Why do British people lose their accent when they sing?

I’ve noticed throughout the years that a lot of Brits lose their accent when they sing. Eric Clapton, Freddie Mercury, The Beatles, Coldplay and the list goes on and on. Tons of English people seem to have no English accent when carrying a tune.

Has this phenomenon been studied and concluded?

If there is no factual answer to this, I apologize and I reckon a mod will move it accordingly.

IANAA (I am not an American).

The Beatles are a very bad example. There are many Beatles songs where you can hear the Fab Four’s scouse accent.

Off the top of my head - Polythene Pam from Abbey Rd.

Phil Collins is a bit cockney in several Genesis and solo songs (I can’t Dance is one)

I just watched Coldplay on inHD and I can hear an accent in some songs.

Corrinne Bailey Rae has a Yorkshire accent that I can hear in some songs.

I know what you mean however and have no answer. By the same token, couldn’t you say that when you hear an American singer, you can’t tell his/her nationality either?

Basia is Polish and you can certainly hear her accent.

I think there is a factual answer, but first I’ll question your use of the phrase “lose their accent”. How would you feel if I asked you to “lose your accent”? If you decided to do that, how would you sound?

But, reading between the lines, I suspect that you’re talking about singers adopting different accents than their natural, speaking ones while they’re singing. And this is, indeed, common. In particular, British singers often adopt an American accent while singing, simply because the song they’re singing is of American origin and they’re trying to copy it, or perhaps the genre, to them, is of American style. I dislike the practice, but it’s extremely common.

In a band I was in, we had a singer - a very capable singer, actually - who did this. It was a cover band, and one of our staples was “Love On The Rocks” by Neil Diamond. Because the singer adopted a Diamondesque accent for the song, we routinely referred to it as “Love On The Racks”, which is how it sounds to British ears.

Knowing more now about American vocabulary than I did back then, I now realise that “Love On The Racks” has an unconscious erotic subtext … but I digress. :stuck_out_tongue:

Listen to a choir from deepest Wales sing and compare the sound with a choir from Yorkshire. Very different.

Coldplay… No accent?

Are you high? They have the biggest accent around, I can’t listen to them because the accent bothers me so much because it’s so very strong. (Not to mention I hate the tone of the guys voice… And the lyrics… And the instrumental work… Actually, just about everything)

A lot of what we perceive as an accent has to do with emphasis on certain syllables, which often gets lost in the melody of a song. But if you listen to how the vowels are pronounced, the accent comes thru.

Lovely Rita, meter maid, for instance, doesn’t quite work with an American accent (mee-ter instead of mee-tah). Unless you’re from Boston, that is. :slight_smile:

I think to some degree there is a slight lessening of any particular accent when you sing because , you generally try to cleanly hit each note and hold it. I believe at least some of what we perceive as an accent is the inflection, which is lessened when singing. I think country singers sound less country when they sing than when they talk because they sing with less ‘twang’. Oddly enough, (or maybe not) they use more ‘twang’ in their guitar playing.

The bigger question is, why do I always GAIN a British accent when I sing? I blame formal choral lessons in high school combined with listening to a lot of Prog rock in those formative years. I’ve worked my butt off to try to affect an American accent ever since.

I’m wondering if this is peculiar to Americans.

Going back to my Polythene Pam example, John sings the lyric “you could say she was attractively built” in his best Liverpudlian but I’m wondering if a non-Brit could distinguish it.

Good question. I wait with bated breath for the correct answer.

Liam Gallagher’s a good counterexample - he’s got a pretty thick Mancunian accent even when singing (listen to how he sings “looking” in Cigarettes and Alcohol, for example).

There is some evidence that music and language are processed (in part) in separate areas of the brain. (See this paper (PDF), for example.) Speech therapists have also noted that people with certain speech impediments, like stuttering, do not always display those impediments while singing.

I would suggest that in some cases, the difference between a singer’s normal accent and the accent with which they sing a song is due to the way they learn the song. If you learn a song by listening to someone with a different accent from your own, you may tend to sing it in their accent because your brain processes it as “melody” rather than “speech”. If a singer mostly does covers of songs that were originally sung with a different accent, I suppose this could become habitual, and carry over to original songs. For the most part, however, I would expect singers to display their normal accents in performing their own original works or songs learned from others that share their accent.

On an anecdotal note–I’m a natural mimic, and pick up accents at the drop of a hat. I have found that if I actually pay attention to the lyrics of a song I’m singing, they may warp the accent I sing in. For example, the song “House of Bamboo” refers to a person called “Soho Joe”. If I let myself think about that, I find myself singing with a distinct London (and somewhat Soho-specific) accent. If I’m not paying attention to what I’m singing, it comes out in the same accent as the original song. (My “natural” accent, by the way, is generally identified as mid-western US, although I’ve never lived there–it’s really a mish-mash that people can’t place.)

