Why-oh-why has he been hiding his light under a bushel of pitch-altered nonsense?
Auto-Tune is the proprietary production technology that allows musicians to fudge instead of hitting difficult notes because it corrects pitch. Some, like Neko Case, might consider it cheating. “When I hear Auto-Tune on somebody’s voice, I don’t take them seriously,” she told Stereogum.
Once you’ve heard vocals corrected with Auto-Tune, especially compared with live tracks, it becomes easy to spot. Auto-Tuned vocals often bear the signature of too much production. Rather than using Auto-Tune scarcely to fix a few blemishes, it can quickly become like thickly-caked foundation: obviously fake and obviously hiding something, namely a vocalist who can’t really sing.
Especially on commercial radio, Auto-Tune thrived, a ubiquitous scourge that just kept multiplying exponentially like so much sonic kudzu. It didn’t matter if its deployment was painfully obvious, which was the case with every album the television show “Glee” has ever released, nevermind the singing that takes place on the show.
But there is no artist who has come close to drawing as much derision for overuse of Auto-Tune as T-Pain. For years, it was his trademark. T-Pain didn’t just use Auto-Tune to correct his voice, he used to it deliberately distort it.
It wasn’t just T-Pain’s voice that was obscured. For many years, no one really knew what he looked like, either, because his performance attire was a hip-hop meditation on Johnny Depp’s wardrobe in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even when he dressed down, you could never see his eyes, because he constantly wore sunglasses. As far as we know, he does not have glaucoma.
If anything, T-Pain is a great example of how much the music industry packages and markets artists just to get our attention. It doesn’t matter if it seems affected or gimmicky as long as it results in name recognition — yet another reason why Ariana Grande isn’t rushing to get rid of that famous ponytail of hers. It’s part of her brand now, just like Auto-Tune and circus ringmaster hats were part of T-Pain’s.
There was more to T-Pain’s Tiny Desk concert than just the unmasking of his voice. The feature, which has become one of the most rightfully treasured aspects of NPR’s music coverage, unmasked T-Pain himself. Though he’s a seasoned professional, it’s apparent that he has a few jitters about his performance. He makes a joke about the word “pianist.” It’s disarming, endearing, and instantly humanizing.
Sans Auto-Tune, T-Pain’s radio hits take on a different character. The raunchiness of some lyrics become more croon than catcall. For contrast, check out the video for “Buy U A Drank” at the bottom of this post, where he plays a typical nightclub lothario on the prowl.
In T-Pain’s Tiny Desk concert, we don’t see a gimmick or a sleaze offering to “buy you a drank” — we see a talented musician and vocalist who could just easily riff his way through a few bars of bebop and sound great doing it.
Where is this T-Pain? And can he please release an album?