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In Name Only: My Favorite Artists Lacking in Vocal Abilities

Updated on June 8, 2013

The Business of Music

Disclaimer: This hub is an opinion hub that I'm sure will be subject to debate. But please know this is only what I think, not actual fact. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

We all know that as much as music is lovely and inspiring, it's also quite irritating and commonplace at times. None more so than when we hear the sounds of an artist who for lack of a better term, can't carry a tune. But for a variety of reasons they have managed to survive and have a long and interesting career despite the fact they'll never be known for their actual vocals.

So without further ado, I'd like to present my favorite singers who aren't exactly known for well, singing.

Madonna | Source

The Monotone Girl

There are very few lovers of 80s pop culture who as much as they would deny it, love at least one Madonna song, album, or incarnation. But the real question is why? She's a great dancer but her voice, well, it leaves a lot to be desired. But come on, it's Madonna. We all know and love her but I'm sure she knows she can't belt it out.

To my way of thinking, Madonna is the epitome of a savvy businesswoman. She knew her strengths and weaknesses as well as how to promote and downplay them. Don't believe me? Let's examine the evidence.

Madonna is a pop culture icon namely for how she's managed to combine sexuality, women's rights, and blonde ambition into the perfect package. Her emergence on the scene was initially met with little fanfare but she quickly knew how to put herself out there. And with the help of MTV she exploded by using the medium to her advantage and becoming a high-concept visual artist.

Though many of her detractors thought she wouldn't last that long, she has had the last laugh. Madonna may have an AARP membership but she's still savvy in terms of trendsetting and insight into the very fickle and changing world of pop culture.

Another thing she does well is craft pop songs that are nearly impossible to get out of your head. The best part is that you don't even have to worry about how you sound when you sing which means that you can hum "Material Girl" in the office, "Express Yourself" at the gym, and get "Into the Groove" at karaoke without worrying.

I personally love Madonna because she's proved everyone who's ever doubted her wrong in some way (well except maybe the acting part). And the fact that she continues to inspire an entire generation of somewhat lovable non-singing pop tarts. Thanks Madge!

Keith Sweat in Concert
Keith Sweat in Concert | Source

New Jacked Twanging

If you've ever heard a Keith Sweat song you know what I mean about his (lack of) singing style. Again, he's mastered the art of making a woman want him while sounding completely unattractive. If you ask me, that's the epitome of weird science. But we still love him and his songs and the way they make us sound like we have a sinus infection in June. Oh, Keith!

Keith Sweat was actually born Keith Crier (yeah, the irony!) and was a simple school teacher before becoming Keith Sweat. With the help of music impresario and hit maker, Teddy Riley they helped engineer the style of New Jack Swing.

For those of you who don't know, New Jack Swing is a style of music that arose in the late 1980s that fuses R&B vocals and hooks together with Hip-Hop beats. In other words, it's a very clever and unique way to remind us you can't sing.

Keith Sweat helped craft hits like, "Let's Chill" and "Just Got Paid" for artists like Guy and Johnny Kemp. He also had his own string of hits including, "I Want Her" and (my personal favorite) "Make It Last Forever" featuring Jacci McGhee.

But it's not so much his voice women are entranced by, it's his tone. Nicknamed "the begging man," Keith Sweat is famous for pleading his case on stage and on record. And not just by dropping down like a desperate housewife but he uses props like flowers and his six-pack.

Keith Sweat is someone who I've heard as long as I can remember and while he's not my favorite, it's always fun when I have a cold and try to sound like him.

James Brown in Concert
James Brown in Concert | Source

Godfather of Rap-Talkin'

Now please mind you, I mean no offense to the dearly departed. But I have to be honest, I never listened to James Brown for the tone of his voice. His beats? Insatiable. His stage persona? Most definitely. His voice? Reminds me too much of an angry grandfather in Wal-Mart. Not to say that it wasn't appreciated but I just like James Brown for everything about his vocals.

When James Brown emerged, there were many soul singers who emerged but eventually didn't capture the same kind of following as James Brown. He took R&B and Soul Music to a new level by not only focusing on choreography and good musicianship in his band but also by doing what hadn't been done before.

The first thing that comes to mind for me when I listen to James Brown is slamming beats. I know I promised I wouldn't use slamming in a written context but here I am. However, that's the best word to describe them. Loud horns, excellent rhythm sections and his voice guiding us along the way.

My memories of James Brown go back to my childhood when my mom would play his music while we would clean the house. Not that she didn't play other artists, but it was his beats that motivated me the most when I felt like collapsing alongside a dust bunny. As I grew older, I respected how James Brown was outspoken about civil rights as well as artistry and development in music.

