Man, there are some people who have a voice on them, isn’t that right? Just imagine having the vocal prowess of vocal fry celebrities like Chris Cornell, Phil Anselmo, Rob Halford, Janis Joplin, and many more!
Sure, vocal fry alone won’t probably get you to that level. You’ll most likely end “Kardashianing” yourself and suffering from the oft-misaligned prejudices against the technique.
But, what is vocal fry, why is it so often used in speaking and singing, and how can one use it to their favor? Who are the vocal fry celebrities who have managed to harness this technique to their favor?
We’ll explore those possibilities today, and get you on the way to increase your vocal talents and knowledge!
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Vocal fry can be thought of as its own vocal register. It’s that creaky voice you get when you wake up in the morning. Sure, there can be healthy or unhealthy croaks. You can Britney your way into sensuality, or end up sounding frail and worn; you want to avoid sounding like you spent too long at that after-party!
Vocal fry occurs thanks to the glottis, the opening between vocal folds. When a small amount of air passes through the loose glottis, it creates this creaking sound. Imagine air passing through a billowing sail; that’s how you get this particular low-frequency sound. In fact, the vocal fry can be thought of as the lowest vocal register.
In my in-depth article about vocal fry, I explain how it took a while for vocal fry to be seen as vocal register. It was speech therapist Margaret Green who gave it legitimacy in the 70s, saving it from becoming a speech pathology.
A vocal register must have:
- A particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds.
- Its own set of pitches.
- A sound that distinguishes it from other registers.
The social stigma of vocal fry
Another fact that proves how strange humans are is how this vocal quirk is perceived. While this is not true across the board, many perceive vocal fry to be the new “Valley Girl” speak. It’s, like, totally not so!
In fact, it’s been associated in the press as a sort of “verbal tic of doom” that creates a set of negative associations. In fact, these generally affect women disproportionately. It’s been studied that, while vocal fry hinders both men and women’s job prospects, it’s even worse for women.
This is because people who speak like Katy Pe— I mean, Zooey Deschanel, have a tendency to be perceived as vain or superficial. It’s also been theorized that vocal fry is a way for women to attempt to speak in a lower tone, essentially adopting a role that was oft-reserved for males.
But, regardless, this is not within this article´s purview. Whether vocal fry is a sign of shallowness, breaking into new gender territory, or something else entirely, doesn’t really matter right now.
After all, you want to know what’s up with vocal fry celebrities, right? Some have managed to harness the power of this technique to their favor. A few have made it a staple of their speaking style, probably unconsciously. Others have brought it into higher registers, allowing themselves a healthy rasp while they belt or scream.
Let’s take a look.
Vocal Fry Celebrities: the belters and singers
Chris Cornell is probably as famous as any rocker can be. At his 90s heyday, he was seen as a rock n’ roll genius that carried the torch of famous banshees like Robert Plant. It’s undeniable that, at his vocal peak, he was probably the #1 rock singer of all time.
He had an extremely wide vocal range that could go from a low growl to the highest falsetto. Thus, he had an extremely extensive canvas with which to paint his often forlorn anthems of existential desperation, quiet reflection, or demonic catharsis.
Another extremely distinctive feature of his vocals was his rasp. While he never took singing lessons until later in life — he reportedly screamed every day to gain his range in the early days — Cornell employed vocal fry in a natural way. That’s why his highest-pitched screams carried this guttural quality that made it seem as if he was yelling his throat raw.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. That’s where vocal fry creates a very interesting illusion. If deployed correctly, it can become a kind of vocal filter that masks the qualities of the voice. In reality, singers like Chris Cornell are using perfect vocal collocation and technique. They’re not singing in a way that’s causing strain on their vocal cords.
The idea to produce a Cornell-like sound is not to sing from the throat. Sure, you may be able to hit a couple of notes if you bellow like a hungry cat, but you’ll kill your voice after two verses.
Sometimes, some people have an incredible mix of work ethic and natural vocal prowess. Cornell was one of them, and that’s why his legacy will endure through the generations.
