For the contemporary female pop star singing is still not seen as deliberate work, but rather effusive labor.
Rifle through enough music blogs and you’ll start to see hundreds of them: young duos in overexposed press photos, probably from Brooklyn, with a girl at the mic and a guy at the knobs. At shows she hangs toward the lip of the stage, pushing lungfuls through her pipes, swaddled in reverb, fog, and purple light. The blogs might describe her as wistful or ethereal or pretty. She might be called a chanteuse, even a seductress. Meanwhile, he’s at the back, hood up, head down, eyes on the machinery, working furiously.
It’s an arrangement that makes sense to consumers of music and critics alike. We listen to women the same way we look at them. Like beauty, a woman’s voice emanates from her body without visible effort. Listeners don’t hear the voice as an instrument, but as a primal extension of the singer herself, a through-line from her anatomy to yours. The voice is a component of a woman’s affect—never learned, never forced, but something she’s born possessing. Watch the audition episodes of shows like American Idol and the Voice. Like beauty, vocal talent rests on a binary: You have it or you don’t.