Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Christina Aguilera performs onstage during The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards.
Christina Aguilera performs onstage during The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. Kevin Winter/Getty Images
What little time I spent watching the Grammys this past weekend was spent mostly with my eyes on my Facebook feed, not the TV. And during the tribute to Aretha Franklin, the complaints about Christina Aguilera rolled in. Chatting with colleagues the next day revealed the same complaint: she doesn't sing words, she just uses each syllable of each word as an excuse for vocal exercise.
Turns out, there's a word for what Aguilera seems to be the (uninentional) queen of: oversouling. John Eskow wrote about it for The Huffington Post after Aguilera mangled The Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl.
Technically, when it's performed correctly, it's called melisma — "the bending of syllables for bluesy or soulful effect." But when artists abuse the technique, it can be annoying, or worse.
The nightmares begin when ... singers practice Melisma Abuse in order to draw attention to themselves and away from the song. Then it becomes, as Jerry Wexler said, that "gratuitous and confected melisma" that has driven so many of us to the point of shrieking, Aguilera-style, in despair.
To me, that Wexler quote (and he should know — Eskow says he invented the term) really gets at the problem with oversouling — it's excessive and showboaty, and to me, cheapens the performance, whatever the material. And when the material is meant to tribute Aretha Franklin, the offense is great.