We measured pop music’s falsetto obsession

  • Published: 13 August 2019
  • From Justin Timberlake to the Bee Gees, we charted the popularity of men singing high.
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    It’s nearly impossible to turn on the radio and not hear a male artist singing really high. Likely he’s a tenor, and more often than not he’ll sing in falsetto. Think Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Drake, Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes, Adam Levine, Sam Smith ... the list goes on and on and on.

    This isn’t a trend — it has been the status quo for decades.

    Using the data diving know-how of The Pudding, and drawing on the expertise of Anthony Roth Costanzo, a professional opera singer, I dig into the world of the high male vocal range by tracking how pervasive it really is across the decades.

    The Pudding: pudding.cool/
    IG: @the.pudding
    Twitter: @puddingviz

    The articles referenced in the video can be found here:
    The Evolution of the Male Falsetto: frieze.com/article/evolution-male-falsetto

    What does it mean when The Weeknd hits a high note: washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/what-does-it-mean-when-the-weeknd-hits-a-high-note/2016/12/01/4969c506-b65b-11e6-959c-172c82123976_story.html?noredirect=on

    Active Child, Prince, and the Science of the Male Falsetto: pitchfork.com/thepitch/794-active-child-prince-and-the-science-of-the-male-falsetto/

    Why Are There So Many Tough Guys Who Sound Like Ladies On The Radio?: npr.org/2016/02/15/466404515/why-are-there-so-many-tough-guys-who-sound-like-ladies-on-the-radio

    Here's a Spotify list of 65+ songs that have some pretty fun falsetto moments: open.spotify.com/playlist/0nUxhLp94vGOARoCJKkV0k?si=sGtRcGPtQ_-Dktcc5H_Thg

    And here’s the same Pandora playlist: pandora.com/playlist/PL:1688849921711361:7344

    And a list of all of the songs featured in this video by timestamp:
    1:04 - Want to Want Me - Jason Derulo
    1:09 - Sugar - Maroon 5
    1:18 - Sorry - Justin Bieber
    1:30 - Can’t Feel My Face - The Weeknd
    1:32 - What Do You Mean - Justin Bieber
    1:36 - The Hills - The Weeknd
    1:42 - Hello - Adele
    3:33 - Sleep, Baby, Sleep - George P Watson
    3:47 - Ill Wind - Radiohead
    5:37 - Redbone - Childish Gambino
    6:10 - Rock of Ages - Def Leppard
    7:10 - Get Lucky - Daft Punk
    7:21 - Crocodile Rock - Elton John
    8:23 - Killer Queen - Queen
    8:55 - I Knew I loved You - Savage Garden
    9:28 - Stayin’ Alive - Bee Gees
    9:50 - Falsetto - The-Dream
    10:17 - Cry Me A River - Justin Timberlake
    11:52 - Sweet Child O’ Mine - Guns N’ Roses
    11:55 - Two Hearts - Phil Collins
    12:01 - Rocket 2 U - The Jets
    12:19 - Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson
    12:28 - Nite and Day - Al B. Sure
    12:33 - You Should Be Dancing - Bee Gees
    14:33- Me And Those Dreaming Eyes of Mine - D’Angelo
    14:44 - So In Love - Curtis Mayfield
    15:38 - Sherry - Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
    15:48 - Natural - Bloodstone
    16:00 - Starboy - The Weeknd

    Earworm is a series where Estelle Caswell takes you on a musical journey to discover the stories and sounds behind your favorite songs. More videos can be found here:

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Comments • 2 599

  • Vox
    Vox   2 months back

    Thanks so much for watching the video! It was a challenging task figuring out the songs I wanted to feature in the story - there were thousands to choose from. So, I made.... a Spotify playlist (sorry Pandora). It's called "Give Me a Falsetto," and you can find it in the link in the description box above or by searching for it in the Spotify app. What's you favorite falsetto heavy song?
    Clarification: Pandora's library is comparable to other music streaming services. 2 million refers to the number of songs that have been analyzed through their Music Genome Project

    • Renan Laffite
      Renan Laffite  1 months back

      Thank you! One of my favorite You Tube channels... Peace and music

    • Jonathan Spencer
      Jonathan Spencer  1 months back

      Yes! Nerve-racking circular thinking. 12min of over-explaining non-scientific data collection then throwing it all away. "The reason it feels like more falsetto in our lifetime is cuz that's all we know." Dude, that is an idiotic statement about your OWN perception and your admittedly, customized data selection. Jeez! Get a new job.