It’s impossible to discuss vocal fry celebrities without mentioning the Brit herself. Sure, sure, you may be too cool for school, sipping your very dry martini while wearing sunglasses at night. But I know you’ve danced the night away to Britney’s ‘Toxic’ a couple of times or ten. I ain’t judgin’! In fact, you can expect a virtual high five from me.
Britney is also well known for using vocal fry in its most classical sense. She’s an expert at using that husky, slept-in tone to draw you into her pop jams. In fact, her style’s so iconic that it practically brought with it a vocal fry renaissance. Nowadays, everyone from pop starlet to a diva is banking on vocal fry to build sexy cred.
Don’t believe me? Just check out a small list of female singers who use vocal fry as a prominent signifier of their style:
- Lady Gaga
- Iggy Azalea
And that’s just off the top of my head! Trust me, the vocal fry fad is far from over. And hey, I’m all for people using the natural abilities of their voice in a way that suits them. More power to them, more hit records for us. Win/win, right?
Other examples of vocal fry celebrities who sing
These would almost be too many to list. I mentioned Phil Anselmo from Pantera, who had a growly scream that could tear the paint off walls. Just check him out on Cemetery Gates. (Please, don’t make me go on another Pantera binge, please…)
What he’s using in the “screamed” choruses might not be perfect technique, but it uses the fundamentals of vocal fry. Through correct diaphragmatic breathing and collocation, this sound can be achieved in a natural, safe way. Just try not to do the final bit of the song without properly warming up, please! I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty!
Another incredible example is the renowned Janis Joplin. Vocal fry is pretty much her bread and butter. But it’s not also her. Rock n’ roll has long paid its respects to vocal fry. Here are some renowned vocal fry celebrities from that side of the musical world.
- Mick Jagger
- Kurt Cobain
- Steven Tyler
- Joan Jett
- Ann Wilson
- Robert Plant
- Lenny Kravitz
- Rod Stewart
- James Hetfield
Believe me, it’s prevalent. You can throw a stone at a bunch of rockers and probably 9/10 of them would be using vocal fry. Just… you know, don’t actually throw a rock. They will chase you, and they can probably outrun you. I wouldn’t try to out-last Mick Jagger at anything. The man can probably run still 10 miles in the space it takes me to go lace up and go downstairs.
This blog offers some more information on what vocal fry is and how to learn it if you want to go that route. And why wouldn’t you? It sounds awesome, in my opinion. I know you didn’t ask, but it does.
Vocal fry celebrities: the talkers
Now, this is probably something you’ll have an easier time identifying, seeing as it’s the ‘in-crowd’ vocal fad that never really went away. It’s especially present throughout Hollywood. If you’ve ever seen any of those fancy-pants red-carpet ceremonies, you know what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if the whole sequence is scripted.
This clip with Zooey Deschanel perfectly makes my point.
Isn’t it strange how everyone in Hollywood suddenly seems to be going for the raspy, sexy voice? At this point, it’s frankly impossible to know whether vocal fry is something a person is doing or a natural placement of their voice. There are plenty of vocal fry celebrities who talk this way. Some examples are:
- Scarlett Johansson
- Emma Watson
- Zooey Deschanel
- The Queen of Fry herself, Kim Kardashian
Whatever your preference or position about vocal fry, it’s absolutely a thing. If you like ET or Access Hollywood, chances are it’s made an impression on you, for good or wrong.
Come awards season, it’s very likely that we’ll continue to see a deluge of vocal fry on red carpets everywhere, as is now the norm.
Vocal fry. It’s a thing (a thang?), a technique, a vocal register, an outsized verbal fad that should be retired. Maybe it’s a little bit of those things. And, like with everything, it can be used in ways that add or subtract, depending on the person.
Vocal fry celebrities will no doubt continue to increase as our understanding of technique and proper vocal health increases. As with anything, its beauty will continue to depend on the ear of the listener.
I’m just glad singers, speakers, and vocal talent, in general, have more tools in their toolkit. More tools mean more ways to approach characters and projects in creative ways.
That can’t be a bad thing, can it?