Pop songs


Why do you think that most successful English pop songs are invariably sung in an American accent?


Did you have any specific songs in mind, Alan?

In trying to get an idea which British pop songs might sound particularly “American” to British ears, I happened upon this:
British and American accents in music

Don’t you think that entire success of English as international language exists just because of American “accent”.


I’d say there are several reasons; to name but a few

  • breaking America means potential sales to 300,000,000 people (as opposed to singing in a thick Welsh accent to penetrate a market of rough grazing herd animals)
  • Artists adopt American style music and want to sound ‘genuine’ (like Mick Jagger and David Bowie in the 1970s or Amy Whinehouse today)
  • American English sounds smoother/less edgy. Compare Sheffield Band ‘Arctic Monkeys’ (that I love) to ‘The Strokes’ (that I love, too) or The Streets (London) to Eminem (Detroit)
  • I think that many producers take an American accent for granted with regard to international success

If you listen to Scottish band The Proclaimers, it’s astonishing that they could ever land a massive hit with an accent like that!

But there are also nice examples of artists with a southern English accent (which I’m usually not too fond of) who I really admire. Kate Nash, for example.

BTW, Jooles Holland still seems to be on the air! Does anybody know whether the show ever took a break?

I’m curious which particular American accent you guys are referring to. :wink:

Alan, there must have been a couple of songs in particular that prompted your post. Can you give me a couple of specific examples?

I think that a singing voice doesn’t always give away the place of origin. Most pop bands sound pretty neutral (at least to me). Coldplay have songs where you can detect an accent, but most of the time I think they’re also pretty indistinguishable.

Of course there are different American accents, too, but I’d say that they’re hard to distinguish in songs. Unless you listen to Kings of Leon, maybe. I can’t understand half of what your man is singing, so it’s clearly a Texas accent :wink: Check it out! Great rock, though :slight_smile:

I’m surprised you didn’t post this one, Ralf! :wink:

Supposedly two of those guys are from Tennessee and the other two are from Oklahoma. I listened to a couple of Kings of Leon interviews and they don’t sound too much like the guy from Oklamoma I used to date. No idea whether the KoL have lost some of their “southern accent” or whether they possibly try to modify their accents during interviews.

Much seems to depend on the genre. I should think you could fairly accurately estimate the likely degree of US-ness in the accent by assessing the proportion of major to minor 3rds.


I used to think that even most British pop singers sang with American accents until I started really listening to American pop singers and realized that even THEY don’t really sing with an American accent.

I think that what they’re using is a sort of “singing” accent that isn’t really British and isn’t really American. It may have some American vowels in it, but it also softens or drops the R’s at the ends of words and before consonants the way the English would.

The Beach Boys sang with real American accents as found in California or the Midwest. Listen and you’ll see that you almost never hear R’s like theirs in pop music, even though that’s how we really talk.
youtube.com/watch?v=gbRKfieM … re=related

You hear the typical Southern variant in Alan Jackson’s pronunciation:

The same thing in this Tracy Byrd song (excuse the poster’s spelling):
youtube.com/watch?v=6f70c9nr … re=related

You don’t hear R’s like that in pop music.

I don’t know about you, guys, but I find British accent hard to understand (harder than American one). They somehow pronounce some words in a strange to me way, which baffles me, sets me off the track. For example, the word “fun”.
Speaking about British pop singers, I really take to Kim Wilde. I listen to her a lot, though, when my friend from New Zealand listened to her song “Victims”, he complained to me that he hadn’t understood much, in fact he even said "is that English ? "

Yeah, that could be. Or maybe the singer just slurs his words when he sings. In the interview here he sounds pretty GenAm to me, with a slight southern twang. BTW, what do you make of the term GenAm? Wikipedia says “General American; a notional composite of various dialects of English spoken in the United States intended to minimize some notion of regional coloration.”

I think so, too.

I think a lot is due to exposure. When I came to Saxony 7 years ago, I had a very hard time understanding anybody. In fact, it took me months to be able to communicate with taxi drivers, but I got used to it. Today I have bigger problems understanding people from Hamburg (which is thought to be a more clearly pronounced accent).

In my variety, the vowel in ‘fun’ is similar to the vocalic sound in ‘full’. A bit like in northern England. U-sounds sound like 'uuh’s, and a-sounds sound like 'aah’s. The American ‘God’ rhymes with the Irish ‘mad’ :slight_smile:

Honestly, I sometimes can’t make head or tail of what these British folks are speaking.

BBC News is a bit OK but there are some British shows on TV that are totally incomprehensible (to me).

For example, there’s this show called Catherine Tate Show. Can someone please enlighten me as to what accent she speaks?

I am watching The Weakest Link these days. I am able to understand it a bit. Can someone please tell me what accent the presenter speaks?

Hi, Ralf

Yes, I think you have a point about the exposure. I usually watch various American comedies and very rarely watch something in BrE.
Though I enjoy the British Accent if I have a chance to listen to it. And if I am able to understand something (into the bargain), then I consider it a personal achievement :slight_smile:

Join the club :slight_smile:


I’d be very interested to hear which shows you find incomprehensible as they may well be the ones I find equally so.


Catherine Tate Show - south of England, probably London

The Weakest Link - Pretty standard English TV accent, reminiscent of what educated people speak in the home counties (greater London area)

Here’s a funny comparison between London and Manchester accents


Alan, I don’t think you wouldn’t understand those accents. They are British and you are too. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I don’t understand the accent spoken on these shows

Catherine Tate Show (most of what’s being said goes way over my head)
Coupling ( a bit better, but not as easy to understand as American sitcoms like Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory etc)


Thanks for that. The only one I’ve actually seen or half seen is the Catherine Tate show - I really don’t find watching an old lady swearing is funny and so I wouldn’t bother with that show, anyhow.


Hi daemon

In order to answer your question concerning Catherine Tate show , and not avoid it. It depends which character she plays, these sketch shows tend to have strong, unusual or OTT accents for comic effect. Which one did you find the hardest?

Coupling shouldn´t be too hard in comparison as it is a sit-com and not a sketch show. Any sketch show will be naturally difficult whether it is Harry Enfield and Friends, Alan Partridge, the Mary Whitehouse Experience, the Big train or French and Saunders. All of these, just like Stand up comedy, will be challenging to the listener.

But understanding is about exposure and developing your listening skills.

Try “Spaced” “Smack the Pony” or “the IT crowd” as alternative British comedy. And let us know which ones you find hard, and why.

Some accents are harder than others, even here you might find mine or Ralf´s accent harder to listen to than Alans.

cheers stew.t.

Hi Stew,

It’s the character of the student that’s the hardest for me to understand.

She always gets into an argument with the teacher, and she speaks so fast ,with a totally unintelligible accent, that I can hardly make out anything :slight_smile:

Yeah, I find Coupling relatively easier to understand.

I’ll check them out. Thanks.

—Which letter of the alphabet sounds exactly the same as a term for a female sheep?
—Can you repeat the question?
—Yes, Which letter of the alphabet sounds exactly the same as a term for a female sheep?
—U ! (ewe)
—(looking abashed, probably thought she had said “you”)
—Never mind, stand up straight, Andy ! You’re the weakest link !

What a dumba$$ ! He should go back to school. :lol: