Nasal “OO” and Other Diction Trends in Popular Music

Over the last decade I have noticed some diction trends in popular music that are peculiar, given the sounds of American English.

Look up “hip singing” on Youtube and watch the videos by Madeline Tallman. They are hilarious and accurate in explaining how to acquire trendy pop diction.

The three trends below are the ones that most vex an old codger like me.

  • Nasalization of “oo”. Words that would normally be pronounced with an /u/ vowel are more and more commonly being pronounced through the nose as /ũ/, especially at the end of a phrase, when an entire melisma is often sung with both mouth and nasal port open.
  • Diphthongization of open vowels. Madeline Tallman illustrates this tendency to add /ɪ/ after the main vowel. “Love” becomes “Luh-iv”.
  • What I call the “Adele Effect” where /ɛ/ becomes /e/ – vowel closing. One can also hear this in the speech of Australians compared to Americans speaking the same words. /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ in American become their more closed neighbors /i/ and /e/ in Australian. Many American singers are now closing those vowels quite a lot.

Do any of my readers know how these trends got started? It’s interesting that American pop singing is developing a diction that is moving AWAY from speech rather than toward it.

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