My gender hypocrisy

A quick journey to the depths of my mind, in case the Paula Cole post made you think I’m incapable of introspection …

I was listening to Carbon Leaf and thinking how much I liked Barry Privett’s understated tone. He has emotion in his voice, but he doesn’t sound full of himself. Too many male vocalists these days strain on each line like they’re saying, “No, really! I AM the next Eddie Vedder! This is meaningful shit!”

On the same playlist, a female singer — KT Tunstall, with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. The song itself is nothing spectacular. It’s a lot of Em/B7 riffing with lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense. What does she have against black horses? (As someone who grew up in an area with a backwards attitude toward interracial dating, I’d rather hear “gray horse.”) And why a cherry tree? Did it just fit the meter better than “maple”? I listen to plenty of abstract Throwing Muses songs that I couldn’t decipher with a battery of English grad students and hallucinogenics at my disposal, but I’m usually able to latch onto something.

Special notice: The “woo-hoo” backing vocal sounds almost contrived to grab the lesbian coffeehouse crowd. Which, apparently, has worked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The sexual preference, that is. My buddy J.P. and I once found ourselves in a Chapel Hill coffeehouse listening to a 23rd-year postdoc with a buzzcut huskily singing about spider women, so we’re a little scarred.

So why is this song on my iPod, occasionally cranked up on the way to work? Because Tunstall sings the hell out of it. How a wiry Scottish woman is able out-Etheridge Melissa Etheridge’s early albums is beyond me. Her voice says far more than the lyrics. She’s vulnerable and remorseful, but she’s still strutting with self-assurance, just like Tracy Bonham on Up to the Roof, any number of Poe songs, even Jonatha Brooke at times.

In other words — all the things I love about female vocalists are things I apparently dislike about male vocalists.

So am I a hypocrite?

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One Response to My gender hypocrisy

  1. Neel Mehta says:

    I’d argue you’re consistent: you like vocalists, whether male or female, to confound the standards created by others in their gender. In other words, you like it when women sing the hell out of a song, and when men show a bit of restraint.

    In the alternative, I’d argue that your sample size is poor. There are times, regardless of gender, when a big voice is needed and other times when understatement is key. You just happened to pick examples that give the appearance of a double standard. Throw in a male vocalist who mumbles too much and a female diva-type, and there goes your theory.

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