REVIEW: Haley Reinhart’s “Better” is Better LIVE

I’m sorry. I LOVE Haley Reinhart. She is, without a doubt, easily one of the best vocalists to EVER come off of American Idol. And, I want few things more than to see her musical career take off.

But the studio recording of her new single, quite frankly, shouldn’t have made it past the cutting board.

I don’t mean to suggest that it is a bad song–on the contrary, it is a pretty decent song, ESPECIALLY when Haley delivers one of her signature STUNNING LIVE VOCAL PERFORMANCES. But somehow, when she got into the studio, AMAZING melted into FORGETTABLE.

Let’s be clear: this is NOT a new problem. This is EXACTLY the same problem that haunted the commercial underperformance of Haley’s debut album, Listen Up. Haley delivered solid vocal performances while for some reason leaving out the wow factor that her audiences have come to expect from a live performance.

Ironically, the studio version of “Better” sounds very much like it could have been a featured track on Listen Up. In its current incarnation, it just doesn’t have a chance.

Every time Haley has found success, it has been when she opens up and delivers a stunning raw performance.

That is how she found success on American Idol.

That is how she found success with her one-take viral covers with Postmodern Jukebox.

That is how she was able to bring an old love song to life for a viral Extra gum commercial.

And that is why she FAILS when her producers accept a bland studio performance from her.

Conclusion

Maybe Haley’s label can’t or won’t give her access to high end producers who are extremely talented at extracting an optimal vocal performance from her. My hope is that Haley will read these words and take them to heart, so that she can “listen” to the sound of her own voice.

So take one more listen at what could have been, and tell Haley that she can do “Better.” Bad pun intended.

THE END… & some more detailed critique for the masochists–

Just to be clear, the problem is NOT that Haley’s performance is sub-par relative to a typical current popstar. In fact, it would be a perfectly acceptable performance on a Demi Lovato track. BUT, this is NOT current music. This song is out of its time. It doesn’t fit alongside current hits. If Haley wants to pull this music into a time where it doesn’t “belong,” then she has to fight against gravity. She HAS to produce something that stands out, that grips the audience emotionally, and drags them into her circle.

To quote my boyfriend, “It is perfect background music. I can totally ignore it.”

He was referencing the end of the studio recording, where Haley repeats “I’m feelin’ better feelin’ better feelin’ better now” ad nauseam.

She uses the softer, growly, lower tonalities to build into a breakout point that never comes. At peak, she is still using growly lower register, just louder. It doesn’t work. Then, she just kindof falls back into that pattern at the end & puts it on repeat.

The studio version fails to make full use of Haley’s range & vocal technique. I want to hear some signature Haley vocal acrobatics around the bridge. The song generally fails to make use of the upper part of Haley’s range. It is positively BEGGING for a vocal breakaway at the high point of the song.

The lack of a breakaway into higher tonality detracts from the emotional capacity of the song. Physiologically, real emotions cause the vocal range to move higher. By not breaking out into higher parts of her range, Haley precludes herself from FEELING and CONVEYING the full potential emotional impact of the song. We can passively enjoy it, sure, but it isn’t going to grip our attention and drive us in droves to the iTunes store a la Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece” performance a few weeks ago.

Haley’s strength is in her attention to detail.  In short, she needs to focus on FEELING the song that she is singing, and she needs to feel free to improvise.

The instant you start listening to “Creep,” the quintessential example of optimal Haley vocal performance, you hear her move into clear, full, multi-tonal that are drawn emotionally with a kind of crystal clear and lattice-like subtlety, which neglects no part of her range.

She needs a sharper cleaner intonation rising into blissful high notes.She needs to be free to improvise. She needs to focus on the details and really feel what she is singing, so that she can really connect with the song and with her audience.

When she does, there is no stopping her.

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pdaines

Peter Daines is a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. His interests include studying foreign languages, watching and predicting events in politics and the music industry, and searching fruitlessly for the meaning of life.

22 thoughts on “REVIEW: Haley Reinhart’s “Better” is Better LIVE”

  1. Criticism when structured is always welcomed.However Haley Reinhart like a lot of other artistes before her will look back and think of things they would do differently. Hindsight is exactly what it says on the tin. Haley is evolving,maturing and finding her direction. Let’s just accept the album for what it is and look at it as a step on the ladder of success, with bigger and Better things (pun intended) awaiting this talented lady.

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  2. Agreed. I’m a little sad at this seeming redux of problems. I’ll correct you in that Haley does not have a label. She has Ole. They are a rights and publishing Co. They are her Extra Gum and Chase placement saviors. Haley is in contract as a writer for Ole. In her contract Ole is to provide for a release as a carrot. But there in lies the problem. They have no idea.

    My thoughts are that Ole chooses. Haley writes with Ole writers, the direction benefits Ole (also benefitting Haley, but not as an individual artist on the cusp). I don’t doubt that there are a multitude of placements in mind with this music. But what of Haley’s new found audience? These people are not preteens, they are adult music lovers – those that fell under the spell of her music with Scott Bradlee. Have you read the plaintive cries for more and marriage from adult men and women alike? She’s had an intensely loyal following from Metal fan/PMJ moonlighters growing. Metal is waiting for the coming of a goddess to save it, and they’ve become very open minded. This was the golden ticket that somehow got thrown out. Of course, it was. Ole’s interests are commercial (literally). Now the benefit for Haley is a solid income independent of any kind of song release, all artists would die for this kind of income stream. I hope she can extricate herself from some of this in the future, but I think having money to help your family would trump things especially for someone like Haley, who is extremely dedicated to friends and family, and whose cherished people are from little means.

    What to do, what to do. Buy the CD keep supporting. She says she is in constant contact with many labels (lets hope). But, go see her live, you will not be disappointed. It truly is a religious experience to hear that voice – it’s transcending.

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    1. I really do like that Haley has found a solid commercial market for her music that can help her maintain an income stream, and I have already pre-ordered the album. It just pains me to see history repeat itself.

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  3. People reading the author’s post should understand that Haley has an intensely protective fanbase. A seriously protective global fanbase. Many of whom only want the very best for her. They wring their hands in worry for her. They want what’s on the radio to change, and believe Haley has that change in her somewhere.

    I think the author and many others WANT so bad, of Haley to sing music of a certain preference. Haley is so versatile that she can, and very well might please just about everybody a one point in her young career or another. Remember that there are certain powers that control, even still. Haley is not a grounded spirit, she likes to fly. I have no doubt that she will take many different creative turns. Have you met her? She’s got a lot of moxy and so does her Lawyer the fabulous Dina LaPolt, who has done so much in bringing Haley into “The knowing”. I don’t doubt that to some extent Haley has entered the outer orbit of the power player realm.

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  4. This Daine Dude sounds like a snibbling east coast leftwing elitist snob to me with a corncob stuck up his butt, as the best part of the song is Ms. Reinhart’s vocals, which are immaculate and far better than most pop singers today can crank out. Indeed, the notion that she also has to sing as if she is Janice Joplin on steroids all the time or otherwise fail is utterly unhinged. This moonbat can go fly a kite.

    Moreover, the song was released just yesterday, thus how can he review a song so quickly when it takes the vast overwhelming majority of us other mere mortal human beings several listens and several days for the melody and vocals to sink in and grow on us. Is he super human or something? Yeah right…a legend in his own mind. Indeed, unless it is a cover song, I don’t remember ever falling in love with a song on the first listen. As they all routinely have to grow on me over time first.

    Hence, for someone like this snobbish moonbat to have a published review on the Internet already, tells me that not only does this snob not have a freaking clue what the heck he is talking about, but that he also has a strong personal dislike for Ms. Reinhart for some odd freaky reason and is therefore deliberately trying to harm her and her career.

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    1. 1) It’s Daines; I am from a tiny, secluded valley in the rocky mountains; media sources frequently publish reviews immediately upon release; and I am actually a pretty big fan of Haley who has already pre-ordered her album, and who hopes that she can break out into the mainstream.
      2) My motivation for publishing this article is not to harm Haley, but to communicate with her what I see as impediments to her breaking into mainstream media.

      Haley doesn’t have the typical entourage of a major female popstar (like Adele, Taylor Swift, or Beyonce). She doesn’t have the same support structure in terms of writers, producers, and advertisers. All she has is her magnificent voice. When she uses her voice effectively, she can break past the tipping point and become a viral phenomenon.

      When she sings music that is out of its time, without all of the bells and whistles of a modern pop star, she HAS to give a viral-level vocal performance in order to break out.