    • jiff jiffernson
      jiff jiffernson  2 months back

      *How popular is the NPR delivery with the typical high rising terminal (HRT), also known as upspeak. Why do you sound exactly like the same people have for the last decade? Could you do a study?*

    • Gregario Huxtable
      Gregario Huxtable  2 months back

      @beingatliberty "this is all we've known"

  • kriss mg
    kriss mg  3 days back

    Absolutely fascinating, really demonstrates the breadth and depth of music, but how can you have a video on falsetto and not feature Phillip Bailey the falsetto KING!

    • Nuts Hack
      Nuts Hack  3 days back

      you nailed it george!

      • Spazzy Avalanche
        Spazzy Avalanche  5 days back

        Freddie: Lap of the Gods


        • Jada Hall
          Jada Hall  5 days back

          I guess only white artists sing falsetto

          • manny Production
            manny Production  5 days back

            this was soooo goooodd

            • Emmanuel Campos
              Emmanuel Campos  5 days back

              YouTube "Miguel Aceves - El flautín del pastor". That is a mind-blowing falsetto

              • Reuben Butchart
                Reuben Butchart  5 days back

                Great video!! Cool to hear about falsettos through the ages...

                BUT, how could there be no mention of Smokey Robinson and Prince?
                Both HUGELY influential on all the artists mentioned.

                Smokey was crucial to the founding of the Motown business and the Motown sound – not only as an artist but as one of the primary early writers whose songs and influences shaped nearly every Motown Artist and others: The Spinners, The Stylistics, etc.

                And, Prince coming out of the 70's soul/funk/R&B tradition continued to use falsetto throughout his career in some of the most iconic ballads of the modern era – influencing heavy-weights like D'Angelo and every, every modern R&B singer. Prince was the great educator of entire genres, writing and performance styles to thousands of musicians following.

                Check it out. Thank you.

                • William McKenzie III
                  William McKenzie III  6 days back

                  This was amazing.

                  • Dowlphwin
                    Dowlphwin  6 days back

                    When singers optimize the sound of their music towards maximized profits, they become sirens.
                    You'll end up with a societal shipwreck.

                    • AltPopCovers
                      AltPopCovers  7 days back

                      These videos are hella entertaining! Gotta practice more falsetto!

                      • Charlie Butler
                        Charlie Butler  1 weeks back

                        A video about falsetto, and no mention of Jeff Buckley??

                        • Zarozinia
                          Zarozinia  1 weeks back

                          anyone else hear the discord notification at 11:27

                          • Daniel Harris
                            Daniel Harris  1 weeks back

                            If you're talking falsetto and not mentioning the likes PRINCE,SWITCH, AL GREEN, you need to go back to the drawing board.

                            • Jason Forster
                              Jason Forster  1 weeks back

                              BRIAN WILSON!?

                              • Kaitlyne Mcfarland
                                Kaitlyne Mcfarland  2 weeks back

                                Debarge ??

                                • Johan Bjork
                                  Johan Bjork  2 weeks back

                                  what’s the name of the Radiohead song?

                                  • ANTHONATOR Gaming
                                    ANTHONATOR Gaming  2 weeks back

                                    "But in the 90's something changed"
                                    *Anyone who knows what happened in the 90's:* "GRUNGE"
                                    Vox: "hiP-HoP"
                                    Sure, yeah that's what happened. Not the fact grunge went very into baritone range and not at all that hip hop wasn't massive at the time. (It was big, but not anywhere near massive)

                                    • Sarah medouni
                                      Sarah medouni  2 weeks back

                                      Yeah you're wrong .-. It was massive in the 90s and grunge died out pretty quick

                                  • james ewanchook
                                    james ewanchook  2 weeks back

                                    pointless waste of time proving nothing

                                    • Chadwick Jones
                                      Chadwick Jones  2 weeks back

                                      This is real

                                      • Nick Haldin
                                        Nick Haldin  2 weeks back

                                        The very last line: “it might feel like a trend today because it’s all we’ve known”...isn’t that the exact opposite of a trend?

