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May 9, 2018

Yanks Posing as Brits

I always find it jarring when an American artist suddenly adopts a British pronunciation in their songs. Since the General American accent is almost the neutral standard of pop music, purposefully switching to a non-neutral and non-American accent accent stands out.

Sometimes Americans will use a British pronunciation for rhyme. Notice how Lana has a three-part half rhyme with cinnamon, livin' in, and vitamin... which wouldn't work with american vie-tamin. The British pronunciation of it, however, uses a short 'i', so you'd get 'vit-tamin', which fits the rhyme.
Lana Del Rey: Radio
"Now my life is sweet like cinnamon [sɪnəmɪn]
Like a f-ckin' dream I'm living in [lɪvɪn ɪn]
[...] Pick me up and take me like a vit-tamin ['vɪ.tə.mɪn]
Cuz my body's sweet like sugar venom"
Taylor Swift uses the British pronunciation of "Jaguar," which has three syllables, to fit the stress scheme of her song "King of my Heart." The stress falls on "exPENsive CARS" and then we have "the JAG-u-ARS." The American pronunciation has only two syllables (jag-war) and would not fit. Bonus - the song appears to be about her English boyfriend Joe Alwyn, so it's a subtle hint at who she's talking about.
Taylor Swift: King of my Heart
"All the boys, and their exPEN-sive CARS
The Range Rovers and the JA-gu-ARS ['dʒæ.gju.ɑrz]"
Sometimes it seems to be for aesthetic reasons entirely. "Salvatore" is about loving an Italian man, but Lana briefly uses an English broad-A pronunciation of "cahn't" in the bridge:
Lana Del Rey: Salvatore
"Can't [kɑnt] you see, you're meant for me"
Emilie Autumn's concept album "Fight Like A Girl" is partially set in Victorian England, and she affects a very posh English accent for some of the characters. One nameless character is given an outrageous Cockney accent.
Emilie Autumn: Girls! Girls! Girls!
"How big is a lady's brain [ bræɪn]?"
Sometimes American singers don't really understand how English accents work, such as when Emilie rhymes "thought" and "not" in "The Key." In Received Pronunciation, "thought" and "not" do not rhyme.
Emilie Autumn: The Key
"Retreat they do at once, without a second thought [tɑt]
They only know that we were free and now we're not [nɑt]"
Do you have examples of singers pronouncing words in an accent that's not their own for the sake of rhyme/stress or mood?


  1. Comment from a non-linguist:
    'Now we're naught?' would supply the rhyme.

    That could mean that our status is even less than it would be if we has simply lost our freedom.


    1. This is possible! Emilie is from California, and with a Californian accent, "not" and "naught" would sound the same. I don't know if there are official lyrics for this anywhere to check, but it's a good guess. :)