About 13 months ago I posted an observation about a tendency of younger women to project thin little pipsqueak voices and use mallspeak accents and phrasings in order to sound average and blend into the crowd. I flashed back to this a few nights ago as I listened to Cowboys & Aliens star Olivia Wilde talk to Jimmy Kimmel. She’s beautiful but her voice has no particular flavor and distinction.
Wilde is supposed to be a star in the making but she sounds like a checkout girl. Her voice is almost stunning in its flatness, and it makes her sound glib and unexceptional. She opens her mouth and…that’s it? A woman with a face as exquisite as Wilde’s ought to have some kind of soulful, cultured, knowing, inner-oomph voice to go with it…but no.
I had the same reaction to Blake Lively‘s voice when she visited Late Night with David Letterman to plug The Town. This? She sounds like a sixteen year-old from a suburb of Akron or Denver or Orlando, or…I don’t know, somebody who works for a downtown Manhattan accounting firm. She doesn’t sound like a tenacious lady who’s been around and taken legendary iPhone pics of herself in the bathroom and portrayed a frayed floozy in The Town and who will soon be swirling around Europe with Leonardo DiCaprio.
Who has a voice that matters? One with a little sass and intrigue and conviction, that cracks at times or has a breathy quality? Emma Stone, for sure. Elle Fanning has a voice with faint undercurrents of hurt and need. Amy Adams has a voice in The Fighter that suffers no fools. Katie Holmes‘ voice has a genuine something-or-other…a “been-around and known some disappointment” quality. Kristen Stewart sounds like she’s actually lived a life and has some convictions about this and that. Cameron Diaz sounds like a girly-girl, but her voice has a playful spirited quality and she knows how to sound hurt and nihilistic. Debra Winger has a real voice. Sassy Fran Drescher obviously had a voice in the ’90s. Michele Rodriguez has a voice right now.
Here’s that June 2010 piece I mentioned, called “Chirpy Minnie Mouse.”
“It hit me a day or two ago that an awful lot of women these days — actresses and broadcasters to some extent, but mainly average, non-famous women in the under-30 range (including movie publicists) — speak with thin little pipsqueak voices. Couple this with a general tendency to use mallspeak accents and phrasings (which 85% to 90% of under-30 women have done in order to sound like everyone else) and it almost seems as if inane peep-peep voices have become a kind of generational signature.
“Go to any bar and restaurant and walk around and listen to women’s voices…’peepity-peep-peep’ and ‘squeakity-squeak-squeak,’ over and over and over.
“For whatever reason these women have decided that sultry, smoky, husky voices — the kind that Lauren Bacall and Glenda Jackson and Anne Bancroft and Patricia Neal used to play like soulful wind instruments — aren’t as appealing or have perhaps been categorized as unattractive, and that they need to project more of an amiable ‘oop-poop-pee-doop’ Betty Boop thing.
“I’m obviously not reporting scientific data, but it does seem as if an awful lot of Minnie Mouse voices are being feigned or emphasized these days, and that the rich, intriguing tonalities found in the wonderfully adult voices of Meryl Streep or Ann Sheridan in the 1940s, or Jessica Lange or Katherine Hepburn or Greer Garson or Faye Dunaway or Jodie Foster aren’t heard as much.
“You can’t be one of those super-cool women who wear short skirts and long jackets and speak with a peep-peep voice. You have to sound like Anouk Aimee or Simone Signoret or Joan Crawford or Jane Russell….that line of country.
“I really do think it’s affected to some extent. Chosen. Performed. Almost anyone can go deeper or higher if they want.
“There’s that old story about director Howard Hawks telling a young Lauren Bacall (i.e., before he cast her in To Have and Have Not) that it’s sexier to speak in a lower register, and that she should give it a shot. Bacall took Hawks’ advice and trained herself to speak with a deeper voice. It was that simple.
“So if Bacall can do this, anyone can in either direction. And I think — suspect — that a lot of younger women have persuaded themselves, perhaps not consciously, that squeaky-peepy works best in today’s environment. Mistake.”