His style and swagger influenced some of the greatest performers ever such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Usher. For that, I will never deny his impact. It just goes to show you that your voice goes far beyond what comes out of your mouth.

Britney Spears, Ringmaster
Britney Spears, Ringmaster | Source

Oops, She Synched It Again!

For most 90s kids such as myself, there are some questions we knew the answers to immediately. And the questions were either or. Pepsi or Coke? Pepsi. *NSYNC or BSB? *NSYNC, son! Britney or Christina? Britney.

Now please understand that I enjoy the occasional cherry coke, BSB ballad and Xtina vocal rift but there's no denying the impact of the former subjects. Most namely, Britney. I remember watching "Baby One More Time" and thinking, "Finally! Happy music." I was 10, but my instincts prevailed.

Britney Spears has long been criticized for picking up where Madonna left off and while that's true in some instances, for the most part she's her own creation. Whereas Madonna's accent flips from Detroit runaway to NYC lover to British Manor Lady, our dear Britney was pure southern belle. And she said y'all.

My finest memories of Britney have to be her trifecta of awesome MTV VMA performances. She took all the attention away from the synched up microphone to her outfits, her dance moves, and her penchant for knowing what to do when. It was awesome and just like that I was hooked.

Another thing she did well was always fan controversy with sweetness. She famously answered her questions with sir and ma'am at the end or said, "I'm growing up, I can't be 16 forever." And we'd all sigh and sing "I'm a Slave 4 U."

Even when she went through her dark period in the years between K-Fed and her breakdown, we all rooted for her. She was a victim of the media as well as her own lack of insight but she emerged all the better.

And while we all are glad for her second chance, it may not have came without the first impression she made on us all those years ago.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger | Source

Howls Like Jagger

Pop culture recently has been on a Mick Jagger binge. Is it because he hit 70 not that long ago? Probably not. Is it because we might think he'll collapse on stage singing "Satisfaction?" Yeah, that's more like it.

I will admit if you asked me Beatles or Stones, I'll go with the Liverpool lads but there's something indelible about Mick Jagger's presence on stage. He's not the best at it but his energy does something to all of us that makes us want more for one reason or another.

Mick Jagger is a moving mystery and a titan of Rock music but beyond that he makes us smile. I recently saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert and one of my favorite performances was him alongside Fergie and U2. The song was okay but what really hit me was how he managed to draw us in with his allure.

And while I think Maroon 5 may have given us one of the most annoyingly catchy songs of late, they have a point. Ask any woman of age and she'll tell you. A guy who moves in such a way that you have no choice but to watch will always get our attention. His body in rhythm with the track, his eyes sending a message of interest, and his lyrics all send a message that has managed to draw people in for five decades now.

Does that mean he's earned it? More or less yes. Anyone who has remained an icon this long obviously knows what they're doing. And while he isn't a saint or a pure vocalist, he's decidedly an icon for not being afraid to do what many said couldn't.

Let Me Know Your Favorite!

Who's Your Favorite Non-Singing Singer?

See results

Final Notes

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments and insights. Please feel free to suggest future hubs as well as I always look forward to feedback from fellow Hubbers.


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    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Express10,

      I agree. It's no longer about just plain vocal ability, it's about the whole package. That's why hearing a singer who can actually sing these days is amazingly refreshing. Thanks for showing you comments!

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 

      5 years ago from East Coast

      I heard Madonna's demo tape on a t.v. show once and I wasn't impressed but the "right" people were impressed enough to give her a chance. I think it's great what she's done with her opportunities. For years there has been a shift to more value being placed on personalities, brands, and being an entertaining performer on stage and in other ways as well. The people who can miss out are both those that can really sing and those who enjoy listening to these types of talented people, no matter what they look like and no matter what they can or can't do on stage.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Michelle,

      You're right- they do have great marketing skills! Thanks!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Deborah,

      I guess great minds really do think alike! Thanks so much for coming by!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Nell,

      I love Madonna's music too but in recent years she has become more known for hits than drama but then again she's allowed too! Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I agree with this list. But I'd say their marketing skills are excellent! Thanks for sharing, Alecia!!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      Funny, when I saw your title, I started thinking Madonna and Britney. And I totally get Jagger. Great hub!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, I am one of those sad people who love Madonna! lol! I do think she did have a great voice, but over the years its gone off the boil so to speak! great hub, and food for thought! lol! voted and shared, nell

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi thecoffeewrite,

      I agree that it is more about presence and performance than vocals. But I think as long as you have something that fans latch onto, you're okay. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • thecoffeewrite profile image

      Keneesha M Hodge 

      6 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Very interesting post. Before reading I thought you would have picked many artists who have been on the scene for the last 20 years or less. If one truly thinks hard enough, much of who you chose truly is more about stage presence or that "je ne sais quoi" Sean Combs looks for when signing non-singing artists (i.e. Total--though they did made good music). But as you said, it's all in the opinion. Watch your back though, you may get a crazed Brittany fan after you like the guy who became famous on YouTube pleading for people to "LEAVE BRITTANY ALONE!"

