In the beginning there was music, then came auto-tune

I bet Nick Clegg never imagined the music of Cher would impact upon his political career.

But like a crazed butterfly effect channelled through Kanye West’s mixing desk and the dreams of The Thick Of It’s scriptwriters, the Liberal Democrat leader will forever (we can dream) find himself linked to the crotchets of the campest woman in pop.

And it’s all thanks to the auto-tune button; conquerer of modern music, slayer of bum notes, the hemidemisemiquaver of Lib Dem nightmares.

Auto-tune was born in the late 1990s, a tool for music producers. It helped them digitally modify a singer’s pitch, subtly tweaking a vocal to keep it in tune. It was a new high/low in commercial music fakery and thus swung open the doors of possibility for manufactured pop, like a cackling robot sent to exterminate singers with, y’know, the ability to sing.

Dusty Springfield, down with thy dulcet tones! Frank Sinatra, we nullify your croon! Archangel Gabriel, put down your harp and pray, fall silent oh heavenly hosts! Welcome ye talent show contestants from Essex and RnB stars with nice bottoms!

Thankfully and brilliantly, Cher, or rather Cher’s sound engineers, blew the gaff and turned the auto-tune knob to MAXIMUM on 1998 megahit Believe.

And lo, the robot voice of modern pop was born and we toasted its arrival upon the Red Bull-sodden floors of nightclubs across the land.

A decade after Cher shared her secret, rapper Kanye West made an entire auto-tune album (808s & Heartbreak) while established singers like Madonna and country star Shania Twain have deployed the technique to keep them in tune during live shows.

And it’s not just mainstream artists twiddling their tonsils. Musicians with wholesome, unplugged reputations are at it too. Sufjan Stevens, multi-instrumentalist indie demigod, shocked his corduroy-clad followers in 2010 by dabbling in the dark art. Here he is auto-tuned off his head on the track Impossible Soul:

And American singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, whose husky tones are about as pure and wholegrain as a loaf of Cranks, flicks the switch to “auto” on 3,6,9 from her latest and critically-acclaimed album Sun.

So where will it end? Carols from King’s sung by an auto-tuned drunk? Once in Royal Auto-Tuned City? Nick Clegg in a bid for Christmas number one?

Thankyou Cher, but I believe in life after auto-tune and by, ooh, January 2013, I reckon it’ll sound so naff and dated its future will reside in pop purgatory, otherwise known as the Eurovision Song Contest. All set for the hipster revival of 2014, then.

Do you belieeeeeEEEEEeeve??

Anna Doble

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