“I sing 30+ songs a night. Every word. it’s my thing. let me shine.” Ariana Grande had these words to say to a fan who accused her of not singing live.
With six successful studio albums under her belt, Ariana Grande certainly has the image and the fans, but can she back it up? Can Ariana Grande sing?
Beginnings As A Child Star
Ariana Grande was born in Boca Raton, Florida and started her performing career at a very early age. She got her big break on Broadway in the musical 13 by Jason Robert Brown and was signed by Republic Records in 2011.
Grande has always been focused on music and one of her goals growing up was to record a jazz album. She told Vogue,
Growing up, I was listening to Whitney Houston all the time, The Bodyguard soundtrack, a lot of Judy Garland and oldies, and divas.
Grande also played French Horn growing up, and learned about music theory from that, she says. By studying an instrument, she learned to read music, which is more than many successful pop stars can claim.
In 2010, Grande started taking voice lessons with Eric Vetro, self-proclaimed “vocal coach to the stars”. Vetro has worked with performers from talented singers like John Legend and Katy Perry. He is also known for his work on major Hollywood movie musicals such as La La Land and Into the Woods.
Grande has repeatedly mentioned Vetro in reference to her vocal technique. In an interview she gave to Backstage in 2010, Grande credits her lessons with Eric Vetro for her vocal progress. “He’s the most incredible voice teacher in the entire world.” She enthused, “He’s like a nurturing mother, but for your vocal cords. I love him.”
Grande’s relationship with her voice teacher continued into her career. She referenced Vetro again in her song “MONOPOLY,” released in 2019 and featuring Grande’s best friend Victoria Monét. Grande sings, “I never track my vocals, so shout out to Eric Vetro (I love Eric Vetro, man).” The lyric implies that, thanks to her training, she does her recordings without multiple re-takes.
Comparisons To The Greats
Ariana Grande has never shied away from comparing herself to her idols, accomplished singers Mariah Carey and Amy Winehouse. Even Rolling Stone has compared her to that of Mariah Carey. Their reporter finding,
“Unlike most of today’s young pop royals, Grande’s star power is rooted in her Mariah Carey-esque chops as a singer.”
Singers like Carey and Winehouse are judged in their ability to produce jazz and pop singing by three ways: range, ornamentation, and accuracy. Ariana Grande shows mastery of all three of those things.
Range, Ornamentation, and Accuracy
Grande is perhaps most famous for her “four octave range” which has been reported on by publications as diverse Vogue and The Harvard Crimson. A vocal range measures the span of notes that the singer can hit, and four octaves is an impressive achievement.
Ariana Grande loves adding runs to her vocal lines as embellishments. Runs are difficult vocal maneuvers that move quickly through many notes on a scale to add emphasis or emotion to a vocal line. They also add an amount of improvisation as they can be changed without changing the basic tune of the song.
Grande includes runs in many of her songs in the studio versions. Most impressively, she often changes them up or adds even more difficult ones when singing live.
Another favorite vocal embellishment for Grande is whistle tone. The whistle register is the highest human vocal register and is used to produce high, piercing vocal sounds.
Grande shows off her top register in her cover of Mariah Carey’s “Emotions,” which she released in 2012. The whistle register is used often by Grande and Carey and is always a showstopper whenever they bring it out.
Criticism for Auto-Tune
In the era of Auto-Tune, the ability to sing without it is prized by audiences and musicians alike. Grande has repeatedly expressed her distaste for Auto-Tune and reminded audiences that she doesn’t need it.
When a fan commented on a video Grande posted on Instagram of a performance, saying, “It sounds like autotune and probably not live. I mean you are a great singer and I love your voice and songs but this doesn’t sound live.” Grande clapped back, “Naw with all due respect,” She replied, “I could do this in your living room for you, fam, with no sound mixing or help at all.”
Music critics and reporters have also investigated and reviewed her studio albums and live recordings. Auto-Tune is present on many of her recordings, they conclude, but it seems to be applied in a purely stylistic way.
In Forbes 2014 review, author Nick Messitte writes “[raw vocals have] been divested from her performances quite often, replaced, instead, by the tell-tale signs and artifacts of auto-tune’s algorithms.”
Messitte admits that Ariana Grande does not need Auto-Tune and she has proven that over and over. So why use it? According to a music producer familiar with her work and the genre: “street cred.”
Ariana Grande is a talented singer. Her voice is pleasant to listen to, and her songs are fun and popular. She can create impressive vocal lines and she writes relatable, catchy songs.
The mark of great pop singing is when a stadium full of people can sing along at the top of their lungs, and too many virtuosic vocal maneuvers makes that impossible. Grande’s music is impressive enough to be inspirational, but simple enough to be on every tween girl’s car karaoke playlist.
Ariana Grande has had a successful career with multiple hit records. She has become an accomplished singer by studying with a teacher and improving her technique.
She adds impressive elements like runs and whistle tones to show her skill as a performer and she sings in tune at her performances. Because of her hard work and dedication, Ariana Grande is a great singer.
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