Do people fake their voices when they sing?

In the sign of the retro trend, pop singers have pushed falsetto singing in recent years. Mostly it was a homage to past styles and idols. Nevertheless, falsetto was given new aesthetic connotations.

When pop musicians sing, they often express their euphoria in the same high pitch in which their pain is heard. Think of soul singer Al Green, hard rocker Robert Plant, disco star Barry Gibb or pop king Michael Jackson - they may have evoked different moods with their music. But if you concentrate entirely on their voice, abstracting from accompaniment and arrangements, one notices what they have in common: They repeatedly climb into the highest fistula register to signal neuralgic values ​​of their sensitivity and emotionality. You may feel a little irritated by such feminine or puerile singing. It seems to disturb the order of the human, especially the masculine. And somehow it sounds as if the singers are the media of a superhuman, transsexual power that can now be heard in the licking flames of falsetto.

Falsetto trending

In the tradition of pop and rock, singers usually switch to falsetto when their singing is to rise into the alto or soprano register: As soon as the vocal cords vibrate only halfway, the voice jumps into the next octave, into falsetto. Falsetto singing is nothing new in pop music. But there is a newer, significant falsetto trend. In recent years, more and more rock and pop singers have let their voices sound in this flute position. The accumulation is not limited to any genre: whether Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Cee-Lo Green, Mayer Hawthorne in soul and R'n'B. - Tom Yorke (Radiohead), Chris Martin (Coldplay), Matthew Bellamy (Muse) in Brit-Pop and Stadium-Rock. Whether Mika, Antony Hegarty, Scissor Sisters, MGMT, Passion Pit in indie pop - they all sing often or always in falsetto.

In contrast to pop music, falsetto was frowned upon in classical music for a long time. For centuries, falsetto was considered - according to the actual meaning of the word - to be the "wrong" voice. In the early stages of European musical theater, falsetto might have allowed singers to slip into female roles. But at the latest since female singers entered the stage and the vocal registers were clearly divided between the sexes, it seemed slippery, gay, simply "unnatural" when singers falsetto tuned into an alto or soprano melody. But it's one thing with nature: On the one hand, the area of ​​overlap between male and female vocal ranges is larger than is generally believed. On the other hand, the falsetto voice is made possible by a physical disposition. The falsetto “prohibition” is less about “nature” than about a socio-cultural gender issue.

This can also be seen in the fact that falsetto was cultivated in various musical traditions. This applies, for example, to the alpine yodel. In West African cultures, falsetto singing is said to have been seen as a sign of increased potency. In any case, African slaves brought their falsetto culture to the US. With their high field hollers and shouts, they later influenced not only early forms of Afro-American music, but also folk and country. Yodelling immigrants from Europe are also said to have left traces of falsetto in America's musical landscape. It is due to these influences that falsetto has always been accepted in American popular music.

Function and meaning

Falsetto has different functions and meanings depending on the singer and style. One might initially think of weirdos like Smokey Robinson, Frankie Valli, Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat) and Jeff Buckley, who simply felt most comfortable in the falsetto voice. Her singing style later inspired grapes of imitators. - The quickest way to male falsetto, however, is through polyphonic male vocals: In the harmony arrangements of Doo Wop as well as in the polyphonic singing of bands such as the Beach Boys or the Bee Gees, the highest vocal range was intoned in falsetto. The spread of falsetto differs depending on the genre: Interestingly, high-pitched singing does not seem as widespread in any other style as in hard rock and heavy metal. Isn't it strange that, of all things, heroes of the quackery like Robert Plant express themselves in an apparently feminine register? There may be two reasons for this: In music, higher instruments and higher voices generally take over the melody - so singers and men with higher voices are also overrepresented in pop and rock. In the thunderous guitar sound of metal, however, a high voice or falsetto has even more acoustic presence. As an expressive process, the fistula of falsetto also suggests the mood culture of rock: the singers often escalate into ecstasy. The sovereignty of verbal communication is lost in an excess of emotional information. The voice develops into a non-verbal medium - between primal scream and guitar solo.

Expressiveness and manner

Falsetto indicates an intensification of sensuality and feelings in all genres. However, the semantics are shimmering. Falsetto contrasts with the aggressiveness in metal in folk and with singer / songwriters like Jeff Buckley, where it marks vulnerability. The implications of falsetto singing in soul are different again. In this genre, which translates the religious passion of gospel into the secular drama of love, falsetto singing, sighs and screams primarily occur during expressive caesuras in order to express moments of greatest happiness or deepest sorrow (triggered by Example through the dominant blues cadenza or at the end of a series of stanzas: before an instrumental solo or at the end of a song). In the late sixties and early seventies, falsetto became fashionable in soul. This is shown, for example, by the career of Marvin Gaye, who initially only went into falsetto for expressive punch lines. At the end of the decade, however, he made the whimpering falsetto the omnipresent means of expression for his complaints and demands.

Falsetto virtuosos like Al Green and Curtis Mayfield simultaneously set final artistic highlights in soul: In the latter, high-pitched singing was sometimes able to detach itself from the narrative logic of the song in order to characterize constant expressive high pressure via driving rhythms. At the same time, the more open, rhythmic forms of the funk track prevail over the soul song. Falsetto no longer corresponded to a dramatic escalation in the radio. Rather, it turned out to be a sound of carnal lust, a symbol of hedonistic euphoria. Now the hour of disco had also come: When the Bee Gees, who had previously oriented themselves for a long time to the Beatles, reorganized themselves in the mid-seventies, they relied on funk and, above all, on the vibrating and stimulating falsetto by Barry Gibb. In this way they put their stamp on an era in which numerous other funk and disco formations had already sworn to falsetto - the Ohio Players, for example, or Earth, Wind & Fire; Even Mick Jagger suddenly turned to disco falsetto in "Emotional Rescue".

