Ever since ‘Nashville’ hit our screens back in October, and Connie Britton opened her mouth to sing as country music legend Rayna James, a question at the back of my mind has repeatedly nagged. Is she autotuned? Having studied popular music at college, I’ve heard many examples of autotune, and alarm bells ring for me everytime she ‘performs’. On a technical basis, no-one with an ounce of knowledge of how recordings are put together could deny that there are edits made to Connie’s vocals. They are shrouded in reverb and ethereal atmosphere, not a natural sound for someone who is supposed to represent the more ‘traditional’ wares of country. But the problem is with a sound like this is that it sounds worryingly close to autotune.
I also noticed that in interviews, when asked about a potential country music career, Connie tends to rigorously nod, but she seems unsure of it herself. Then there’s the fact that many of the actors from ‘Nashville’ have appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, almost as proof of their musical talent and a way for the show to be accepted by more of the anti-commercial purists among country fans. Charles Esten, Clare Bowen, Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson, Hayden Panettiere and Lennon & Maisy Stella have all performed on the legendary stage since they acted and sung their way into the nations’ hearts on TV. But Connie? Not one appearance.
In addition, after rumors of a Nashville tour, instantly Connie and Hayden were ruled out, Hayden claiming stagefright for her reason for declining. So what does all this translate to? Hayden’s character Juliette is famously made a joke of among her character’s management for being autotuned when she doesn’t know it. However, she is regularly talked about by the cast of the show as being a great singer (including Connie, interestingly), and she sounds far less autotuned, although there could be a hint of it involved. It may be the production used, but all the other characters’ recordings tend to sound a lot more ‘live’ and ‘real’ than Connie’s or Hayden’s, which are covered and embraced by production effects. Having said that, as Hayen has performed live at the Opry, she can officially be ruled out of this equation. I trust they haven’t attempted to edit it live (which is perfectly possible and occurs regularly in pop music).
But even if Connie is autotuned, at least to some degree, on one level what does it matter? She is there to act and the musical parts are a bonus. Most shows would get real singers to dub over. But for me, and for a lot of other people, it ruins the premise of the show. The reason why the show works so well is that is has an element of believability, it feels like it could well be real. If the actors are truly singing and playing their performance recordings, it enhances the effect of the characters and blurs the line between fantasy and reality, thereby creating a larger false sense of disbelief that viewers enter into when they watch the show. If it were to become official that the big star of ‘Nashville’ couldn’t really sing, or at least not well enough to be recorded without help, I imagine some just wouldn’t be as interested. We want to feel like the show could almost be real, that it could almost be a reflection of the real country music industry, and these comparisons fascinate us. This is why the show is so successful. In addition, by choosing an actress who can’t sing, they are thereby undermining the music in favor of the drama, and this may not go down well with those within the industry or fans.
So why, if this is true, did the casting directors choose an actress that couldn’t sing? Well, she’s fairly well-known, and she puts across the character perfectly. What’s wrong with a little editing in the studio that nobody knows about? There’s already fakery involved in the construction of a false world and false characters who do not exist.
But, I still want Connie to be able to sing, just like everyone else. I want it so badly. I want to be proved wrong. But until I hear her sing live, I will continue to be proved right.
And that fundamentally bothers me.