                                      • Nick Haldin
                                        Nick Haldin  2 weeks back

                                        Great video as always. A subject I didn’t know I was interested in 😂

                                        • clairefm
                                          clairefm  3 weeks back

                                          when I think of someone singing high I think of Roger Taylor, have you heard 'in the lap of the gods' by Queen

                                          • Jolie Collier
                                            Jolie Collier  2 weeks back

                                            clairefm lap of the godssss....AAAAAhhhhhAhhhhhh 😂😂

                                        • Raul Dancel
                                          Raul Dancel  3 weeks back

                                          There’s another famous chair that traces its origin to the Philippines: the papasan, the pimp’s chair.

                                          • angiedione1
                                            angiedione1  3 weeks back

                                            How about the catholic peices in the baroque era that used castrati boys

                                            • Michael Taylor
                                              Michael Taylor  3 weeks back

                                              Just thinking about singing an entire song in falsetto makes my throat hurt.

                                              • Joye Holiday
                                                Joye Holiday  3 weeks back

                                                isn't there an opposite trend for women to have lower voices in their singing? just a thesis

                                                • Jonathan Guzman
                                                  Jonathan Guzman  3 weeks back

                                                  You must not know about bachata

                                                  • TRY RICH
                                                    TRY RICH  3 weeks back

                                                    Blk ppl call that soul I think

                                                    • Goat Goatington
                                                      Goat Goatington  3 weeks back

                                                      KEED TALK TO EM

                                                      • Carlos Martinez
                                                        Carlos Martinez  3 weeks back

                                                        Nothing average about your skills Ms. Caswell.

                                                        • Joshua May
                                                          Joshua May  3 weeks back

                                                          MARVIN GAYE THE KING

                                                          • Michael Lombard
                                                            Michael Lombard  3 weeks back

                                                            Just because the most "memorable" part is sung in falsetto, if thats the only line in the song sung that way it will score low.

                                                            • Michael Lombard
                                                              Michael Lombard  3 weeks back

                                                              So for men, Chest to Head = Full to False? But different for women?

                                                              • Michael Lombard
                                                                Michael Lombard  3 weeks back

                                                                Why didnt you look at SoundCloud? 35 million songs? SoundCloud has 125 Million songs! Everytime I look a song up on spotify i can never find it.

                                                                • Abe Aure
                                                                  Abe Aure  3 weeks back

                                                                  Nice at last Frankie Valli got mentioned!

                                                                  • Rashawn gt
                                                                    Rashawn gt  3 weeks back

                                                                    Cool but whats the point of this

                                                                    • Siana Gearz
                                                                      Siana Gearz  3 weeks back

                                                                      I love how much effort Estelle put into this!

                                                                      • Black_Ace 91
                                                                        Black_Ace 91  3 weeks back

                                                                        Prince hit a lot of ranges. Especially falsetto.

                                                                        • Lana Stark
                                                                          Lana Stark  3 weeks back

                                                                          I can't be the only one that noticed they used the Falsettos musical logo in their thumbnail but just took out the "s"

                                                                          • Heartworm Injection Okay?

                                                                            what about females singing low?

                                                                            • Sanjin Tskm
                                                                              Sanjin Tskm  4 weeks back

                                                                              I have seen those charts before.

                                                                              • Kenny Louis
                                                                                Kenny Louis  4 weeks back

                                                                                Rocket 2 U needs a little more cowbell.

                                                                                • C D
                                                                                  C D  4 weeks back

                                                                                  Wow Al B Sure! made it! Nice!

                                                                                  • Coco Pops
                                                                                    Coco Pops  4 weeks back

                                                                                    *not a single song by Prince?!! Listen to "I wanna be your lover"... All living under a rock*

                                                                                    • Johnny Vance
                                                                                      Johnny Vance  4 weeks back


                                                                                      • christhedemocrat
                                                                                        christhedemocrat  4 weeks back

                                                                                        Al Green (I'm Still in Love) , El D'barge (I like) and Prince (Adore and many others) the later two songs blew my mind

                                                                                        • Jack Carr
                                                                                          Jack Carr  4 weeks back

                                                                                          60s Bee Gees were better