But unlike, say, the lead or background falsettos of the Bee Gees that saturated the Top 40 in the ’70s, Auto-Tune pulls the plug on one of pop music’s most attractive characteristics—namely, its capacity for showcasing the human voice in what Gerard Manley Hopkins might have called its counter, original, spare, and strange variety. Say what you will about “We Are the World,” there was something fascinating, maybe even inspirational, in hearing the heterogeneous likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Cyndi Lauper, Steve Perry, and Dionne Warwick taking turns going for broke.
Auto-Tune would’ve taken the “We” out of “We Are the World” by shellacking its many voices with a broad brush and making them all sound the way that Spider-Man’s fellow Marvel hero the Silver Surfer looks: sleek and cold.
Practically every song on Billboard’s Hot 100 features the treatment. And now even Paul McCartney, who only possesses one of the most popular singing voices in the world, has succumbed.
On New Year’s Day, McCartney released the stand-alone, heavily Auto-Tuned single “Get Enough.” The ballad came as a surprise. Just 15 days earlier, he’d released “Who Cares,” the third single from his enthusiastically received, and Auto-Tune-free, Egypt Station.
Like the Egypt Station singles before it, “Who Cares” didn’t chart. So it’s easy to imagine McCartney racking his brains, wondering what a guy has to do these days to score a hit and being advised that anyone, even an ex-Beatle, who tries to enter the 21st-century Top 40 vocally naked had better abandon all hope.
He should’ve abandoned all hope.
Somewhere there are androids listening to “Get Enough” and, on discovering how bad they really sound, deciding to put their choral ambitions on permanent hold.
Their sole consolation? The synthetic relief that they experience on learning that “Get Enough” hasn’t charted either.