Ranking the Voices of 10 Women in Pop

When it comes to sports, athletes are broken down and ranked according to their stats so that fans can contrast, compare and build fantasy leagues. So why not do the same for singers?

This post examines 10 women in pop music and breaks them down according to their vocal abilities. This is perfect as material for stan wars or just good background info for the less rabid pop music fan.

Mariah Carey

Vocal type: Alto

Vocal range: 5.2 octaves 1 semi-tone G2: "You're So Cold" – F#7: "Mine Again" G#7: "Emotions" live @ MTV Awards in 1991

Longest note: 20 seconds "Lead The Way"

Vocal strength: Mariah is a master of intricate melismas, the unique singing technique that extends a word or syllable with a plethora of different notes from various octaves (i.e. the verses in “Heartbreaker”). It's a style of singing that she used extensively on Butterfly. Arguably the most skilled technical singer of her generation and the one after, Carey's ear for pitch is uncanny, boasting skillful transitions from octave to octave within the space of a word. Carey is the quintessential musician, possessing a type of authoritative control over her instrument most singers only dream of. Ranging from a rich lower register, to a full yet earthy mid range, to an airy and cloudy super head voice that envelopes the eardrums---Carey can do it all.

The awe-inspiring thing about Carey is her constantly evolving timbre, which changes with each album, making every recording instantly identifiable to the era in which it was recorded. And let's not forget her secret weapon, the whistle register. The piercingly high register Carey possesses has made her voice famous and she has the ability to enunciate clearly in the whistle register. Mariah Carey's brilliant voice deserves to be studied and is the encyclopedia all aspiring singers should reference.

Vocal weaknesses: Over time her high chest belts have become thin and lacks the bellowing power from her youth. Lower register, when not rested sometimes comes off as strained and leathery but still equally emotive.

Overall grade: A

Recommended listening: “Melt Away”, “The Roof”, "Vision of Love" and “Stay the Night”


Vocal type: Contralto

Vocal range: 3 octaves 2 notes C3-D6

Vocal strengths: Full bodied belts that maintain clarity with baleful undertones. Adele's melodic voice metaphorically resembles a thunderous, rainy day---ominous yet captivating. The boom from the sheer power of her vocals alone is enough to knock over even Mike Tyson. Adele's full-voiced belts are dark and heavy, dripping with tear-stained emotion while never losing clarity or bravado. She has an incredible knack for quickly delving into a head voice inflection then reverting back to her full-voiced comfort zone that tantalizes the senses...goosebumps are inevitable. Adele, "golden-voiced" ambassador from the land of tea and crumpets has brought back powerhouse soul singing to the States, well, pop radio specifically. And for that, we thank her.

Vocal weaknesses: ...

Recommended listening: “Hometown Glory”, “Turning Tables”, “Rumor Has It”

Overall grade: A


Vocal type: Mezzo Soprano

Vocal range: 3 octaves 1 note B2: “Disappear” - E6 “Happy Face”

Longest note: 14 seconds “Flaws and All” (Live)

Vocal strengths: Breath control, breath control and breath control! Matthew Knowles' drill sergeant mentality for training Beyonce as a performer paid off as she is one of a select few who can sing full-out and dance at the same time. Try to sing “Bugaboo” and dance at the same time...just try it. Exactly, it's hard! Beyonce shines as a vocalist when it comes to impeccable timing, fast melismas and appropriate use of vibrato. She is probably the best all-around-singer of her time earning high scores in almost every category. Decorating her recordings with grunts, growls and ferocious attitude, there is no contemporary singer that sings with as much unadulterated force as Beyonce. Credited for adapting the fast style of singing with Destiny's Child and making it mainstream, she is a highly skilled staccato singer--so much so her flow often imitates that of a rapper (i.e. “Run The World (Girls)”). Beyonce's head voice is full and supple, though her lower register leaves a little to be desired.

Vocal weaknesses: Beyonce's range, while wide, is not as controlled as her loyal legion of fans would lead you to believe. When she dips into her lower register her voice loses clarity and the higher she belts past C#5 the shriller and thiner her voice becomes.

Recommended listening: “Ave Maria”, “Save the Hero”, “1+1”

Overall grade: B+

Christina Aguilera

Vocal type: Spinto Soprano

Vocal range: 4 octaves G3 – C7

Longest note: 19 seconds “At Last” (Live)

Vocal strengths: Unbridled power and an impressively wide range. Developed lower octaves, full mid register with a new hint of experienced rasp, and a bright upper register. Capable of hitting and sustaining high notes for long amounts of time with or without vibrato. Ability to go there, undeniable blue eyed soul.

Vocal weaknesses: Attacks songs too aggressively, throaty chest belts are hollered instead of sung. There is no evidence of overall vocal control, specifically with belts and head voice (Christina has never sung in the whistle register, she imitates it with her head voice). Does not know how or when to reign in her over-the-top instrument, therefore resulting in scratchy belts. Plagues recordings with excessive riffs, runs and flourishes that take away from melody and the meaning the lyrics are meant to convey. Prefers to impress rather than express. Unlike Mariah or Beyonce, Aguilera's melismas are often disconnected from the core melody of the song, coming off as forced and trite. With Aguilera, less is always more.

Recommended listening: “Hurt”, “Birds of Prey”, “Stronger Than Ever”

Overall grade: B, but could be so much higher if not for that pride. Aguilera's case is frustrating because she is fully aware of where improvement is needed, yet she chooses to sing her way (the wrong way), even going as far to suggest contestants on The Voice adopt her harmful approach.

Lady Gaga

Vocal type: Contralto, though earlier recordings suggest Mezzo-Soprano

Vocal range: 2.4 octaves (surprised?) Highest note: B5

Vocal strengths: Overwhelming expression, instinctive vocal phrasing, 80s rock reminiscent chest belts and animalistic vocal ticks. Ability to stretch her limited vocals to the max, thanks to professional and classical voice training, thus giving the illusion that she's a better singer than she actually is.

