Why Non-American Artists Sing With American Accent

The magic of accents.

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Why Non-American Artists Sing With American Accent
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Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Ed Sheeran, Phil Collins and George Michael all grew up in or near London and have very recognizably British accents. Once on stage, they sing like someone who grew up in New England rather than old. Yet another example is Adele, who has a lovely speaking voice, a very heavy cockney accent, yet her singing pipes do not indicate her dialect. One might argue that Adele's speaking and singing voices were two different people if listening without visuals. Going beyond the British, we see the same thing with other non-American musicians, such as the Swedish band ABBA, and many others singing in English, yet from various places around the world. It seems like no matter where you're from, if you're singing in English, you're probably singing with an American accent, unless you're actively trying to retain your native accent, which some groups do.

There are several reasons accents 'disappearing' in song, and why those singing accents seem to default to "American". In a nutshell, it has a lot to do with phonetics, the pace at which they sing and speak, and the air pressure from one's vocal chords. As far as why "American" and not some other accent, it's simply because the generic "American" accent is fairly neutral. Even American singers, if they have, for instance, a strong "New Yorker" or perhaps a "Hillbilly" accent, will also tend to lose their specific accent, gravitating more towards neutral English, unless they are actively trying not to, as many Country singers might.

The simple answer is that singing prevents vocalists from stressing syllables. What gets lost in singing are the suprasegmentals, a linguistic term used to indicate qualities like stress, tone, and syllabification. In other words, a song's rhythm can limit a singer's ability to pronounce words, and especially vowels, in his or her usual cadence, the tone, the intonation, the rhythm of a language; these all get lost in singing.

When syllables aren't emphasized like they are in a normal speaking pattern, they become neutralized. So when Adele sings, "Never mind I'll find someone like you," the long "I" in "mind" becomes elongated, making it difficult to pronounce in a London clip. "If I say 'aBOUT,' you hear the stress on the second syllable." "But when you're singing, that stress is reduced."

 

Of course, there may also be another reason, voiced by John Lennon.

Q: "Why do you sing like Americans and talk like Englishmen?"

John Lennon: "It sells better."

But there are some exceptions. Artists, who sing in English with their respective accents no matter what.

The Proclaimers

They sing with one of the most contrived accents you will ever hear, twisting every vowel out of shape to an extent that you would never hear in a normal conversation or even in any other song, even a song sung by a Scot. Well, it’s meant to be really patriotic because they are supposedly singing with their real accents, unlike all of those other bands that sing with fakey American accents.

Courtney Barnett

Her Aussie accent, a thick Down-Under drawl largely unfamiliar to North America, makes her pronunciation of words like “existential” and “pseudoephedrine” (from 2013’s word-of-net breakout “Avant Gardener”) land with spine-tickling novelty.

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King Krule

"SAME OLE BOBBY SAME OLE BEAT"

His South East London accent can be heard from the first note. After all, when you sing indie music, you gotta stay true to yourself.

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Gogol Bordello

The thick Slavic accent of the Gogol Bordello lead singer Eugene Hütz became Gogol Bordello's trademark.

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Know any other bands that sing with thick accents? Post them in the comment section below.

