British and American accents in music

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Friendy

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I wonder why a lot of British singers use American accent in their songs.
Is that in order to be more popular in the USA and all over the world
because the American accent seems to be more usual for the pop-music?

Also I have the following questions for the Americans:
When you hear British singers sing with an American accent
how often do you know for sure that they are not American but British?
(Of course I assume you didn't know they are British from other sources before you heard them)
And since you know they are not American, do you always guess
that they are British (and not Dutch or Swedish or whatever)?
That's really very interesting.:)
Thanks in advance for your answers.

BTW, I like both accents, each of them has its own charm :)

Friendy
 

english-test.net

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Dear Friendly,

You indeed have raised a very interesting question I always have wanted to ask myself. I once asked several young people from the US and the UK whether or not they can distinguish the accent a pop singer has and the answers were very diverse. It turned out that it is not always possible to determine the accent of a singer because articulation is different when a person speaks and when he sings. When you listen to Bono of U2 singing you can not always make out his Irish accent whereas when he speaks you cleary can especially because of the distinctive Irish intonation. When you hear Jon Bon Jovi sing you can clearly hear that he is American whereas when you listen to Madonna it is is not that obvious. What do you think?
 

dduck

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I discussed this question with a Englishman a few years ago. He didn't believe that British singers did this, although it seemed obvious to me.

I think there are several possible reasons for articulating with an American accent when singing; the most obvious reason being the traditional influence that American singers have had on British music culture. Each generation is influenced by the previous, so we Brits are influenced by the Yanks. Another possible reason could be marketing. Historically, the US market has been a gold mine for British artists - the potential income from the US was far greater than what could be achieved from the domestic UK market.

Iain
 

Tdol

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Many singers say that they just seem to lose their regional\national accent when they sing. ;-)
 
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Friendy

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Thanks a lot all of you for your answers, they are all very reasonable, and sorry for not answering for a long time.
Now I'd like to share some of my thoughts on this topic.
I distinguish two aspects here.
There are small differences in pronunciation of certain individual sounds in different accents that are not easy to describe (especially by non-professionals) and are not very noticeable when these sounds are pronounced individually but the combination of these small differences in a person's connected speech forms a certain noticeable accent.
When the person is singing these differences tend to disappear without singer's consciousness of that and so does the accent.

But there's also another aspect. There are certain sounds that are pronounced quite differently
in BE and AE. Such as sound of 'a' in can't, last, and sound of 'o' in got, body. And these differences can't disappear unless you want them to. For example if you are British and pronounce 'last' in a British way in your usual life and if you pronounce this word in an American way when singing that means you do it on purpose, not unconsciously as in the first case. When singers do so, I think that I can't guess that they are British and that's why I wondered if Americans can. :) I also asked myself another question: if I heard someone pronouncing these words in a British way, could I then be sure that they are British. I think I also can't be sure.

I also guess there is no strict border between the two aspects.
 
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Friendy

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english-test.net said:
...When you hear Jon Bon Jovi sing you can clearly hear that he is American whereas when you listen to Madonna it is is not that obvious. What do you think?
That's very interesting, I've listened to Bon Jovi and Madonna and some other singers trying to make some observations. Bon Jovi really seemed typically American to me, so does Mariah Carey, but still I'm not sure that if I heard them without knowing who they are I would be sure that they are American. Madonna is not so typical, neither is Barbra Streisand. I think it also depends on the certain song and the style. For example Whitney Houston didn't seem typically American in the song 'Love will save the day', but seems typically American in some other songs. It's interesting that when I heard Celine Dion for the first time (the song 'Think twice') I thought she was American and I was very surprised when I heard that she was French-Canadian and learned English only when she was an adult. I also couldn't guess that my favorite group The Carpenters was American and didn't know it until someone told me. Well, maybe that's only my lack of experience.
 
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Friendy

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dduck said:
I discussed this question with a Englishman a few years ago. He didn't believe that British singers did this, although it seemed obvious to me.
:eek: That's surprising. Maybe he was just not very observant or didn't think much on this topic.
 

RonBee

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You are quite welcome.

:D
 

Tdol

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people with, say, Cockney accents in their singing tend to be regarded as novelty acts in the States. Also, the American accent is fairly standard- you don't hear many singers with a strong New York accent, for instance. ;-)
 
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Samantha

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tdol said:
Many singers say that they just seem to lose their regional\national accent when they sing. ;-)

So if they "lose" their natural accent, and we think it all sounds American, what does this mean about the American accent? I've thought about this myself and I'm under the impression that the North American accent is more relaxed. So when singers (be they Scandinavian like Ace of Base, French-Canadian like Celine Dion, or American like Alan Jackson) form their words around the music, perhaps they have to let some conventions go and the result is an "American" accent.
 
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Samantha

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Country music accents

Have you also noticed that in Country music, everyone has (relatively)the same accent, which I call a hick accent for lack of a better word (I'm not being demeening, my parents talk this way...). They all sound like they're hicks from the country, even people like Kieth Urban and Jamie O'Neal, who are from Australia.

I also find it hilarious that everyone that calls in to our local country station has a hick accent. I live in Seattle!! Nobody that I have ever run into anywhere in this large city of more than a million people speak with a country accent!
 
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comexch

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I've puzzled over why accents seem to homogenize in singing since I was a teenager. The two comments below come close to what I've concluded:
tdol said:
Many singers say that they just seem to lose their regional\national accent when they sing. ;-)

Samantha said:
... perhaps they have to let some conventions go and the result is an "American" accent.

Let me suggest that singers' accents sound similar across British/American/Australian for phonological and/or esthetic reasons ... and that the end product may not be a true American accent. e.g.,
1. Many American singers drop medial-final /r/'s but don't speak that way ("my haht" for "heart")
2. As one contributor pointed out, speech rhythm, timing, and intonation conform to the musical phrase, so dialect variations are lost.
3. for esthetic reasons, singers open their mouths wide to improve resonance. This changes vowel pronunciation. That might explain "o" in "got" becoming more "ah" like
4. Finally, it's possible that native speakers of English, regardless of regional/national accent share a common knowledge of an underlying phonology that emerges in a purer form during singing. Am curious about what others think ...
ComExch
 

Tdol

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Number 3 strikes me as a very interesting point that I hadn't thought of or heard before. ;-)
 
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CitySpeak

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If I remember correctly, I think John Lennon once said in an interview the the Beatles sing with American accents because "it sells better".

I hope I have remembered correctly.


8)
 

Tdol

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He would. ;-)
 
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