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    2. Aw yes. I forgot to mention that I agree with you wholeheartedly that Haley’s vocals are still easily the best part of the song in either of its incarnations.

      I want every single Haley releases to be as epicly soulful and technically perfect as “Creep” because Haley is clearly capable of DOING that. I am especially certain of that with THIS particular song, which she has in fact sang substantially better in live performances, recordings of which are actually available online.

      There is a problem when your studio recordings don’t sound as good as your live performances. That means you could benefit from a better producer, one who is capable of bringing out your most stunning possible vocal performance. Haley may not have access to top-of-the line producers yet at the current stage of her career, but… Crowdsourcing?

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree that Better could be from Listen Up. When I bought the deluxe cd, I did not stop listening to it for months and then there were many returns of the CD to my ears after that. Therefore I am glad that Better is a return to the same musical format.

    I was somewhat disappointed that Show Me Your Moves is not on it. I do hope that she has songs and styles added to her repertoire some so that showcases her growth and strength since Listen Up. I love her voice in so many different styles and she seems to love all styles of music. I would love to hear the album that has her doing all original songs from retro to rock to jazz to blues to funk. She has the voice that would make that album pop.

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  6. Nobody gives a crap where you are from you moonbat. Not only that, but you are obviously not qualified to review anything, much less music, and nobody unless they have their minds made up already can write a review fairly and publish it on the same freaking day a brand new song is released. Which informs us what your real motivations are.

    Not to mention, that Ms. Reinhart couldn’t give a flying hoot about the dumb opinion of a lunatic like you. In fact, she already forgot astronomically far more about what makes good music than a lunatic like you will ever come close to knowing in your pathetic miserable life, so get lost you looser. Leave her alone.

    I don’t know where you people get off trying to direct her music career from afar, as if it is your own. It’s not, it’s her freaking career, not your freaking career so STFU and let her pave her own damn way. If you don’t like her music, then don’t buy it. You are not obligated to. You are just one fan with one opinion of many fans with opinions too. You really think she is dumb enough to listen to a moonbat like you, especially after you just deliberately trashed her. Give me a freaking break you pathetic looser.

    Furthermore, like virtually all other professional artists she learned a long time ago to never read reviews of her music, as art is subjective.

    Moreover, your review is the most adolescent review I have ever read in my entire life. Her vocals on this track are absolutely immaculate. In fact, it is the main thing that stands out on this track when you first hear it, especially in the first half the song. Indeed, that’s the first thing you notice immediately when the track starts. Her vocals are stunning and very super impressive.

    Yet according to you, an utter nobody and a wannabe reviewer, every song she sings regardless of the genre or of the lyrics is supposed to be as dynamic and as soulful as Creep, or otherwise of similar epic proportions. Look moonbat, nobody cares about your unhinged opinions. You are just one looser, and the world is filled with losers. So get lost you loser and get over your narcissistic arrogant self you moonbat. You are just a wannabe, but you actually are a nobody.

    By the way, you moonbat, Ms. Reinhart’s first album didn’t underperform because of her vocals, instead it underperformed because Jimmy Iovine left Interscope to join Apple and Ms. Reinhart and a lot of other artists as well as a direct result ended up getting cut. For Ms. Reinhart it was especially bad timing and bad luck, as she had several songs on her first album, like “Undone” and “Oh My”, for instance, that were sure bets to chart. In fact, I bet “Undone” would have been one of the year’s top songs had she not been cut by Interscope very unfairly. So not only are your opinions adolescent with respect to “Better”, but your assumptions regarding her first album are also infantile. Way to go moonbat. Your career is off to a blazing start. What an ill-informed loser you are.

    If you had any decency, you’d retract your idiotic review and apologize for your stupidity to Ms. Reinhart.

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  7. Beef Stroganoff, What’s a moonbat anyhow? Please explain this 🙂 Sorry dpaines but wouldn’t it be good for a laugh? I’m sure the response will be a great one.

