I can’t tell you how many people I have met recently (musicians– male singers, female singers)… that say they hate breathy singers, or singers with vibrato. I introduced someone to Tori Amos earlier. I showed this person “Winter” and “Silent All These Years.” This person wasn’t feeling it. “Too much vibrato… too breathy”, they said. They said they prefer singers with a strong, pure tone.
Well…. news flash! A lot of people LOVE breathy vocals… whether it’s a female or male voice. A LOT of people LOVE that sound. Why? Here’s my guess:
- Breathy vocals by women are intimate-sounding. They connect with people on a subconscious level. To me, breathy female vocals sound sexy, in a classy way. Not a pathetic way (I would define pathetic as Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday”… a little obnoxious, that)…. but in general… breathy female vocals = sexy…. they sound damn good. It may not be a “trained” sound… but some of the best songs and singers in history were not trained vocalists.
- Breathy vocals by guys.. as described by a lot of women I’ve talked to and asked their opinion about– “it sounds like the guy is right there, inches from me, singing to me quietly, in my room.” That says a lot. Again, I think it connects to people on an emotional, subconscious level. Elliott Smith, man. You know? Yes.
- It sounds delicate, fragile… male or female. It sounds vulnerable. Vulnerability is a good thing. It makes a song’s lyrics more believable…. much more believable than belting it in chest voice. Which is all well and good… but I mean… you compare a cover like Whitney Houston’s “I Look To You” and Juliana Hatfield’s “Until Tomorrow”…. no fucking contest, which is the more heartfelt song. Juliana’s, by a landslide.
The late, great Dolores O’Riordan. “Dreams.” The opening line is INSANELY breathy. As are a lot of the vocals in this song. And it’s FUCKING PERFECT.
Birdy’s “Not About Angels.” Oh yes, please. MORE OF THIS.
Seapony’s “Follow” (UGHHHHH. SOOOO FUCKING GOOD)
I just saw this wonderful woman last night in Philly. Here’s Pheobe Bridgers and the video for “Funeral.” UTTER PERFECTION.
A lot of people would consider Phoebe’s vocal sound “breathy.” It’s not as breathy as Birdy (above). It’s kind of similar to Nina Persson of the Cardigans (whom I also LOVE)… breathy, but also strong:
Angus and Julia Stone’s “Chocolate and Cigarettes” (sung mostly by Julia Stone):
Tori Amos “Silent All These Years” (even though I would argue a lot of this song has a lot of chest/powerful vocals)… side note: this song is one of the most important songs ever written.
In the musical RENT, “Another Day” is a duet (or duel?) between Roger and Mimi. It’s a chesty song, for a guy to sing… I love singing it. Then, when Mimi finally comes in… she’s breathy… “The heart may freeze, or it can burn”… and then, ultimately… “there’s only us, there’s only this… forget regret… or life is yours to miss…” That to me, is all breathy. And it FUCKING RULES (as does the entire musical RENT).
Jimmy Eat World’s “Cautioners. YES. FUCK YES.
Elliott Smith’s “Angeles”. YES PLEASE. Dood. How could anyone not love every single thing he’s written, especially all the shit from 1993-1997 (the mostly-acoustic stuff)?
Go for the breathy vocals. Don’t be a snob. Vulnerability is a good thing. Just because breathy vocals aren’t a “trained” sound… doesn’t mean they aren’t fucking insanely great-sounding. And it just connects. It connects.