Some voices embody something on our behalf . Aretha Franklin provides the husky strength of presence, power, and integrity, she invokes respect. Amy Winehouse rolls her eyes for us, tells all the fuckery we can’t say out loud.
Some voices by their texture and nature tell stories. Nina Simone’s haunted reedy soulsinging says she sees what we don’t. Edith Piaf’s yearning love paints with a brush made of sorrow. Lady Day’s escapism and loss (Billie Holiday) echoing with her need for redemption by being loved.
Some singers are inalienably wedded to their audiences. Dave Gahan and Freddie Mercury jump to mind, as do Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf, Lady GaGa. There is a love-loop of mutual adoration, a call and response from stage to audience and back, completed in their performances again and again and again.
Some voices are storytelling voices – David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tom Waits, Tori Amos, Bjork. Each tells stories in their songs. Madonna reports on her state of mind, her soul talks when she sings.
We experience these songs as things, as products. They are made by people. No matter how processed, no matter the autotune, there is a soul behind each song. The demand to control the result – the demand for sales, I think, is what has sunk the music ‘industry’. The recipe-distilling, the formatting, the predicting, they’ve distilled out the passion, the soul, the selfhood that great music is steeped in.
Songbirds make music that resonate. M.I.A.’s insouciant mixtapes put a spring in your step. So do Wiz Khalifa or Kellee Maize, those crazies from Pittsburgh who give it away. Lady GaGa’s rich, deep-throated, flaunting, Lilith-evoking, vaguely-rejected strange and crazy artist lady. There’s soul in those voices, there are selves singing.
That’s why they catch on. We need true muses. Those souls speaks substantial companion energy, music, for our daily blahblah.