Pet Please #98: Singers Who Write Their Own Songs

What does musical talent mean these days? Specifically in terms of lead singers or solo artists.

It’s almost unheard of that you’ll encounter a song where the lead singer’s voice hasn’t been digitally manipulated or aided by eight backup singers with way better voices. I don’t think people notice the difference anymore–we equate a digitally altered voice with, quite simply, a voice. That’s what singing sounds like now.

I would go as far as to say that a good sound team could make a voice even as terrible as mine sound good. It wouldn’t sound much like me, but you’d find yourself bopping your head to the rhythm (it would be folk-alternative) on your drive home from work, just like any other song.


I’ve thought about this for a while, but the pieces didn’t really come together until I recently read a touching open letter from Sinead O’Connor to Miley Cyrus. The letter is mostly a cautionary note about how the music industry will get Cyrus to sexualize her music and herself to make more money.

One of the interesting things about the letter is that O’Connor kept referring to Cyrus’ talent. “You have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you,” O’Connor says.

So I can’t help but think: Is Miley Cyrus talented? Because of the aforementioned digital manipulation and backup singers, we have very little idea of whether or not she’s a good singer. So how do we judge talent now? How does O’Connor know that Cyrus is talented?

Is a lead singer or solo artist talented if they’re a good performer on stage? Are they talented if they choose the right songs for their albums? Do they have any choice in the matter or are their lives (at least, the mega stars) dictated by a team of suits?

This gets back to the title of this post. I think a big part of talent is the ability to create something from scratch. In the music industry, that starts with songwriting (lyrics and music). Thus it always makes me happy to learn when a singer writes most of his or her own songs. It literally makes me enjoy the song more when I know that. Perhaps it’s something about the way music can move us–we feel a connection to the singer when we listen, and we want that connection to be real, not something manufactured by some corporate machine.

The internet tells me that Cyrus has written some songs, but not her mega hits. Thus I’ll continue to sing along to Wrecking Ball, but it just isn’t the same.

Do you know of any musicians who write their own songs and have great voices?

You may have noticed that we are rapidly approaching pet please #100, which is pretty cool, because “pet please” wasn’t even a real term 4 years ago. If you have any suggestions for #100, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if there’s one I really like.

7 thoughts on “Pet Please #98: Singers Who Write Their Own Songs”

  1. I’m completely infatuated with Lorde – a 16 yr old from NZ who writes her own songs. Her voice is lovely. Yes, she has backup singers she does harmonies with, but the music itself is bare-bones and her voice is spectacular IMO – especially for a 16 yr old. Love the song “Royals” which is a big hit in the US right now.

  2. My dig for the back half of 2013 has been Trenton Woodley. He is the vocalist and lyricist for Hands Like Houses, a group from down under. Dude has incredible vox talent, and is the most impressive lyricist I’ve run across in quite some time. Definitely recommended.

  3. When I think of talent, true talent, I think of people like Adele, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Elvis, Johnny Cash, some of the greats that wrote most, if not all of their music (not sure on Whitney/Celine). They could also sing completely a capella and blow your mind with just their voice. That’s amazing.

    I do actually think Miley has talent, she’s just seeking the way to get the most attention because she wants to make a statement or something, and she’s pretty dang successful with that too! Here’s a video of her pre-twerk days singing “Lilac Wine”, which has a very Nancy Sinatra/Patsy Cline/Nina Simone feel to it. She would’ve been great with that sort of sound! But alas, it’s not about making really good music anymore, it’s about shock value and getting to the top of the charts by all means necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t get Wrecking Ball and Can’t Stop out of my head, so she’s got something going for her. But it’s not music I respect. It’s just so damn catchy.

    • Wow! I know she got a voice, but that was great! She sounds amazing. Why isn’t she using that instead of nudity? I just watched the Wrecking Ball and Can’t Stop official videos and they were terrible. I like this version better. Anyway, the top comments of both videos are porn related. I don’t think that was her aim, right? I wish Miley sings her heart out, not take her clothes off, because when I heard The Climb she was Miley Cyrus, not Hanana Montana.

      What a shame that she turned to that. Gross!

  4. Thank you all for your recommendations. I’ve heard of Lorde and everyone on Leandra’s list, but not Trenton Woodley. Also, I should add in Lady Gaga as someone who has really impressed me when she just sings instead of performs. There’s one video on YouTube of her singing and playing the piano that showcases her musical talents. I also saw an acoustic show for Guster a few years ago that was incredible.

  5. Too many to list here. Though, I’ll give you a few. Lately, I’ve been listening to Iron and Wine, City and Color, and Jonathan Tyler. All write their own music. All really awesome in their own way. Sometimes mellow. Sometimes rock your face off!! Have fun exploring music!


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