Freddie Mercury, and his band Queen, had vast crowds clapping and singing along to their infectious tunes during their high-energy performances. Aretha Franklin made jaws drop with her impressive, live vocal runs. Michael Jackson left audiences in awe with his outer worldly high notes inside his expansive range. These are all excellent examples of skilled vocalists in times past, who dominated in popularity during their heyday. Aretha, Freddie, and Michael are all illustrations of being the voice of their generation, with their actual vocals being so closely associated to the time period when they were at their peak. But now in 2021, I’ve begun to ponder who has the best voice in pop music right now?
As I contemlated who the potential title holder should be, I decided a few preliminary regulations should be put in order. First off, in popular music today, it’s noticeable that artists at the pinnacle of their career tend to be on the younger side, oftentimes being under the age of 40. So, I’ve made the birthdate cutoff for these singers the year 1986, leaving every artist in the running to be 35 years of age and younger. In addition, the younger an artist is, the healthier and more elastic their voice tends to be. After years and years of world tours and starving the voice of it’s much needed rest, a singer’s vocals tend to wear out and weaken. With these rules in place, I will sadly have to exclude formidable vocalists such as Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera. While they both still have astounding pipes, they’ve most likely already reached the peak of their popularity, as some would argue Christina’s peak was during her 2002 ‘Stripped’ album and Beyoncé’s during her 2008 ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’ project. Also, given that both Aguilera and Knowles started their music careers while they were in their teens, their voices have matured and become less flexible as they enter their 40s. Lastly, neither of them have dominated the charts with solo hits in recent years, I fully believe they still have plenty of gas left in the tank, but in this exact moment in time, I don’t feel as if they are the most relevant of artists.The final restriction I’ll put in place is that they’ve had to have a hit song(s) in the past ten years to prove their relevance in music today, and to show they’re not just a talented songster from decades ago.
Another topic I would like to cover before I reveal who made it into the running is the absence of the male popstar on this list. In short, I never discovered a male vocalist who could hold their own against the women who made it into the top five. Throughout my research, I did find that singers such as Zayn Malik and Shawn Mendes absolutely kill it vocally. Both of their upper registers, and falsettos are unparalleled, but sadly they still don’t make the cut because they don’t exercise as many different vocal talents like the others. The five soon to be mentioned singers can either riff and run up a storm, hold notes to no end, obtain a mastery over the different vocal registers, effectively perform consistent vibrato live, or practice singing with a healthy technique.
As I previously stated, I’ve settled on five artists who I believe raise the bar in the world of music and singing. These vocalists will take the 5th through 1st slots on this list, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a very close race to secure a spot on top. Along the way I’ll also quickly mention a few other talented singers who almost made the cut, as well as discuss some other voices that have taken today’s music by storm. One more thing I’d like to touch on before we jump in is how I’m choosing which voice takes which spot. There are a lot of factors that are taken into consideration, it’s not just about having a ridiculously broad range. It’s about being a unique, multitalented, and dynamic artist who has spent countless hours devoted to improving their abilities. So without further ado, here is the 5th entrant on our list…
Making her way to the podium is the incomparable Jessie J! Making her debut on the scene in 2011, with catchy songs like ‘Domino’ and ‘Price Tag’ feat. B.o.B., Jessie J captured fans’ hearts with her lovable personality and uplifting messages. But even more evident was her powerhouse vocal ability, with her range spanning three octaves. This soprano packs a real punch, she displayed her extensive skills in her most notable song, ‘Bang Bang’ feat. Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj. While she does have one of the strongest voices on this list, she ranked at the fifth and final position only because she’s only had a finite number of hits where she’s been able to exhibit her exuberant voice. At only 33 years of age, I certainly hope Jessie J gets a few more chances to present her stellar pipes for all the world to see.
Moving on, the next singer on our list is best known for her undeniably unique performances and spectacular live vocals. Her real name is Stefani Germanotta but she’s best known to her fans, The Little Monsters, as Lady Gaga! Bursting onto the music scene in 2008 with instant classics like ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’, Gaga proved she was a force to be reckoned with. Songs like ‘Perfect Illusion’ and ‘Shallow’ with Bradley Cooper present her extraordinary belting abilities and unwavering vibrato. With a three octave range under her belt, Lady Gaga has shown great improvement in her technique over her 13 years in the industry, and proved to listeners that she’s more than just a Bubblegum Popstar! Turning 35 years old this past March, everyone’s favorite Mother Monster has become a multi-talented vocalist that continues to take the Pop Music genre by the reigns. With no obvious signs of wear and tear on her agile voice, we’re blessed to be able to enjoy and listen to the artist that is Lady Gaga for many more years to come.
