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Vocals, Performance And Songwriting: Where Does The Talent Lie?


It’s no secret that pop music is less and less respected each decade, as a result of generational divides and reluctant music tastes. Why is music so unoriginal nowadays? is the question you’re either asking or are on the receiving end of (as a teen who just wants to listen to a bit of Taylor Swift). The assumptions are often that modern artists do not write their songs or help in the production of their music anymore, but hasn’t this always been the case in the industry?

In a response to the question When and why did pop stars stop writing their own songs? asked on Quora, music historian Jason Todd announced that he didn’t understand the problem with ‘singers interpreting others’ songs’ and that it was no different from ‘actors not writing scripts.’ He proceeded to list a range of songs recorded from 1959 to 1979 that were not written by the artist credited, including ‘Daydream Believer’ by The Monkees (1967) and ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ by Eric Clapton (1974).

But why do we feel a sense of betrayal or anger when we find out artists, particularly our favourite artists, don’t write their own songs? Maybe it’s a similar loss of trust as musicians using autotune, which has developed into completely controlling some singer’s vocals instead of simply enhancing them. Do the lyrics We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky feel less authentic upon knowing that Sia in fact put the words on paper or does Rihanna sing them in such a profound way that the prime emotion is still felt?

Take Elvis Presley for example. A singer, an actor, a dancer and performer who didn’t write his own songs, yet is deemed more talented than Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes. Now whilst I can acknowledge the latter’s musical abilities, I cannot argue against this popular opinion. Charisma and expression are also significant in determining in whether an artist is a superstar, overshadowing Presley’s ambiguous writing abilities.

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