Vocal weaknesses: Limited vocal range, high chest belts lack clarity, head/falsetto voice is almost non-existent in studio recordings. Her thick, catarrhal timbre often mimics power when in reality there isn't really much power there to begin with. While her studio recordings and live showing display impressive vocals, especially the belts, she's often treading safely in her mid-range hitting the same “three” notes repeatedly. Don't expect any jaw dropping, melismatic showcases from this Princess of Darkness.

Recommended listening: “Speechless”, “Teeth”, “Born This Way" (Acapella)

Overall grade: B-

Katy Perry

Vocal type: Mezzo Soprano

Vocal range: 3 octaves, 4 notes and 1 semitone; D#3 - C7

Vocal strengths: Power belter with vibrato and a lush upper register including falsetto. Can hit and sustain loud chest belts. Excellent stacatto singer.

Vocal weaknesses: A decent enough voice but rough around the edges. Perry often sings off-key and flat, lacks rhthymic fluidity in vocals and phrasing, and has the tendancy to sound icy.

Recommended listening: "Ur So Gay", "Mannequin", "Circle the Drain"

Overall grade: C+


Vocal type: Contralto

Vocal range: 3 octaves A2-A5

Longest note: 8 seconds “Hate That I Love You”

Vocal strengths: Although Miss Fenty does not have a classically powerful voice, she has an incredibly unique voice, particularly her velvety lower register. With a one of a kind tone, there is absolutely NO ONE that sounds like Rihanna. That exotic accent of hers doesn't hurt either. Rihanna's full chest belts have improved drastically from the start of her career, now exuding a gleeful confidence in which she seems to be saying, “I know I'm not the greatest singer, but I love to sing, so I'm gonna sing!” Like Britney, it's her timbre and diction that overshadows the lacking technical aspect of her vocal performances, thus creating a voice that's subjectively likable. Fortunately for Rihanna, a lot of people like it, like it!

Vocal weaknesses: Mid-register falsetto are sung from the head instead of diaphragm. Heavy vibrato sounds more "goat-ish" than musical. What technique she does have, Rihanna sometimes executes poorly, resulting in a lazy drawl -- sounding weak and uneasy. Uptempos are also sometimes recorded in a deliberate nasal whine that grates the ear (i.e. "Who's That Chick?”), which begs the question: Is she literally holding her nose?

Recommended listening: “Cold Case Love”, “Man Down”, "Fire Bomb" and “California King Bed”

Overall grade: C+

Britney Spears

Vocal type: Naturally an alto but commercially she's classified as a soubrette.

Vocal range: 2 octaves 2 notes A5: “Blur” – E3: “Toxic” G5: mimicking an opera singer

Vocal strengths: What she lacks in technicality and power she makes up for in tone and the ability to play any part, vocally, a song calls for. Spears is not a singer in the classical sense of the word (though at the start of her career she was on that path). She is a vocal actress, capable of transforming her weak yet iconic voice into any particular role. Whether it's a babyish coo, a bratty nasal whine, reedy and deep or a girlish hiccup -- each is dynamically different from the other, yet still Britney. It's her timbre and distinctive enunciation that set her apart from the gaggle of legitimately vocally talented pop stars -- the girl put a “h” in her pronunciation of “baby” in “Unusual You”...and it worked! Simply put Spears can adjust and distort her voice in so many ways she is undoubtably the ultimate producer's muse.

Vocal weaknesses: Years of smoking, improper technique, poor breath control and lack of practice have rendered Spears as one of the poorer vocalists of her generation. Budding with enormous potential at the start of her career, Jive opted for that nasally voice heard on ...Baby One More Time. By her fourth album Spears vocal strength had clearly diminished and her belting stopped altogether, relying heavily on post production tricks like auto-tune and protools. An unfortunate crutch that has stunted any further vocal growth or development. Femme Fatale's co-executive producer Max Martin, commented, "When we do songs, there's kind of a nasal thing. With NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, we had to push for that mid-nasal voice. When Britney did that, she got this kind of raspy, sexy voice".

Recommended listening: “Luv the Hurt Away”, “Don't Hang Up”, "I Run Away" and “Baby Boy (unreleased demo)”

Overall grade: C

Jennifer Lopez

Vocal type: Classic Soubrette

Vocal range: 2 octaves (on a GREAT day) G3-G5

Vocal strengths: Melodically light voice, which makes her sing-songy approach pleasant to the ears. Lopez stays in her lane and will never be accused of over singing.

Vocal weaknesses: Light, monotoned, nasal voiced singer who confuses belting with shouting...flat shouting. Lopez's apparent insecurities in her vocal ability, unlike Rihanna for example, can be clearly heard in her recordings -- her voice sounds timid and meek and she uses background singers to camouflage most of her flaws.

Recommended Listening: “Let's Get Loud,” “Ain't It Funny”, “What Is (Love?)”

Overall grade: C-


Vocal type: Rhythmic Talker

Vocal range: N.A.

Longest note: lol

Vocal strengths: For her particular brand of electro-pop she is just what the doctor ordered. Conviction is her strong suit, you really believe her when she "sings" things like, "I'm drunk, where's my coat?"

Vocal weaknesses: Auto-tune is constantly completing for lead.

Recommended listening: “Blow,” “Take It Off” and “Cannibal”

Overall grade: D+/- depending on level of intoxication


um ia w/ most of this, especially queen mariah @ #1 and xtina's weaknesses, but rihanna is a better singer than katy and where the fuq is the vocalist of the generation, kelly clarkson?! smh, she should be right under mariah.