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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Real Crime

For a couple of days, Christina Aguilera's mangling of the National Anthem lyrics at the Super Bowl was all the talk. But now that the smoke has cleared, we can finally point out what was truly horrific about her performance, the godawful trilling of every note.
Listen, complete disclosure here: we absolutely love Christina Aguilera, and quite frankly, we think she's by far the most talented singer of her generation. If Christina's in the room, then everyone named Cyrus, Spears and Bieber should just sit in the corner and hide their faces in shame... while taking notes. So it pains us to point out when someone of Aguilera's gifts really misses the mark.
Aguilera's milking of every note, up and down the scale, called "trilling" by some, and called "fingernails on the chalkboard" by others, is not new, it's been around since the beginning of song. Trilling became more in vogue in the past twenty years when Mariah Carey used it to great effect, but since then, singers with much lesser gifts interpreted trilling as a way to imitate the gift of "soul". The blending of syllables for a bluesy or souful effect has a real term, it's called "melisma", but too often, when it's overdone, melisma has the opposite effect, it drains the song of every ounce of its soul. A great singer knows when to pull back and simply let the strength of the song's melody take center stage. Dolly Parton, another famous triller, had her greatest mainstream success, ("9 to 5", "Here You Come Again"), when she simply sang the song as is, without adding multiple notes.
But back to poor Christina. Writer John Eskow wrote a piece for The Huffington Post which said it best. In describing Aguilera's rendition of the National Anthem, Eskow wrote, "...and "rendition" is an apt term for it, because she kidnapped the song and shipped it out to be tortured...". Ouch.

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