‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’

Subliminal Signification


During the last few weeks, I have been tuned in on NBC’s “The Voice,” a nationwide singing competition in the form of reality television. “The Voice” features music coaches Blake Shelton, Shakira, Usher and Adam Levine. I find it hard not to get emotionally invested in the show — over the weeks, you learn more about the contestants and watch them grow as artists. What is most beautiful about the show, for me at least, is when a singer really connects with a song and makes it his or her own.

I, too, enjoy singing, though I’ve never had one music lesson in my entire life. The last time I poured my heart and soul into a song occurred when I belted a sultry version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in the shower.

My secret singing escapades started in my sophomore year of high school. My first voice recording came into existence after I lost a bet with a friend for not finishing a school assignment on time. Because we were still in our lip-glossed, glittery Lovatics phase, my friend asked me to do a cover of Demi Lovato’s “Catch Me.” Fiddling around with my computer’s basic recording system made me feel nervous and sweaty, evoking the deep pit of fear I felt when I spoke in front of large groups of people. The song, filled with corny lyrics about love and whatnot, also slightly embarrassed me (even if I secretly loved it at the time). But surprisingly, when I allowed my voice to reach the notes, I felt it relaxed me in ways I couldn’t even explain. Simultaneously, a feeling of happiness overwhelmed me, charging my body with a zap of energy and a release of endorphins.

Singing requires vocal control, but it also allows me to lose my inhibitions. When I find a song to which I can connect, I’m able to imbue each note with raw emotion without holding back. I could be as subtle or as powerful as I wanted to be (not to say that I possess “X Factor” vocals). Once, when I harmonized with someone else, it felt powerful and surreal. Like writing, singing provided me an outlet for expressing myself.

What makes the act of singing so significant and powerful? First, I think it has a lot to do with capturing emotions. In “Essay on the Origin of Languages”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau tells the tale of how language came to be. The human language, he contends, has emotional and melodious roots. Language came to be when people expressed their feelings, though eventually, people started using it for rational persuasion when they moved into colder areas (yes, you read that right).

Moreover, singing allows people to tell each other stories in the most dramatic ways possible. From songs emerge stories about everything from letting it go to counting stars. Lyrics can be romantic, or they can be polemical. The art of singing also depends on notes and sounds. If you’ve ever listened to Christina Aguilera riff her notes, you’ll know how creative and garnished singing can be. It’s fun, it’s playful, but, like storytelling, it is also a medium for people to connect with one another.

Early in high school, singing emerged as a means for me to rehabilitate the awkwardness I often felt with verbal communication. My story almost sounds trite, like a watered-down version of “Camp Rock” or “High School Musical,” but I think there’s a degree of truth in those cliche-laden, poppy Disney movies. I could literally lose the awkward self I felt on a daily basis when I plugged myself into a song.

So in the words of Cat Stevens, “If you want to sing out, sing out!”

Stacey Nguyen writes the Friday blog about the cultural significance of everyday visual and verbal language. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @staceytnguyen.