Sunday, December 28, 2008

Singers Who Can't Sing

Everyone is still having a fit about Kanye West's SNL performance of "Heartless" the other week. Did he lip-synch? Didn't he? The debate misses the bigger issue: Kanye can't sing.

Truth be told, ability is not always the most important thing when it comes to singing. The proper amount of attitude, charm, and self-deprecation go a long way to replace actual vocal chops. Ask David Lee Roth and Bob Dylan, two dudes who can't sing a note but make up for it with sheer chutzpah (and in Dylan's case, an ungodly amount of lyrical prowess). Singers who know they can't sing are always forgiven.

Kanye, however, broke the cardinal rule of bad singing. He stepped outside of his preapproved vocal zone.

No one expects Kanye to sing. In fact, no one wants Kanye to sing, because we know he can't. Write an insanely catchy melody? Yes. Continue to be the biggest ego on the planet? Yes. These are the things we want from our Kanye. But when he begins to think he can pull off a ballad by actually singing it? That's when he's gone too far.

There are two kinds of bad singers in the world: the ones who kid themselves into thinking they're good (Kanye) and the ones who try too hard — all the time. These are the Mariahs, Beyonces, and Christinas (although Ms. Aguilera is learning; her Nina Simone tribute on the Grammy nomination show this month was remarkably restrained). These performers wring the last bit of life out of every note. Just because you can sing every octave perceptible to the human ear doesn't mean you have to. These singers don't know when to hold back. They are perpetual vocal grandstanders, sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.

Here are some other legendary bad singers. I'll avoid easy targets, like Yoko Ono and Michael Bolton. Yes, she inspired the B-52s. Who cares? And Bolton has received his punishment for butchering so many songs by being relegated to "Where are they now?" status. Time has passed him by, and we won't be hearing from him again.

These folks are ones who won't go away and, worse yet, won't learn to sing. Know your enemy, my friends. Protect yourselves. And check out the complete list here.


She's the grande dame of song killers, insisting on suffocating every song with sincerity. Oh, Celine is so sincere. She demands that you love her and her songs. She forces herself on a song like a bad date.

The problem with Madonna (or, I should say, one of the many problems) is that she’s built a career on being a diva, and divas need to sing. No amount of line dancing, costume changes, or bodybuilding can hide the fact that she can't sing.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of the most musical bands around. Flea, Frusciante, and Chad are the some of the most talented dudes to ever groove together. If only they had a better singer. I could deal with Anthony until "Under the Bridge.” A great tune but way outside of his approved vocal zone. He’s much better when he's doing his "Give It Away" mumble-rap thing.

Here's another one of these "I think I'll sing a ballad 'cause I can rap" dudes. And to add insult to injury, he tried out his vocal chops on the Who's epic "Behind Blue Eyes.” Aside from the fact that he has no inherent sensitivity to the song, HE CAN'T SING! It makes me mad to this day.


There was a time when a certain type of entertainer was called a "song-and-dance man.” The description assumed that the entertainer actually knew how to sing and how to dance. Michael Jackson, Cab Calloway, Jackie Wilson, James Brown? All song-and-dance men. I'll even give you Justin Timberlake. Chris Brown? Dance man. Definitely a dance man. Keep dancing, Chris.

See more in our Worst Singers Hall of Fame FlipBook.

READ MORE - Singers Who Can't Sing