December 1, 2017

Why does Khalid say "Amewican Teen"?

While browsing popheads yesterday morning, I saw a post asking why "industry plant" Khalid pronounces his 'r's like 'w's.
In American Teen he pronounces American like "Amerwican" with emphasis on the W. Another example is the way he says proud like "pwoud". It's so annoying and it kills me. I've noticed Ariana and Halsey do it but not as severe as Khalid. (source)
One user pointed to a Tom Scott video about why English talk show host Jonathon Ross can't pronounce his r's. Scott says that it's because Jonathon Ross pronounces his 'r's differently from many people. Instead of putting his tongue under the space behind his teeth (this pronunciation is called an alveolar approximant /ɹ/), he puts his top teeth near his bottom lip (a labiodental approximant /ʋ/), which sounds a lot like a 'w'. Case solved?


Not sure about that. First: the labiodental approximant version of 'r' is mostly found in Southeast England; Khalid is American, as are Ariana and Halsey, the other singers the poster complained about. It's possible that all three spontaneously started pronouncing it this way, but they're from pretty different areas (Georgia; South Florida; New York, respectively). Second, and more importantly, the 'w' sound does not appear to be consistent. Listening to "American Teen," most of the cases where you had 'r' and a vowel sound like Rs. The only instance where I really can hear it sounding like a 'w' is in the background repeat of 'American teen'. Khalid's 'r's when talking normally don't sound like 'w's at all (listen to the "really"s). Compare it to Jonathon Ross's pronunciation, which is definitely a labiodental approximant.



My explanation: Khalid uses an alveolar approximant (tongue behind teeth), but he's not pronouncing it clearly. English speakers round their lips when making the 'r' sound. English speakers also round their lips when they make the 'w' sound. If Khalid doesn't really commit to the sound when he's pronouncing it, then it will end up sounding like a 'w'. It's not uncommon for singers to speak clearly in their regular speech and then be harder to understand when singing. This also accounts for Ariana Grande: she's gotten a lot of flak for not pronouncing words clearly, and this is a result of her articulating them weakly. Like Khalid, her normal speech also doesn't have any 'wabbit' pronunciation. I can't really explain Halsey, but who can explain Halsey? (disclaimer: I love Halsey!)

If you know any other singers with bad or unusual pronunciations, please let me know! I'd love to do something on all the different ways singing can affect how you pronounce things (*cough* why singers say 'baybay' instead of 'baby').

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