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Renee,

      I understand where you're coming from! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting :0.

    • ReneeDC1979 profile image

      Renee' D. Campbell 

      6 years ago from Gaithersburg, Maryland

      Great hub Alecia - and if you could type on and on and on the list could go on and on and on. Unfortunately, muscic does not make music - the look does?!?!?!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you so much mtkomori!

    • mtkomori profile image

      Takako Komori 

      6 years ago from Yokohama, Japan

      Fascinating! I have to agree with your opinion on Madonna and Britney Spears. Katy Perry and Ke$ha were mentioned in the comments, and they too should join the gang. I wonder about Katy and Ke$ha's vocal abilities but they've sure packaged aspects of their image into one, like hair style, fashion and dance moves to enable them to become a popular pop star. As you say, Mick Jagger can really move and it's actually fun watching him even though he hasn't got much vocal ability.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I agree Jools! Yeah that's a great point you bring up that the background singers are the main reason the song is listenable from beginning to end. Most of these artists know how to put themselves together quite well. Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Great hub Alecia. I hadn't seen Keith Sweat (why would you pick such a name? It's perspiration for God's Sakes)but I quite like this type of music where they mix a great backing vocalist to carry a song, titles usually Keith Sweat feat...whoever. These poor 'feat' artistes are much, much better than the 'star' but he's a very engaging guy.

      Madonna, can't sing for toffee but she's got hutzpah in spades; as they'd say in my part of the world 'more edge than a raggy mat' and she has adapted as the years have gone on. Britney, very entertaining but couldn't carry a tune of her life depended on it. Mick Jagger just makes me snigger, I can hear his bones creaking when he dances.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      7 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      no problem, alecia

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Interesting point, Justin. I somewhat think that they both have their moments where they sound good but I wouldn't consider them pure vocal artists. Thanks as always for dropping by and commenting!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      7 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      even though i don't care for their music, I think Madonna and Keith Sweat are actually good singers. Jimi Hendrix, though, is a terrible vocalist who makes awesome tunes.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Yasmeen,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I was quite sure I wasn't alone. Thanks again!

    • YasmeenAli profile image


      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      So, true! You pretty much just summed up what we were all thinking and saying anyway. Cool Hub!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi TheHuG5,

      Yeah, I just think Britney happened to be a quick study. She knew the trajectory she'd have to take to make it. And plus those MMC kids seem just to know how to stay relevant after almost 20 years.

      I actually like to hear Katy Perry's voice. It's not great but it's interesting and she's followed the pattern of making excellent songs. But everyone's entitled to their opinion.

      You know who I don't like is Ke$ha! She sounds like a botched old school MacBook!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • THEHuG5 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is an interesting hub. I know of everyone on the list but of course I'm most familiar with Britney. The girl really can't sing live but her songs are so catchy I just don't care I can't believe she's still so good after all these years. You know who else can't sing to save their life? Katy freakin Perry. It's so awful. I always respect an artist more if they can actually sing WELL. I'd never buy an album of someones if they couldn't actually sing. This was a wonderful idea for a hub, voting up.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jennifer,

      You sound like me singing Madonna. Every time she comes on my iPod or the radio, I feel like a 17 year old girl in High School again. But you can't deny how good she is at making you feel good about not holding a tune. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Jennifer Essary profile image

      Jennifer Essary 

      7 years ago from Idaho

      It's amazing how many people make money selling music when they're not musically talented. I voted for Madonna because when I sing with her I feel like I can sing too. Obviously I can't carry a tune in a bucket with the lid on but it's nice to feel like your voice matches a pop superstar's. Great Hub! Voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina


      I agree with you about Madonna. She's done so much now she's pretty much repeating herself. Mick Jagger, still has it to be a senior citizen too! Thanks for commenting!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Britney has my vote!! She'll always rock or pop to me.

      To Madonna: Just go away! To Mick Jagger: I want your moves! To Alecia: I love this hub! You are a superstar!


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