Today, I want to talk about fry…and I don’t mean the delicious, fried potato kind.
I’m talking about vocal fry.
Glottalization, or a glottal scrape, is a creaky sound people sometimes make, usually at the end of phrases. It occurs when their vocal folds completely or partially close. This is more commonly known as Vocal Fry, and it is commonly known because of an overblown media piece inspired by a small study about the occurrence of vocal fry in college girls. The “news” segments accused young women of ruining their voices to sound, hip and cool, like it’s a new fad that must be stopped before it becomes a linguistic shift that destroys our women and our language!!! THE HORROR! (Was that dramatic enough?) Since this classic case of sensationalism, people are suddenly noticing glottalization and shaming it, particularly in teen and young adult women. What a surprise! The media making a big deal over nothing to get viewership? That never happens.
This click-bait-esque news gave people something new to complain about. We can always use something new to nag about on the internet, right? Even wonderful, young adult female, on-air personalities on NPR get flack for the way they speak, not for their research or material, but for how words actually come out of their mouths. This American Life put this into perspective, and I absolutely loved this piece:
See, I’m a millennial, female voiceover talent, and the sudden negativity towards fry made me insecure about what I was offering for a while. I mean, I don’t recall ever choosing to have a little rasp. I don’t sound like the modern valley girl caricature to which vocal fry is associated (unless it’s a character that is supposed to be that way), and I don’t sound inarticulate or dumb…at least my coaches and clients don’t seem to think so.
This American Life debunked a lot of stigma behind fry. For instance, there is no reason to believe fry is a modern, linguistic anomaly that popped out of nowhere and into young girls’ mouths. It’s not some harmful speech impediment or vocal plague that needs to be eradicated, though older people feel this way much more than younger generations. Natural fry does not ruin vocal chords. It’s not a telltale sign of ignorance or lack of class, and as Ira Glass so eloquently pointed out in this piece, men do it, too:
“Ira Glass: It’s funny. