Cursive singing is a pretty new term that just popped up within the last decade of music. What is it, exactly? Cursive singing is a stylistic approach that some singers take to their performance to enhance their sound with long (and sometimes strange) vowels, vocal fry, lack of diction, and note sliding. Now I'm not here to bag on the style; I think it works really well in some instances if it isn't overdone. The problem is that many beginner singers take on this approach without trying to develop their own unique sound.
Some people will say that cursive singing has been around since the 90s and early 2000s and that there just wasn't an official term for it. Singers including Macy Gray, Diana Vickers, and Corinne Bailey Rae have been said to use this method throughout some of their songs, with jazzy improvisations including note slides and slurs that give their vocals a bit of a lazy effect.
Before 2017, "cursive singing" was a term people used here and there to describe a person that sounds bad, sounds drunk, or is in a way that it's hard to understand the lyrics at all. Some would even say that singing is like talking in cursive, so there was no set meaning for the term. People began describing singers, including SZA and Khalid, on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, as "singing in cursive" for their lazy-singing dramatization.
Tik Tok content creators noted the trend of rising pop music in particular and began to make the term "cursive singing" widely known by mocking uploads of singers who try too hard with this method. One very popular example that I've added above shows how to cursive sing, AKA singing like an "indie girl".
One element of cursive singing involves diphthongs. For some words that performers sing, the vowels don't just have one simple sound like "ahh" or "ooh". There is a combination of vowels, and a singer usually emphasizes the first vowel and saves the second for the end of the note right before the following consonant. For cursive singing, singers dramatically emphasize both vowels, sometimes even adding an extra vowel for dramatic effect.
Vocal fry is the lowest form of your register that you can access by lightly making a rattling sound on the vowel "uhhhh" for example. Approaching vowels with vocal fry adds an element of flavor to your tone that can help get your point across well in songs dealing with topics like love and loss.
Slurring your words by dropping consonants and having bad vowel placement can also be a way to cursive sing, which is often why this method gets complaints. But sometimes, for an emotional vocal performance, it may be a great idea to slur your speech and make it difficult to hear what you're saying if you're singing very sad lyrics, for example.
Along with emphasized diphthongs, a cursive singing style can also include slurred notes where the singer slides up to the note that they are aiming for with a lazy approach. Again, this works well for someone singing about being tired or drained emotionally, but the technique shouldn't be overdone.
In addition to the early pioneers that I mentioned before, singers including Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, Jessie Reyez, Halsey, Jorja, Lorde, and Sia have been said to sing in cursive in their songs. Jorja is accused of doing it quite often, but I also find that she has a great voice outside of that technique, so people shouldn't be that critical of her.
Oddly enough, this technique is mainly used by popular female pop artists, not males. You may be able to find several indie singers on sites like Tik Tok and Instagram who are males and using some elements of this approach, but it seems like it's mostly reserved for the girls.
The most obvious problem with cursive singing is that it can be overdone rather easily. Too many weird vowels, slurred lyrics, sliding, and vocal fry will make it sound like the singer doesn't actually have a good voice at all. Pairing cursive singing with bad intonation and general musical inexperience is a sure way to sound a hot mess, which is why Tik Tok was able to easily pick up the trend and make the term go viral.
I think cursive singing works best when you know your own unique sound, don't overdo it, and pair it with emotionally resonant lyrics and energy in the song. Singers like Amy Winehouse and Sia demonstrate a good amount of balance when it comes to vocal ornaments like these and keeping things simple and easy to enjoy.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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