Why don't British singers sing with a British accent?

CB in US   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 19:46 GMT
This has probably been discussed before but I've always wondered if it's done on purpose, like a southerner singing non country music, or if it just comes out that way. Only a few British singers I can think of sang with British accents, (Peter Noone, Gilbert O'Sullivan, the guy who sang The Year of the Cat). I'm showing my age.
mjd   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 20:30 GMT
This isn't always true. For example, I think Coldplay's Chris Martin sings with a British accent.
kasia   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 20:39 GMT
hey what about oasis?
apparently they had to put subtitles on for them in America :)
mjd   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 20:44 GMT
I have no trouble understanding them when they're singing and I don't think they necessarily lose their British accents either.
Brennus   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 22:27 GMT
If one listens very carefully to British pop singers there are traces of British English inflections in most of their songs. I still remember the Zombies' 1964 songs "She's Not there" and "Tell her No" and the British pronunciations of r and o are unmistakable in the songs. A few British singers, like Mick Jagger, Paul Rogers and Kiki Dee depart from the Standard British English sound a little bit and sound more like American Southerners but why this is, I don't think anyone knows. The American Southern accent probably did have its origins in a "lower-class" British English of some kind but more research needs to be done.
Deborah   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 22:41 GMT
Many British singers and groups of the '60s were influenced by the blues, which originated in the southern US, specifically among blacks. I always assumed that's why the British singers (not to mention non-southern white Americans) attempted to sing with that accent.
Deborah   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 22:42 GMT
non-southern white Americans --> non-southern, white Americans (in other words, white Americans who are not from the South)
Brennus   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 22:51 GMT

Re: "Many British singers and groups of the '60s were influenced by the blues, which originated in the southern US"

I don't dispute this.

However, even in interviews I've seen of Mick jagger, the guy talks like he has marbles in his mouth, a characteristic of many rural white Southern speakers of English.
Frances   Thursday, May 12, 2005, 22:59 GMT
And Blur, the 90's band - very English sounding.

Brennus - strange about Jagger - he comes from a very middle (to even to upper-middle) class family from N London I think
Ed   Friday, May 13, 2005, 02:45 GMT
Dido sings with a British accent and I don't understand a lot of her lyrics.
Mxsmanic   Friday, May 13, 2005, 03:07 GMT
Most people lose their regional or foreign accents when singing, but I've never encountered a satisfactory explanation for this. Some people speculate that singing doesn't involve the speech centers as much as speaking and does involve other brain centers and that this accounts for the absence of any accent; but it must be more than that because the same singer will be perceived as not having an accent by people with many different native pronunciations.
muster   Friday, May 13, 2005, 04:10 GMT
anyone remember SIZE 14 - claire daines poster? i seem to think they've got a bit of accential brits....itcheck this out its kool, if you could find it was due to their lyrics that the band was wiped out in the meanstream of success - such song as "lets rob ah benk"...
Guy   Friday, May 13, 2005, 06:26 GMT
I think rhotic speakers (eg. North Americans) tend to lose their rhoticity somewhat when they sing, for example the band Red Hot Chili Peppers, sing with hardly any rhoticity but when they speak, they have a very strong r's like californians.
is it just my misconception and if it isnt, why is this?
Brennus   Friday, May 13, 2005, 06:50 GMT

There is a theory in sociology that the clothing styles of poor and lower class peoples eventually become adopted by the upper classes. For example, the top-hat which American president Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was famous for was originally worn by chimney sweeps in early 19th century England and Europe. The Mexican sombrero is now worn by upper-class Mexicans at dances and fiestas but was worn just by the Mexican peasantry (the campesinos) in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A similar theory has been advanced in linguistics. That many speech characteristics of the lower classes percolate upward. Five years ago I remember reading about a study done by Australian linguists on Queen Elizabeth II's English and how it has changed over the past 50 years to conform more to the speech of England's lower classes.
Ted   Friday, May 13, 2005, 07:21 GMT
There isn't really an absence of accents in singing, quite the contrary. Singers lose their accents to take up an American accent to match most styles of music. If the music is rap/hip hop, the singer will normally sound Black American or New Yorker (like the Beastie Boys) and often nonrhotic. For Pop, Rock, Hard Rock and Metal, there's a definite generic American sound to the accent, and nonrhoticism might be present depending on the singer's preference (this is usually the only compromise). Often there are hints to the underlying accents, but overall they sound American. There is one big exception, notably Punk music because of the Sex Pistols, and as mentioned, some British bands go with their own sound straying from the generic American one.

As for Jazz, Blues and Swing, the accent is only ever American. I've never heard such singers sing in anything but an American accent. The blueprint for these styles might be Frank Sinatra for example, or in modern times, Harry Connick Jnr and Michael Bublé, and it has a very strong correlation to American.