Do you have strong feelings about vocal fry?
First, in case you’re unfamiliar, here’s what it is: “vocal fry is the shortening of vocal folds so that they close completely and pop back open to produce a frying or sizzling sound.” (According to the Voices.com blog.) It’s the low, scratchy or creaky quality that you hear in Kim Kardashian’s or Scarlett Johansson’s voices.
A lot of people seem to hate vocal fry. I have listened to several podcasts with hosts who have vocal fry, and they always talk about receiving hate mail (or nasty comments on Twitter and Facebook) for it.
I should add that all of these podcast hosts are women. (Liz Craft of Happier and Happier in Hollywood, Sarah Marshall of You’re Wrong About and You Are Good, and Mandy Matney of the Murdaugh Murders Podcast, just to name a few.)
Despite the hate surrounding vocal fry, I first noticed something odd in high school, and continue to notice it to this day. And that’s women faking vocal fry. Or, adding fry to their voices that aren’t naturally that low or scratchy.
In high school, when a friend of mine would raise her hand to share her thoughts, her voice would come out in a lower register and sounded scratchier and tired, compared to the voice I was familiar with. I don’t know if she started it, but it started to catch on among my classmates. Even I started doing it.
I employed it as an affect to make me sound (and feel) smarter, more authoritative. And maybe the tired quality of my voice would suggest that I was up all night studying, I don’t know.
I think I continued using the style in college, but after a while, I got sick of it and stopped. (When I listen to my recorded voice, there’s still some there, but it’s natural.) Now, when I hear vocal fry from women in meetings, I wonder how much is natural and how much is a conscious, added layer. And are they doing it for the same reasons I did in high school?
While she employed a different tactic, going lower without the creakiness, Elizabeth Holmes, who’s just a year older than me, seemed to have changed her voice to command more authority.
When I started Googling to figure out how to describe vocal fry in writing for this post, I stumbled upon some interesting articles about how people react to the sound. In this NPR piece, it seems that there’s a generational difference between those who can’t stand it and presumably send mean tweets to podcast hosts (and they tend to be older) and those who consider speakers with it to be authoritative (they tend to be younger). And countless articles combined an analysis of vocal fry with another trait: uptalk. That’s when you put an upward inflection at the end of a statement, like how we ask questions in English. It’s the quintessential characteristic of the “valley girl” speech style and we have been taught that it’s a very bad thing.
Both the NPR piece and the one from Northeastern that I linked in the Elizabeth Holmes comment have some great commentary about something I’ve hinted at: that women’s voices are policed while men’s are not (effeminate men excepted), and men tend to utilize vocal fry a great deal as well.
And maybe we change our voices because it works. (Does it work? I don’t know.)
Bonus! For an example of vocal fry, here’s a great video from @CorporateNatalie sharing her Top 5 Corporate Survival Tips. (Excellent advice here, delivered with that classic “respect my authority” vocal fry. I don’t know if Corporate Natalie’s fry is natural or a voluntary tactic.)