Are you serious? I hear absolutely no British accent in their songs. Name a song that has a good amount of British accent in it for me to listen to. Because otherwise, you would think the guy was from LA as opposed to England, because I don’t hear an accent and I have a very good ear, not to mention I’m also a musician and singer myself.

I see what you mean. I guess I could’ve been a little more specific. But I am an American and when I listen to certain (if not all) British/English musicians sing, they all sound like they’re American.

I used to have a funny saying, well, I guess I still say it now and then. But it goes, “You know what’s weird, all these great American rock bands that have changed your musical life throughout the 60’s and the 70’s? Well, the weird thing is is that they’re all British.”

Of course there’s some cases where Brits deliberately ape generic American accents. But also a lot of the ‘sounding American’ is purely a style of singing, causing vowels to sound in a way which happens to coincide with American ones. Both contradicting and agreeing with John Mace, I suppose - only a few vowels need to change from normal speech for this unintentional effect to occur.

Arctic Monkeys are another example to add to the list of very clearly not singing in a toned-down bland accent, and (as with Liam Gallagher mentioned above) revelling in their own - rhyming ‘stomach’ with ‘summat’ is pretty impressive.

According to a post in the thread regarding which English accent is considered to indicate social superiority, the English are engaged in a great conspiracy to fool Americans.

That is, among themselves they speak just like we do but when a Yank shows up they go into their act.

Probably when they sing they think we won’t notice the change in accent. :wink:

There doesn’t have to be a ‘good amount’ of accent. As a Brit, I can hear the smallest amount which is why I think this is peculiar to US listeners. Random Coldplay song selected on my trusty iPod - In My Place - track 2 from A Rush of Blood. His pronunciation of the word ‘Must’ as in “how long must you wait” etc. is not someting you would hear in LA.

If you can’t hear the accent throughout ‘The Scientist’ then I don’t know if you ever will.

I also have an excellent ear and am also a musician.

Most singers lose at least some of their regional accent when they sing unless they deliberately try to maintain it. Singing with the same approach to language one uses in speech usually results in a garbled and unattractive mess.

Singing distorts language (greatly lengthened syllables and vowel sounds, slower time frame, far more attention to weak syllables, etc.), and so you have to simplify it just to make it sound “normal” to someone listening. The degree to which language gets “fixed” in singing varies, of course, and in some genres the deliberate maintainance of an accent is part of the style – American Country music, for instance.

Take the American pronunciation of the word “are.” Most Americans pronounce it the same way as the letter “r.” But if you sing it that way you sound either like a bad pirate or someone swallowing his tongue. So, Americans tend to move it towards the vowel “ah” instead, which is how the British pronounce the word anyway.

Similarly, diphthongs tend to get minimized in singing as well, which is why sung English doesn’t exactly sound like spoken British English either, which tends to heavily emphasize certain diphthongs (think of the sound of the British word “no” – there are usually at least 3 different vowel sounds in there when spoken, but not usually when sung).

So, unless the spoken accent has a lot of currency in the style (rap, punk, country, others), most singing tends to occupy a middle-ground between regional accent and something much more neutral.

Elton John’s accent has particularly confused me over the years. Am I making a gross over-generalization by saying he’s tried to sound American in the past? I mean, when I listen to “Crocodile Rock” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, I get the impression that the protagonist of the song is American and that Elton is trying to emphasize that with a kind of modified accent. More recently, though, he seems to be using a more British accent. For example, I think his British accent sounds more pronounced in the Diana version of “Candle in the Wind” than the original Marilyn one.

Not Coldplay, but here’s some examples of other songs/artists to sample for accents (not necessarily British):

  • the choir in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, plus some of Roger Water’s Pink Floyd catalog (esp. “Time”, “Money”). Waters would also de-emphasize his speaking accent at times (e.g. “Young Lust”)

  • much of Jethro Tull’s catalog (e. g. “Locomotive Breath”, “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day”, “Thick As a Brick”, “Teacher”)

  • much of Herman’s Hermits’ catalog (e.g. “Ms. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”)

  • AC/DC’s Bon Scott catalog (e.g. “Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap”, “T.N.T.”). I think Brian Johnson’s delivery effectively stamps out his Austratian speaking accent.

To hear even thicker regional accents, try the Proclaimers or the Pogues - no mistake about where they sing from.