Whisper Queens and The Halsey Effect
The Back-breaking Standards Set Before Female Artists in the Music Industry
We’re used to our women in music being vocal powerhouses and delivering those gut-wrenching lyrics that leave us curled up in a ball in our bed, bawling our eyes out. They are our queens, pioneers of industry: our Whitney, Mariah, Patti, Chaka, Sade, Beyoncé. Through the years these voices carried an added weight that we all understand beyond the lyrics; they carried a bar for which every other female vocalist after them must gracefully leap over, lest they be relegated to the pit of weak-sounding amateurs. Who are these amateurs? Many names are up for debate, with all their stans ready to fist-fight you about it.
The diva variety show of variety shows, “Got 2B Real,” the internet infamous web-series, solidified all that we knew to be true of our divas of music in parody form. Created in 2011 by Patti LaHelle, also known as Andrea Lee, Got 2B Real reminds us of the petty, satisfying, and whirlwind antics that we think to be true of these dear divas. Andrea’s web-series aligned these divas along the front lines of the music industry beef by beef, stan by stan.
In the first episode titled, “Guess Who’s Coming to (Patti’s) Dinner,” Patti “The H.B.I.C” LaBelle gathered her girls, enemies and friends: Toni Braxton (sans her sisters), Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Rihanna, Chaka Khan, and even honorably Maya Angelou. (Let’s not talk about Blue Cantrell.) Throughout the series the ladies fictitiously go head to head on who can sing, who can’t sing, whom sings over whom, with special guests like Janet Jackson and Prince to add to the hilarious messiness of it all.
If there’s one thing we know to be true about the parody, it’s that we all enjoy divulging in the dramatics. But, where did it all start? Though we may never know the root of all our favorite femme vocalists’ beefs, we can trace how they continue.
As the music we listen to evolves and the industry saturated with young, bright-eyed songstresses, recognizing the next icon versus the next one-hit wonder is way more challenging. To combat that, music sources put their best minds together to come up with countless articles titled, “Is [insert up-and-coming singer name here] the Next Beyoncé?” Every side eye in the world couldn’t stop these ridiculous comparisons.
And it seems with ever rising star there is a new article or think piece that immediately squeezes them alongside a powerhouse vocalist and performer (of course I mean Beyoncé). If we look even closer, these comparisons are used against black female artists almost entirely. When’s the last time two male singers were pitted against each other?
If we look at women who sing, nearly every name has been compared: Mariah v. Ariana, Beyoncé v. every-damn-body.
Rarely do we scrutinize the men of music the way we do our women. If you think about it, that’s why most of us were so shocked to find out that T-Pain had a beautiful voice beyond the auto-tune.
Spawned from these comparisons, we’ve built these tiers below the divas that some would say unjustly boxes new vocalists in. One such tier is where the whispers vocalists reside. You know, the Ashantis, Jhene Aikos, Cassies and Tweets. Below them, we’ve carved out a whole new genre of singers that suffer from what I affectionately call “The Halsey Effect.” This isn’t to say that Halsey created this, uh, inspiring new way of singing, but she is the most stand-out.
For reference, listen to this popular Vine (rip) star, Chrish:
That raspy, off-kilter voice is the latest sound many new artists are rushing to SoundCloud profiles to let you hear. And though it’s fun to make fun of, is it because we are so used to picking apart women who sing that these new voices stand out in odd ways?
The internet will never agree on what makes a good singer a good singer–whether it be vocal runs, whistle registers, singing and dancing at the same time. However, we can and will focus all our energies on these women not only because we love them, but because we have become so attuned to track their every move, every syllable and note, waiting for that one crack to send their career spiraling.
The music industry is an unkind playing field, where every woman is expected to be for themselves. It seemed like just yesterday we were giggling about Mariah Carey’s singing blunders, while scrambling to pit Ariana up against her as this generation’s new whistling songbird.
Every day a new Complex-MTV-Pitchfork-Revolt anything-but-newsworthy tweet is created then immediately dragged, if only to create buzz, go “viral” and send traffic to their site. Because we all know we sit on Twitter to see who Black Twitter has collected that day.
These standards are how we reign in female artists and constantly subject them to comparison and scrutiny. They are also how we ensure every new vocalist knows that no matter how revolutionary or groundbreaking their music is, they will always be viewed under the lens of the women they look up to.