ArCATypes: Soul Sistahs

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If you’ve been living under a rock (-and-roll-soundtracked fortress with no Internet access), I will repeat the common knowledge that Adele has taken over the world. Homegurl’s got an endless supply of Grammys, No. 1 singles and tears from her fans. Then there’s the fact that I’m hitting some pretty sweet notes as a tenor in the UC Berkeley Gospel Choir. And OMG, did you hear that guy sing John Mayer’s “Gravity” on “The Voice” on Monday night? Of course you did.

So the natural response to all of this information is: How are all of these groundbreaking Soul Singahs around in a time when we can just autotune the out-of-tune?

Further analysis requires a brief breakdown of the history of soul singing. It is rooted in gospel music, which is that stuff that people sing in churches. And that’s probably how the word “soul” became a descriptor, because those religious folk believe in the existence of souls. But that’s just a theory I’ve hastily put together. Anyway, singers had a hard time making it big as gospel singers, so they went all secular. And the ever-reliable Wikipedia says “soul music gradually functioned as an umbrella term for the black popular music” during the 1960s.

You’re wondering, “Have both Adele and Cat been black this whole time?” A peek at my mug will answer that with, “No.” To clarify, you don’t have to be black to sing soulfully, but that kind of vocalization was definitely created in the black community. Moreover, soulful singing is not limited to the genre of soul music. Pop-rock icon Freddie Mercury, for instance, wrote one of the most powerful gospel-tinged songs ever, called “Somebody to Love.” And as I stated in last week’s column, new genres are created by combining elements from previously established genres.

Soul singing is an outlet for emotional expression, especially if you’re deadpan like me and scare passers-by when you attempt to smile at them. Despite the college-kid mentality of party rocking, sometimes you just need to get in touch with your sentimental self. The autotune of LMFAO unfortunately won’t capture the entire depth of your being — unless you’re LMFAO. When Aretha Franklin sings “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” you can feel in her voice that she wants her man to stop being such a gold-digger and give her some friggin’ respect.

Seriously, the range of expression one can attain via soul singing is endless; it will make you feel like you are stuck in a glass case of emotion. And if you think that reference to “Anchorman” is irrelevant, I will have you know that its soundtrack is really soulful. Seriously, listen to “Afternoon Delight.” You will feel delighted — at your need to get it on midday.

“But,” you argue, “nonsoul-singers like Ke$ha make me feel things — like, I want to dance when I’m drunk in clubs.” “Umm, no,” I counter. Ke$ha makes music that is incredibly hooky — but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. And her vocals are not very emotionally charged.

But what sets Adele and me apart from someone like Katy Perry, whose voice has subtle soulful inflections? Well, there needs to be a rawness of vocal talent that can shine without instrumentation. “Have you heard Katy’s ‘Unplugged’ album?” you argue. “Eh,” I reply. To specify further, soul singing needs to exist outside of the confines of the manufactured, hook-driven pop that she emulates.

So, to answer your first question: Adele and I exist in this time period because our voices are unlike the earworms that only temporarily infect your mind. We have the rich history, depth and lack of autotune that satiate the emotional needs of our audiences. And that’s timeless.

Contact Caitlin Kelley at [email protected]. Check her out on twitter at @misantherapy.