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    autotune: how ke$ha will save us from ourselves

    If you don't love Autotune with all your heart, I will fight you.

    So-called music critics, hipsters and professional pop haters spend a lot of time and energy looking down their noses and tugging their trendy beards, aghast at how Autotune is used as a "cheap crutch" when an artist "can't sing." A few of these haters may have cut their teeth on Cher, and sneered a lot at T-Pain, but really began to warble when Kanye dropped 808s and Heartbreak, an outrageously solid album inexecusably missing from Pitchfork's Top 200 Albums of the 2000s. 

    Indie darling Nick from the Islands tweeted that "non-stylistic use of Autotune was ruining music, and also I can't remember the words to my own songs, and have you any cocaine for me, dear sir?" (Maybe I'm paraphrasing a bit.) 808s was the most appropriate use of Autotune to date: Kanye West suffers for all of us, chief among his outrageous arrows the pain of losing his humanity. (Spike Jonze famously showed us a video of Kanye surgically removing his soul.)

    The way I see it, the arguments against Autotune have nothing to do with style. Here are three artists who use Autotune and who have faced a ton of criticism for it:


    And now, for comparison's sake, are three groups/musicians who also use Autotune, but don't seem to catch the same flak for it:

    Draw your own conclusion. 

    But there's good news, kids.  We have our pop warrior princess, ready to lead us into a post-racial wonderland. I'm talk-talk-talkin' 'bout:

    The New York Times' zeitgeist-trackers caught the milestone, calling Tik Tok the "complete and painless assimilation of the white female rapper into pop music."  I consider Ke$ha to be a sort of inverse Michael Jackson.  To be very rude about it, MJ resonated with popular (white) audiences because, aside from that whole pop mastery thing, his whole life's trajectory was about literally becoming more Caucasian.  It's why Prince, unabashedly black, failed in wearing the pop crown, even though he was more deserving. (Whoops, I'm LARPing Russ.)  Ke$ha's a California Gurl.  Just listen to her voice, and how she says "because."  However, her embrace of Autotune puts her on a blackward trajectory and cements her in the urban radio playlists (down here in ATL, anyways.)  Our brilliant Kristin put it best to me via IM:

    Ms. Dollar Sign wakes up every morning already feeling like a black man, if we can believe what she says.

    Preach on, Ke$ha.  Let my Autotuned people go.

    Reader Comments (8)

    In fucking credible

    Jun 29 | Registered CommenterRuss

    While I TOTALLY disagree with you on the quality of 808s and Heartbreak AND Ke$ha, I do think you're onto something with the racism angle. It's absurd to say that Kanye uses autotune because he can't sing-- he's NOT A SINGER.

    Unfortunately, you missed one of the most highly criticized autotune-addicts ever-- and Britney's as white as they come. While I think there's a racist element to autotune criticism, there's also an intellectualist, classist element to it-- the beard scratchers can use it as a rallying point for tearing down music they don't find "musical enough," while simultaneously listening to melody-less lo-fi. Oh, IRONY.

    Jun 29 | Unregistered CommenterSuzan

    Suzan, I think Britney mostly uses Autotune to, well, automatically tune her voice. That's been done since the mid-90s by thousands of artists and you usually never even realize it! I'm limiting the scope of this article to "stylistic" uses of Autotune.

    Jun 29 | Unregistered Commenterzack smith

    I prefer my artists without autotune and I don't give a shit what their race is. You either can sing or you can't..period. I weep for the future of music if KeShit is all we have to look forward to. I'll take a thousand Gagas over KeSkank's lame ass. And don't even get me started on the hypocritical Katy Perry. Snoop Dogg totally sold out to her candy ass for a few bills.

    What in particular makes Gaga better than Keshadollarsign? I tend to think they are twin heads of the same pop music ettin. (ZOMG D&D REFERENCE) They are both exceedingly Autotuned, in a very stylish manner. (In fact, Gaga has a lot more connection to the Autotune sound, given her path to stardom via Akon.)

    Jun 29 | Unregistered Commenterzack smith

    I dunno if the Prince thing is terribly apt. He's pretty damn white. Also he's very in vogue as an influence in the latest of wave of indie rock. Hell, Mr. Bon Iver himself (Justin Vernon) has a prince-aping side project, Gayngs. And you know who isn't fond of autotune? Jay-Z. I'm pretty sure the whole thing has a lot less to do with race than you're trying to say it does.

    Jun 29 | Unregistered CommenterWade Carson

    Wade, Jay-Z loves Kanye, T-Pain and Lil Wayne's use of Autotune:

    "The guys who did it, did it great. T-Pain, he does great melodies. If you listen to Kanye, great melodies. If you listen to [West's] 'Say You Will' or 'Heartless,' great melodies. [Lil Wayne's] 'Lollipop' was a fantastic melody." -- Jay-Z, hedging his bets,

    In fact, he makes a similar point to mine, that Autotune can be used wonderfully. Sure, it can be used awfully. So can distortion on a guitar!

    Jun 29 | Unregistered Commenterzack smith

    I have no interest in getting into yet another Gaga debate, but one only has to Google to see hundreds of clips of Gaga singing live and a cappella to know that she can actually sing and play instruments. Have you heard Ke$ha actually sing live? It sounds like Ke$hit.

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