Taking the 3rd spot on our stacked list of exceptionally talented singers is the one and only Demi Lovato! Making her debut on the charts with her first solo album, ‘Don’t Forget’ in 2008, Lovato revealed her fierce vocal ability to the world when she was only 16 years old. She’s written and sung handfuls of hits, many of which flaunt her unbelievably thunderous voice. ‘Fall in Line’ with Christina Aguilera showcases just how high she can belt in her chest voice, while ‘Wildfire’ introduces us to her amazing whistle register. Demi’s voice is certainly not lacking in potency, nor emotion, however, this doesn’t mean she is without flaws. There is no doubt in my mind that she could bring the house down singing one of her many vocally challenging songs, but oftentimes her voice sounds a little too scream-y. A truly exceptional vocalist can master the art of singing powerfully but still not over do it. This isn’t saying Demi has issues controlling her voice, but I do sometimes feel she can sing a little too ‘hard’ for many peoples liking.
Following Demi Lovato, and taking the number two spot is the delightful Adele! Frequently compared to the late great Amy Winehouse because of her mature lyrics and distinct tone, Adele became well known for writing the most heart wrenching, yet elegant songs about her past relationships. Across three critically acclaimed albums, Adele unleashed her powerful, yet honest voice to audiences across the globe. Bearing a three octave range, Adele presents her top notch belting ability in songs like ‘Hello’ and ‘Rolling in the Deep’. But she still leaves audiences in tears with the amount of raw emotion infused in the way she sings songs like ‘When We Were Young’ and ‘Don’t You Remember’. Her soulful tone of voice is unlike any other on this list, Adele without a doubt is the most authentic singer-songwriter in Pop Music today. This does come with its drawbacks though, many have theorized the British Songstress has suffered vocal damage over the years by exercising unhealthy singing techniques. Her recent performance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ displayed her forever pleasant vocal tone, but also left fans concerned after she dodged the high note in her song ‘Someone Like You’. Regardless of the current state of her voice, we should be grateful for the masterpiece LP’s she’s delivered over the years, and get excited for her fourth studio album rumored to be released in these coming months.
Before I reveal who I placed in the number one position, I’d like to discuss a few honorable mentions. Artists like Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and Camila Cabello are all exceptionally talented in their own right, however, this list is specified to cover solely vocal ability, and I didn’t feel they were quite to the caliber as the other vocalists in the top five. However, they still carry distinct voices that have gifted them great success in the music industry. Also, I’d like to acknowledge a couple more artists whose voices have greatly enhanced over time and are worthy of recognition. Both Kesha and Billie Eilish have impressed me with how much their voices have improved throughout their careers. Kesha stunned the world with her release of a song ‘Praying’ which shed light to her excellent belting ability, emotion, and of course that wicked high note. Billie, on the other hand, sings in a very soft, and light manner, with the exception of songs like ‘No Time To Die’ and ‘wish you were gay’. So when I began analyzing her performances, I noticed how she exhibits extraordinary control over her voice given how airy her singing style is. But still, there lies only one artist who stands tall above the others and takes the cake…
That person is the outstanding, iconic, and infinitely talented, Ariana Grande! Stealing our hearts way back in 2010 when she portrayed the character of Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon show, ‘Victorious’, Grande has without a doubt been an artist who defined the 2010’s. Making her solo debut in 2013, Ariana released ‘Yours Truly’ a 13-track album that instantly proved her vocal potential. The lead single off of her first LP, titled ‘The Way’ featuring Mac Miller, disclosed her capacity to effortlessly enter into her whistle register. To this day she continues to reach unbelievably high notes, and it has now become her signature, with many claiming she’s the modern day Mariah Carey. Now eight years into her career, Ariana has shown no signs of slowing down, with her voice indicating no obvious signs of fatigue or injury. In 2020 she released her most recent album ‘Positions’ which features songs like ‘shut up’ and ‘my hair’ that illustrate her continued prowess over the different vocal registers. The rest of her discography includes even more vocally elastic tunes such as ‘Dangerous Woman’, ‘Into You’, and ‘Problem’ featuring Iggy Azalea that exemplify her seamlessly high belting, healthy technique, and impressive ability to riff and run. Ariana Grande is a gifted Soprano with an extensive four octave vocal range, but placing her at the top of this list doesn’t mean she’s a flawless practitioner of her instrument. When Grande sings, she tends to mumble over her lyrics, leaving her diction and enunciation being noticeably sub-par, especially in comparison to the other skilled vocalists on the list. However, this may actually be deemed a style choice for her, and it’s really an insignificant issue as it doesn’t damage her voice or have any serious or harmful repercussions.
Music today is full of a variety of different sounds and unique singers, but I think it really makes a difference if an artist has great control over their voice. A truly great vocalist is someone who is disciplined and can pull off a show stopping live performance. Everyone on this list effectively displays both of those qualities, and I think it’s why they’re such treasured, distinct, and adept artists. I believe that in Pop music, production and lyrics are only half the battle, it’s having a dynamic voice that accounts for so much of an artists success. So next time you’re listening to a singer on the radio, take a second to appreciate the hard work and time they’ve poured into not only their music, but their voice too.
[Image Credits: Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan]