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December 6, 2018

Indie Girl Voice - An Addendum on the Methodology

I've had a lot of people ask me why most of the examples of indie voice in the Dialect Dissection: Indie Girl Voice are of women when there are plenty of men doing this sort of diphthongization as well. I made a brief mention of this in the methodology section, but I will expand on it here.

Unlike my Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande, or Taylor Swift articles, where I had listened to either all or most of the singers' discographies before even beginning the project (and I definitely listened to the entire discography multiple times once I started the projects), I am not very familiar with either folk indie or pop indie music. The closest I get is the sort of indie-influenced pop music that reaches the mainstream, which is artists like Halsey. Moreover, this is the first Dialect Dissection that focused on a particular genre as opposed to a person. It's easy to find a list of every Taylor Swift song and to listen to all of them. There is no such list of "every indie pop or folk song since 2000", and it would probably take months (at a low estimate) of non-stop listening to get through the whole thing and do all the re-listens necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the entire genre of folk/indie music.

That is a moot point, however, as there is no such thing as a list of every indie pop or folk song since 2000. In order to find examples for the article, I had to either rely on the handful of pop musicians I listen to that are influenced by indie music like Halsey and Lorde, or I had to find examples from other people who were more familiar with indie music. I tried listening to playlists of "indie pop" and "indie folk" on Spotify but even these were not useful since, as mentioned in the article, "indie voice" is not just a linguistic phenomenon but a musical phenomenon - you don't need to perform any of the diphthongizations mentioned in the article in order to have indie voice, just sing gently with breathiness, vocal fry, or both, and in a limited range. This means my "listen to indie music playlists" method of finding examples of linguistic indie voice mostly resulted in examples of singers with breathy voice but no interesting phonetic features.

As a result, I turned to other people to find examples of "indie voice." I did Google searches for "indie voice," "indie girl voice," "indie guy voice," and "indie boy voice." By far the one with the most relevant hits was "indie girl voice." Both "indie guy voice" and "indie boy voice" gave few relevant hits and no usable examples. I wanted to use an early hit for "indie girl voice" in order to get an idea of what the origins of the style were, and the earliest usable hits was the forum thread from The Straight Dope. I got a lot of usable examples of "indie girl voice" from there. Unfortunately, the thread was targeted directly at indie girl voice and therefore there were very few examples of indie guy voice. This sample selection ended up biasing the results towards female singers. Other sites talking about indie voice or indie girl voice that I used as an example were this article by Kelly Hoppenjams (The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon) and the Buzzfeed article Indie Pop Voice.

The one example of a male singer engaging in indie voice is Shawn Mendes, and that was an example that I found from the Buzzfeed article and Twitter. While there are definitely men who sing with a gentle, breathy/creaky voice, people do not seem to react as negatively to men using linguistic aspects of indie voice. This is probably an example of covert sexism. As Carrie states, vocal fry was not seen as a negative phenomenon when it was viewed as a "masculine" thing. When the perception of vocal fry changed and it became seen as "feminine," you start seeing an increase in negative references to vocal fry. I suspect something similar may be happening here, where "indie guys" who use the linguistic features of Indie Voice are simply ignored while "indie girls" who use the linguistic features of Indie Voice are considered "annoying." A look at the Straight Dope thread will reveal a lot of virulent hatred for this singing style.

I also mention that I named the article "Indie Girl Voice" because people know what "indie girl voice" is, whereas people I asked did not have a ready association of "indie voice" and the relevant linguistic features. Within the article, I introduce the term "Indie Voice" and use it from there on to refer to the linguistic phenomenon. Although my wish would be that "Indie Voice" caught on as a gender neutral descriptor of these linguistic and musical features, I know that "indie girl voice" will probably continue to be a recognized concept.

I do not like that the examples were heavily skewed towards women, which gives the false impression that the only man to ever use indie voice is Shawn Mendes. If anyone can recommend examples of linguistic indie voice by male singers, I would much appreciate it and would update the article to include them.

- Karen


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  2. I happened to be listening to The Shore by Woodkid while reading this article, who I think is a perfect example of the indie voice too.