Similar lines of development from expressive falsetto methods to falsetto manner and cliché can also be traced in other genres: With his rather thin but electrifying voice, Jeff Buckley as a singer / songwriter set standards in terms of expressive design - his falsetto was that, so to speak Organ of his pain. His singing has found numerous imitators over several music years: for example Buckley fan Tom Yorke, the singer of the Brit pop avant-garde band Radiohead. Yorke also liked to use falsetto sparingly - as a method of expressive limit values: for example in the Radiohead hit "Creep", where after two stanzas of self-humiliation the voice suddenly tips into the madness and hypersensitivity of falsetto. Later, the falsetto became the constant trademark of Yorke's vocal expressiveness: It signals notorious over-excitement and hysteria. Yorke has in turn inspired numerous musicians from Coldplay to Keane to James Blunt to sing falsetto.

The fact that falsetto is “traced back” to role models in all pop music genres is symptomatic of today's pop music. At the moment there are hardly any means of expression beyond reviving, quoting, exaggerating or parodying. In the eighties, Prince already proved that you can still be artistically creative at this. He orchestrated the falsetto voice as an expressive cliché, comparable to the Hendrix guitar sound. With remarkable vocal virtuosity, he combined moans and screams with wandering falsetto sighs to orchestrate an orgiastic as well as parodistic, even grotesque sex sound (“Do Me, Babe”, “Sexuality”, “Kiss”).

However, other songs show that Prince also knew how to use falsetto in new ways. In “Sometimes It Snows In April”, for example, where grief over the death of a friend is initially expressed in falsetto; only then does the singer gather in order to express himself verbally; He then intones the following stanzas in a neat chest voice. - Ten years ago, the American neo-soul star D'Angelo was similarly creative: with a combination of falsetto soul and beats from funk and hip-hop, he set new heights of expressive falsetto art on his album “Voodoo”.


In the retro cult of today's pop culture, falsetto mostly turns out to be a quote from earlier styles and idols. One might wonder whether the frequency of falsetto singing also allows conclusions to be drawn about the state of the present. If you concentrate on individual singers, you feel like you are with the trees and the forest: An Antony Hegarty distinguishes himself as a solitary artist who, thanks to falsetto, crosses gender boundaries with great virtuosity; and Cee-Lo Green or Jamie Lidell are very original traditionalists when it comes to their falsetto soul. Viewed from a greater distance and overheard, these individualists also belong to the current falsetto choir, which determines a trend that is characteristic of the present.

Falsetto fashion can be interpreted as a symptom of a dilemma: On the one hand, expressivity and lust in pop culture are under pressure to perform. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear what motivates this lust and expressiveness today. In any case, the sensitivity and emotionality of the contemporaries seem so weak that they can hardly be expressed in new musical styles; Conversely, there is also a lack of pioneering musical acts that could spark artistic enthusiasm. That is why falsetto today is often a gimmick or a fake: hedonistic intensity is constantly and everywhere simulated, played, and pretended to be. The falsetto of high-profile R'n'B singers like Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake or Cee-Lo Green may always generate a certain warmth, but first of all it's about emotional theater. One makes do with aesthetic prostheses. Falsetto can be compared to a candle that is lit in the temple of lust, although one no longer believes in the religion of love, sex, and liberation.

In “Falsetto” by R'n'B star The Dream, falsetto singing is only used to ape the desire of a partner: “As soon as I hit, I got her talkin 'like this. . . / In a falsetto, She's like , In a falsetto. " With pop acts like Mika, Scissor Sisters, MGMT and Passion Pit, on the other hand, which stylistically lean more towards glam rock, disco and electro pop, the expressiveness of the forced falsetto fluctuates between parody and hysteria. The notorious hyper-excitement here stands for parasitic epigones who addictively cling to tribes of expressive traditions. The musicians listed are all diligent pop musicians who, so to speak, draw the last of their expressive energies out of themselves.

Auto tune

In accordance with its literal meaning, falsetto is actually becoming "false", not true, song today; simulation takes the place of expression. Ironically, the excessive falsification of feelings itself promoted an artistic medium that is not new, but very characteristic of the present: auto-tune. It is actually a technical effect that compensates for intonation errors during recordings. But if an entire vocal line is treated with auto-tune, it takes on the character of a robot voice and is reminiscent of falsetto per se due to the empty, fluting timbre. However, many hits with an auto-tuning effect are actually sung in falsetto - for example in “Got Money” by Lil 'Wayne and T-Pain or in “Heartless” by Kanye West. Akon's “I Wanna Love You” is also typical. The R'n'B singer cultivates the coolness of the disillusioned, the cynicism of the un-naive: "Love" turns out to be an act, a mere act of buying. And the auto-tune falsetto in the vocals gives off the impression of a fake, a robot passion. The expressive falsetto, once a symbol of ecstasy and euphoria, turns here into the expressive opposite: it becomes a symbol of cool apathy and melancholy.