80 comments sorted by best / new / date

    hudsonstradlin
    here's an interesting one- American bands tend to drop Rs when they're singing, and I think it's a good choice because it somehow makes the words feel like they have more gravitas. "Gimme fuel, gimme fiyah, gimme that which I desiyah" for example. The pop punk movement of the 90s and 00s really reversed this- check out Tom Delonge's overpronunciation of Rs in any Blink song. Makes it sound kinda silly. I wonder what came first though- the perceived coolness, or the random decision to adopt another accent, which then influences other musicians.
    eatfresh1736
    I think the 90's midwest American kinda accent stems from the styles at the time, which tried to portray the artists as being down to earth and relatable, as opposed to the 80's, which leaned towards the over-the-top performer voice.
    SandKatChappy58
    It's natural, when people sing, to run words, consonants, etc together - so it comes out sounding fairly American as that's how American's speak, in general.
    oisbush9
    Funnily enough, if you listen to the new blink 182 album, mark hoppus doesn't pronounce his R's at all in most songs.
    Vicryl 2.0
    i think Arctic Monkeys has retained their accent pretty good.
    EndorsToiM
    I think LA life got in their way tho for some time, 2013 Glastonbury was a proof of that, but I think they're kinda back to those Sheffield boys with strong accent 
    masterofpuppies
    But none of  Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Ed Sheeran, Phil Collins or George Michael sing in an American accent. Ed Sheeran clearly sings in a Suffolk accent, and rest just sing in neutral British ones. Abba don't sound remotely American either.
    mufctreble
    I agree but Jagger does tend to change his accent/voice depending on the song
    ThatSerbDude
    Sabaton.
    Necroheadbanger
    Haha, my fav band. When I first heard them (I heard The White Death back in 2013) I was shocked, I just loved those riffs and those vocals, and the last thing that would came to my mind was that they were Swedish, and when I searched a bit  found out they were Swedish... That accent is not Swedish .-. Also, it's a funny thing that Joakim sings like a bear but when he speaks his voice sounds like cute
    Badass UltraMan
    Haha. First time I heard him talk my brain just had a blue screen of death and needed a hard reset. How a man that talks like that can sing like he does is astonishing
    Badass UltraMan
    The first Sabaton song I heard was The Lost Battalion and I (along with my two Scottish housemates) initially thought Joakim was a Scot! We were blown away when we discovered he was actually Swedish :p
    leytp
    What about Ozzy? Dude just fucking mumbles when he speaks
    DissonantTimbre
    Ozzy and Eddie Vedder are inverses. Ozzy mumbles when he speaks but sings clearly Vedder mumbles when he sings but speaks clearly.
    anthsband
    And yet country singers still have that stupid fucking redneck accent while they sing their idiotic songs about riding tractors and drinking beer.....sorry I went off the deep end there....
    acglee
    Oasis, The Smiths, Lily Allen, Annie Lennox, The Cranberries, Pulp, Iron Maiden, Stone Roses, Madness, Depeche Mode...
    rich.bendall
    I've always really enjoyed Roger Waters singing voice. His accent really comes through. 
    Walldude63
    He also has an uncanny ability to portray sarcasm in the different inflections in his voice.. 
    knægt
    Biffy Clyro - but they also change accents when singing. They have a very thick Scottich accent when talking but when singing it's more British. 
    Corner9
    Thought of Biffy right away when I saw this. I mostly hear it with Simon singing, not the other two when they'd do vocals (Thinking Justboy and 57, stuff like that). I definitely hear the Scottish accent with him though, especially in those vowels.
    SlowJoe
    Arctic Monkeys sing in their native accent. Irish doom metal band Mael Mordha also sing in their native accent.
    fromzero
    So speaking English without accenting it is called an American accent?
    eatfresh1736
    No, the "American accent" (typically mid-west or "Atlantic") doesn't over- or under-stress most phonemes. Therefore, it is the most neutral accent.
    eatfresh1736
    As opposed to New Yorkers who say things like "cawfee" and "drawz" (drawers), Chicagoans who say "Gaerrbage" and "Caerr" (car) and "Aelminds" (almonds), or Alabamans who say "Teean" (ten) and "Pahh" (Pie). The neutral accent would pronounce most of those words as close to the technical IPA pronunciation as possible.
    fromzero
    I'm a Chicagoan that's also lived in Alabama and California. While they do say pahh instead of pie we don't say Gaerrbage or Caerr. The Midwestern accent is considered the most neutral, I accentuated accent and that's why it's the most common for news broadcasts, TV and radio advertising, talk show hosts, etc. Its the easiest to understand. I'm not saying it's the right way or the wrong way but... It's the best way.
    eatfresh1736
    I'm friends with a lifelong Chicagoan (and I know his sister as well). They both claim they don't talk like that, but everyone around them can hear them complain about how there's nowhere to paerk yer caer, and that New York smells like gaerbage. No one likes to admit they talk "funny". Midwestern is the most neutral accent, but certain dialects from Illinois and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin are more extreme.
    travislausch
    There are many late-90s/early-00s prog metal bands that have a singer with some kind of very noticeable European accent. Some of them are quite subtle, but the biggest culprits usually seem to be bands from Scandinavia or Spain/Portugal/France. And a more extreme example is Japanese bands that attempt to sing in English. I mean, check out "Glass Skin" by Dir en grey. You can barely tell it's in English just from listening.
    Dynamight
    They don't though. Typical of Americans to think anything that looks or sounds neutral is American.
    mkybrat
    As the article says, "the typical American accent is fairly neutral," and this article is written by someone from Russia, so why are you so quick to refer to this as typical American?
    JimmySupaFlii
    Little side note.  I watched this show on Food Network with this Mexican woman who spoke perfect English.  Not a glimmer of an accent anywhere.  But ask that bitch to say anything connected to Mexico and she purposely butchers that word with Mexican accent out of no where!  That shit gets old.  I grew up just outside of Boston but live in the Mid-West now and I don't flaunt my accent around like it's cute shit.  Only time I even have it is when I'm drunk and can't help myself from speaking it.  Moral of this stupid post is that people that force their accents upon us are annoying.
    kraiga135
    Jeff Walker from Carcass sounds EXTREMELY English to me in songs. Especially considering how most of his vocals are growled.
    nicolas.caresan
    This makes no sense whatsoever. Are you claiming that American English doesn't have stressed nor intonation? Are you claiming that Bruce Dickinson doesn't have a strong British accent when he sings? I agree with suprasegmental features being lost in singing, even some phonetic features (hills and heels may sound the same depending on the song).  But saying that singers go to a "default" American accent is a long stretch 
    Vampire_State
    Challenge: listen to any of Dir en grey's songs with english lyrics and try to pick out any besides "fuck".
    Pink Bits
    Courtney Barnett sounds like the female equivalent of Dave McCormack from "Custard".
    Anjohl
    Noone sings with an accent. Any accent someone affects while singing is faked. See:Country music.
    NickTann
    I grew up listening to American music, it's part of who I am. It's no wonder I sing like I do.
    Joeseye
    I often struggle to tell the difference between British and American rock and pop bands, since most sing in an Atlantic accent. You can only really hear the difference when it's something obvious like rap, New York swing or country rock, for example...
    Ben2k9
    reversely, I thought the killers were British, because they sound so much like the British indie that was all the rage at the time I couldnt tell they were American
    SithCatt
    Cool. Ok. Now explain why people sing like they dont know how to pronouce words and sound like a 4 year old. You know, me=maaayy night=nuighht. Need= naaaaaddd. God this type of singing kills music for me faster than any other particular aspect of music.
    AVman9
    Jon Anderson from Yes and Delores O'Riordan from The Cranberries both have noticeable accents in their singing
    eddiehimself
    I can think of a few UK bands who sing with their own accents: Arctic Monkeys, Blur, Bloc Party, Biffy Clyro, Lower than Atlantis, Maximo Park, The Enemy, The Twang, Reverend and the Makers, stuff like that. Mostly indie/alternative rock rather than heavier stuff I guess. 
    charlesdjones1
    Steve Harwell from Smash Mouth sounds English in some of his lyrics, surprised when I saw he was from Cali. Walking on the Sun is a good example.