Too Cutthroat About the Face, Too Weak About the Throat
[Epistemic Status: I wrote this essay for my college's Critical Thinking and Writing class because I thought my thesis was interesting and plausible, not because I thought it was true. Please critique my prose and content!]
Many pop singers undergo plastic surgery to make themselves look better, even though having a pretty face or a sexy body does not make you a better singer. Why don’t they undergo surgery to make their voices more beautiful, instead of their faces? While some aesthetic vocal procedures exist, most vocal procedures are medical. I argue that the music industry should be investing less in cosmetic surgeries and more in technologies which make the human voice more melodious.
To some extent, the music industry has already done this through digital processing of songs. Programs like Autotune and Melodyne, which can correct pitch and timing problems, have become more advanced over time. Digital processing is even used in live performances — if a singer worries they won’t be able to hit certain notes, they can get an engineer to mix in a little prerecorded magic during the performance. (Hill 74) There are even a few completely digital pop stars such as Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid computer program who can only perform on stage as a digital hologram. However, this sort of digital advancement isn’t exclusive to the realm of voice. Just as Autotune improves lackluster singing, makeup improves lackluster appearance, and makeup has had its own digital improvements. “Until recently, vain actors were limited to makeup, flattering lighting, corsets, plastic surgery, Botox, crash diets, personal trainers, steroids, muscle suits, color grading, lenses and filters, body doubles, and spray-on abs. Now they also have software: Zits vanish with a click. Wrinkles disappear. Abs harden. Jawlines sharpen. Cellulite vanishes” (Hill 71). These innovations have made their way into music videos as well, which is part of the reason that appearance-modification is so advanced in music compared to voice modification. The music industry can mooch off Hollywood when it comes to making their singers look better, but when it comes to actually making songs better, it has to do it on its own. Even so, the music industry has improved a lot in its ability to modify the singing voice digitally, but it’s just pales in comparison to Hollywood’s improvements in digitally modifying their actors’ appearances. The music industry clearly has a lot of catching up to do.
Despite advances in digitally modifying songs, the music industry hasn’t had much innovation in regards to physically, surgically improving the singing voices of pop stars. Physical modification of the voice is certainly possible — many transgender people undergo surgery to raise or lower their vocal range, and some smokers undergo procedures to remove their polyps. Some singers like Sam Smith and Meghan Trainor had vocal surgery to fix medical problems. There are even some voice surgeries that are more for aesthetics than for health — an article for the Journal of Singing recommends that musicians who are getting cosmetic surgeries to look younger should consider getting a “voice lift” as well because an old voice can ruin the effectiveness of a rhinoplasty, face-lift surgery, or blepharoplasty at concealing the patient’s true age (Spalla et al. 559). Unfortunately, such vocal surgeries are only advanced enough to return one’s vocal capacity to its natural state. The voice procedures that currently exist aren’t pushing the bounds of what’s musically possible; they aren’t creating new musical innovation.
There are a few ethical concerns with these hypothetical voice surgery innovations. Some might object that improving the human voice past its natural capacity is wrong because it is unnatural, but this sort of reasoning is fallacious. What is natural is not necessarily good; arsenic is natural but Tylenol is artificial. I do concede that any surgical procedures to improve singing ability should be rigorously tested for side effects, as all new medical procedures should be, but this goes without saying. One might worry that surgically improving the human voice past natural levels would be deceitful, that they would make listeners insecure. However, most people are self conscious about their appearance, fewer about their singing ability. People tend to worry more that they are ugly or fat than that they’re bad singers. If our pop singers were uglier but better singers, less people will be self conscious, not only because few people care about their singing ability, but also because people expect pop artists to be better singers in the first place. Thus, the music industry should focus more on making singers sound good and less on making them look good, because innovations in the latter hurt more people than innovations in the former.
I previously said that having a pretty face or a sexy body doesn’t improve your singing ability, but in some rare cases, it can make your singing worse. Rhinoplasty (aka nose jobs) has to be carefully done so that the procedure doesn’t hinder air flow through the nasal passageways.
Excessive cartilage resection in the lower portion of the nose can lead to nasal valve collapse. The nasal valve is the narrowest portion of the airway, and any decrease in its size can have deleterious effects on a performer. Overresection of a hump could cause collapse of the upper lateral cartilages, thus narrowing the middle vault of the nose. If not recognized and corrected during rhinoplasty, these problems can cause nasal obstruction. Poorly controlled osteotomies (incisions in the bones) of the nasal bones can lead to an overly narrowed bony vault. Further collapse of the nose can occur postoperatively due to scar contracture. These restrictive changes all potentially impair nasal airflow and interfere with singing (Spalla et al. 556).
Granted, the article also says that these problems were more common when the procedure was new, and that now surgeons know about the issue and can spot possible complications ahead of time. So I don’t think that cosmetic surgeries poses that big of a threat to singing ability. What does interest me, though, is the possibility that you could improve singing ability through a similar procedure. If you can accidently restrict the nasal passages through rhinoplasty, perhaps you can purposely increase airflow by surgically increasing the size of nasal passages. I know from personal experience that the sound produced in singing is not just amplified through the mouth but through the nose as well, so modifying the shape of nasal passageways could change the volume and timbre of the notes sung. If this seems too speculative, that’s because the industry for surgically improving singing voices doesn’t actually exist. In my research I was able to find many examples of vocal cord surgery for medical reasons, and many examples of plastic surgery for both cosmetic and medical purposes, but no procedures to make someone sound more melodious. I do, however, that such surgeries are possible, such as by increasing the size of the nasal passageway.
In conclusion, the music industry should be spending more R&D into procedures to make their singers sing better. Over time, there has been a lot of innovation in making singers look better — such as through makeup, plastic surgery, and digital processing — but the industry has only made digital improvements in singing quality. Programs like Autotune, Melodyne, and Vocaloid are so advanced that they can sometimes replace the human singer outright, but the field of improving the singing of human singers in the flesh is largely nonexistent. Not only is the voice-modification industry neglected, but the focus on appearance causes a lot of body image issues, so the music industry should be shifting resources away from plastic surgery and similar procedures. Instead, they should be focusing on actually making singers sing better.
Hill, Logan. "The Biggest Cheats In Show Business." New York 49.7 (2016): 71-75. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
Spalla, Thomas C., and Robert T. Sataloff. "Facial Plastic Surgery In Singers." Journal Of Singing 67.5 (2011): 551-560. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 28 Nov. 2016.