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    1. Oh, I laughed a bundle when I first saw that response, although I kindof glazed over the “moonbat” part, which he kept or keeps repeating for some reason. I guess he is making some kind of vague vampire reference because vicious people in the media feed off of the blood of their victims? Or perhaps he is just calling me crazy—bats have tiny brains & can’t see & ancient peoples thought that staring at the moon caused various forms of mental illness. Considering the moon’s strong association with women’s periods & PMS, I would have to suggest that Beef is actively perpetuating a set of vile, sexist traditions, quite contrary to Haley’s feminist goals? ;P

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  8. In response to meetsdeadlines, a moonbat is just an idiot like you and PDaines that believes they have far superior intelligence and knowledge relative to everyone else; when the fact of the matter is they are just really morons. Indeed, the word “moonbat” characterizes PDaines and you perfectly. Thanks for asking for clarification. I appreciate it.

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    1. So, you think that you have more knowledge and intelligence than either of us, and that is how you are so certain that we are just morons? In fact, you have so much knowledge and intelligence that you find it appropriate to coin a new term in the English language simply to describe the idiocy of others? OK. ;P

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  9. Pdaines…you could add food critic as a second career. Next time you’re out for dinner, may I suggest the grilled moonbat…I would avoid the stroganoff.

    For those of us who love The Slayer, Haley Reinhart, we can be somewhat taken aback when someone expresses an opinion that is not glowing in its content. However, everyone has an opinion. Your desire for Haley to breakout as chart busting Pop Star though is misplaced based on her style and discriminating fanbase. Her eclectic supporters have a diverse take on what she should produce…whether it be jazz, rock, blues or old school. We enjoy that diversity, yet most of us never envision The Slayer being a pop princess. So your constructive criticism, though well intentioned, many will say is misguided. I, for one, enjoy everything she does and will support her in whatever direction she chooses. She has that once in a generation voice and persona!

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  10. I have heard the album. Sha(cough)zam, Touch(cough)Tunes.

    I will tell you that it is very different from what pop music has been accustomed to as of late. Some tracks seem a full on fusion of mid to late 80s and 70s pop radio funk. This is quite a surprise. There is no reason to the album. It’s a hodgepodge of songs. Production is overpowering in some of it. Too many bits tossed in to dress things. Haley’s voice often seems like it’s channel is off a transistor radio – very tinny (as in can – on purpose?) and tiny (as in small) at times. Also there is a somewhat nagging awareness of the fact that these songs were not written with this band. This band was formed years after the songs were written in order to record. Haley, you need to have a band. It would help you so much to write together.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens. Will the kiddos and pop radio, bite? If so, I can see some very poppy earworms here that may take off. I also see multiple placement opportunities. So, in that vein this may be a group of very successful songs for Haley and Ole. I don’t think that this album is one that PMJ lovers will worship. This album is unabashedly directed elsewhere – which I believe was the master plan 🙂 Ole has dealed up with many outlets, so there will be push on this album.

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  11. I hate reviews like this.A reviewer is not suppose to come off sounding like her would be manager or a would be musical adviser who presumes to know what’s best for her.Or somehow make it look lie she miscalculated in making this album.

    The truth is -this is the album she wanted to make.And sure,she would like it to be as commercially succesful as possible but she’s not gonna cry if doesn’t outsell some of the newer pop divas on the scene.I’ve been following her since she left Idol and the only real misstep she’s taken from a musical standpoint is a single released a year or so ago that turned out to be a cheesy attempt at a dance video.And it was not lost on her fans who generally didn’t respond to it nor did it sell well either.

    And it might come as a surprise to the reviewer that her fan base is not only fanatical about her but its also very diverse including many people who are considerably older than 20.I don’t know how any of these songs are gonna do as singles.Who knows really- audiences are fickle.In truth her best selling song to date is a 60 year old Elvis Presley song with nothing but piano for accompaniment.Which only goes to show her versatility and the appeal of her voice.

    The album only came out today but her fans are thrilled by it.We’ll see how it does but until then reviews like this are worthless.

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  12. Late to the party here but just saw Haley last night in Chicago. I completely understand where pdaines is coming from. The first thing I told my daughter was that the songs from Better sounded a thousand times better live than how they were recorded on the album. They are so toned down on the recording trying to play too much to the pop / crooner type sound.

    I certainly don’t want Haley to be the next pop star. We have enough of those. Haley is a rocker at heart and her live performance confirms that to the utmost. They could have lost the poppy background singers in the studio and just let the guitar snarl like they do live. So much better. I hope she can get down to her rock roots the next time she’s in the studio.

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