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.
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.