as wide as some of the people I have in the honorable mentions...

But here's the thing, much like most of her actions, she doesn't give a crap how she's perceived. She does what she's good at, and does it better than anyone else.

Her early works are incredible and great, purely southern country music. "Our Song" and "Picture to Burn" are just a few of the excellent works produced early. To me, they exceed anything good singers like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood do because while those singers focus on hitting strong notes and showing off their range, Swift's is focused on authenticity.

And that's probably what I love most about her music: the authenticity. Her emotions can be felt in the music without being forced. And that comes from writing her lyrics how she'd normally speak or write.

It's not as deep and poetic as others, but at the same time, she's not bending lyrics to fit the rhythm of the song. Instead, she bends the song to fit the lyrics. I can't even count the times Swift has packed a full sentence into a relatively short riff of a verse.

That even carries into her song titles. The general rule is to not go more than 7-8 syllables for a title. Tell that to Swift and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."

My only real gripe with Swift is that her music seems to be drifting from the country and more into the pop. Case in point: "We Are ... Together" is being released primarily in the pop version, leaving the country version to be searched for on YouTube.

I don't like this because what makes Swift great is her honest effort and emotion. That gets blocked when using synthesizers, fake instruments and a back-up vocal track. I don't see why it's necessary; people will still buy music if it's all real. GET ON THAT!

But ultimately, Swift has sustained success for years now and whether she is selling out to audio editors or not, I'll always give her music a shot and listen live.

Now you may be wondering who could be No. 1 after such a ringing endorsement of T-Swizzle. Well, it's actually one of her better friends who edges her.

1. Hayley Williams (Paramore)

I'll freely admit: I didn't even realize who this girl was until she made a cameo in "Guitar Hero" (further proof that cameos DO work). And even then, I didn't listen to Paramore consistently until two or three years ago.

But when I did, one thing really stuck out: This lead singer is what makes the band amazing.

That's not to say that the Farro brothers and the rest of Paramore don't really help. Riot! has tremendous songs and complements Williams perfectly. All We Know is Falling and Brand New Eyes have a similar effect, but it's not as strong and perfected. (I attribute it to rookie inexperience and band tension, respectively.)

What ultimately brought me to my opinion of Hayley, however, were three instances. The first was her performance in B.O.B.'s "Airplanes."

Her performance was more memorable than any of the verses B.O.B. produced and when Eminem made his cameo in Part II, her chorus still held its own despite being played four times to that point. I respect both artists she worked with, so that meant a great deal to me.

Next was Paramore's more recent single, "Monster." This was the first song after the departure of the Farro brothers, and while I still enjoyed the song, it felt less complete than other songs.

The guitars were strong, but not as strong. The drums were much less pronounced, and the lyrics didn't hit as trong because the backing music wasn't as up to par.

The only thing that didn't drop off – and actually got stronger – was Hayley's vocals, which carried the song up to Paramore's expected quality and were the benefit of the vocal lessons she had taken a few years back. (As an aside, I also really respect someone who is great and continues to seek betterment of self.)

The final thing that helped me decide was that I finally listened to "When It Rains" on Riot! It is one of the most emotionally authentic songs I've ever heard.

I could really feel the pain and desperation in her voice coupled with an expertly developed tone of voice and honest lyrics. It is definitely one of my favorite songs despite the very depressing subject matter.

With an authenticity near the level of Taylor Swift, the ability to carry an entire band and hold her own with legends in other genres, and a range to cover both forceful and gentle songs, I can not give anymore respect to Hayley Williams.

I could point to any Paramore song and recommend it, and it's generally mostly to do with Hayley's vocals. If you get the chance to seek out acoustic versions of her songs, do it. For now, here's one to leave with.

Once again, these selections are based on my enjoyment and what I look for in a vocalist. And I do want your opinions as well. Please feel free to leave me a Top 5 of your favorite active vocalists (If you do all-time, please specify). And if you want to do some brief explanations, they spark debate, so go ahead! (Respect others' opinions, though.)

Lastly, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/seantherebel and like my Blog page at http://www.facebook.com/SeanNetworkBlogs.

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