July 3, 2011

Singing Accents redux

Richard Grevers                posted 29 Jul 2010, 11:56 AM / edited 29 Jul 2010, 03:06 PM

I know that performers transitioning to American accents when they burst into song is a pet peeve of John’s (in fact I was looking for a thread on it but the discussion must have taken place in review comments).

Anyway, an article on stuff this morning is of interest with respect to this: It suggests that there is a “pop accent” which is more or less american and “just sounds right” and that this is a worldwide phenomenon without any conscious decision from the singers:


John Smythe      posted 29 Jul 2010, 03:05 PM / edited 6 Dec 2011, 02:18 PM

Thanks Richard. A discussion came off my review of He Reo Aroha (which is where Michael Wray first posted the link to the Stuff article – also printed in fuller form in this morning’s Dominion Post) and that sparked a Forum entitled Auto colonization.

Here is what I’ve written to the Dominion Post:

Owning our own accent

I disagree “Kiwi accents now sounded quite jarring when sung” (29/7). Both Flight of the Conchords, singing ‘Kiwi Folk’ (rather than their parody songs) and The Lonesome Buckwhips, singing ‘Kiwi Country’, sound perfectly natural, going nowhere near the ‘Fred Dagg’ level of accent.

I do agree adopting American accents for pop song genres has happened worldwide – consider The Rolling Stones – except The Beatles became internationally famous using their Liverpool voices. Although punk is said to have started in the USA (The Ramones) it was The Sex Pistols who made it famous, so Kiwi Punk adopted a cockney accent, right?

Imitation may be a form of flattery but if Kiwi singers want to achieve global distinction with popular music, they need to explore and exploit their point of difference, as the Conchords and Buckwhips have done.

Our actors and broadcasters dropped their phoney RADA and BBC accents decades ago. It’s time our singers grew up too.

John Smythe

– – – – – – – – – –

And here is what brother Michael has sent to The Herald:

Pop singing accent

I decline Andy Gibson’s request to be less judgemental of New Zealand musicians singing their own songs with American accents. I find it a hugely distracting instant turnoff. It reeks of artistic insecurity and desperate me-tooism. Our artists are supposed to be leaders in cultural identity and expression, not voluntary victims of cultural coca-colanisation.

Michael Smythe

Dane Giraud       posted 29 Jul 2010, 06:30 PM / edited 29 Jul 2010, 10:08 PM

Our artists are supposed to be leaders in cultural identity and expression?

Why would we engage on such a topic with one who doesn’t even know what an artist is?

John Smythe      posted 30 Jul 2010, 07:49 AM

Dane, there are true artists, con artists, bullshit artists … 

A true artist creates in a unique and authentic ‘voice’. Thus those who share cultural roots collectively express a cultural identity, consciously or otherwise, which they or observing commentators articulate over time. And because the best are exploring new territories, or going deeper into the known, or looking at it a different way, they tend to be seen as leaders.

Imitation, btw, is a craft not an art, although craftspeople are also called artisans.

Dane Giraud       posted 31 Jul 2010, 08:02 PM

Was Mad Max one of the highest grossing low budget films ever made because of the authentic Aussie accents or the wicked car chases? That film could have been made in any English speaking country, John. It was ENTERTAINING.

The global distinction argument you put forward is rubbish. Our stuff is too distinct to travel if anything.

John Smythe      posted 1 Aug 2010, 12:28 AM / edited 1 Aug 2010, 12:29 AM

Right, so that’s why our Mad Max-inspired imitation Battle Truck died at the box office is it (does anyone remember Bruno Lawrence for that?) while Once Were Warriors broke all records? Oh and the other Australian film to put them on the map in 1979 was My Brilliant Career – absolutely rooted in its own soil. They were breakthrough films for the Australian film industry because they were Australian films.

Mel Gibson and Judy Davis were unknown actors who were cast by brave producers and directors who knew what they wanted, and both actors went on to have international careers because they got their breaks in roles they could – and did – do authentically: that extra dimension of truth that made the world take notice. Likewise Geoffrey Rush in Shine, Cate Blanchett in Paradise Road and Oscar and Lucinda, Hugo Weaving in Proof and Priscilla Queen of the Desert …

Sam Neill would have remained undiscovered if he hadn’t been in Sleeping Dogs; likewise Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis and Rena Owen in Once Were Warriors … Now that’s distinction for you.

Simon Bennett posted 1 Aug 2010, 09:42 AM

 Or Kerry Fox in Angel at my Table, Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider, Anna Paquin in The Piano… The list goes on. NZ’s most successful exports have been a result of uniquely New Zealand stories and characters that have struck a chord internationally, because of their uniqueness.

John Smythe      posted 1 Aug 2010, 10:02 AM

Exactly Simon, very well put. Distinction breeds distinction,

Dane Giraud       posted 1 Aug 2010, 10:26 AM

John, that’s my point! Battle-truck was a bad film. Once were Warriors was a good film. A film or play can be unique yet bad. Uniqueness is not a pre-requiste for quality or success, is what I am saying. Quality and/or its entertainment factor, is.

This extra dimension of truth you talk of John, doesn’t amount to an argument. The Aussie films were mention were good, period. Is Judy Davis any less truthful in her international roles? What an insult.

One can always argue for point of difference, sure. It can undoubtably play a part, but quality plays the greater part and distinction doesn’t equal quality.

Geoffrey Rush is a great actor John! He played a convincing Peter Sellers in a film biopic on the great actor. It’s got nothing to do with him being Australian, or being first discovered speaking with an Australian accent. What an absurdity. He’s a world class character actor, as was evidenced in Shine… so is Judy Davis. You make no point.

Sorry… I have to laugh… Mad Max is an Australian story?…. Had an extra dimension of truth? It’s a post apocalyptic revenge fantasy story!

I’m not taking anything away from the international success of our actors or directors. But the distinction argument, I fear, does. These names you mention, Simon, are great actors who first appeared in some great films. I give credit to their craft not their nationality.

Ham       posted 1 Aug 2010, 10:58 AM

As one Dane to another: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” And no-one thinks in a vacuum. No-one acts in a vacuum either. Although there may be a vacuum in your head, mate, because ‘shit and derision’ as some poet once said, it is you who have totally failed to get the point.

Michael Downey              posted 1 Aug 2010, 11:28 AM / edited 1 Aug 2010, 09:09 PM

Thomas’s post seems to have disappeared. What a bother, it was really rather funny.

Editor    posted 1 Aug 2010, 11:49 AM

Yes, I did that because having corrected ‘bother’ to ‘brother’ it sort of no longer made sense. Got a good chuckle from it, though.

Michael Downey              posted 1 Aug 2010, 12:00 PM

I know that, but I think you should have kept both your mistake and Thomas’s post. That way it would make sense and be funny. But never mind!

John Smythe      posted 16 Jun 2011, 05:26 PM

This is a great contribution!  http://www.v48hours.co.nz/screening-room/2011/wellington/god-bless-america/

Dane Giraud       posted 18 Jun 2011, 11:45 AM

Phantom’s John. Phantom’s. It’s always external isn’t it? The real enemy is mediocrity and the only personal who can slay that Dragon is the artist themself.

Michael Smythe                posted 18 Jun 2011, 03:27 PM

What’s the Phantom’s John got to do with this topic?

Thomas LaHood                posted 22 Jun 2011, 08:39 PM

 the misplaced apostrophe or ‘bother’s lure’

Nic Farra              posted 3 Jul 2011, 09:05 AM

 Do we all feel better now?

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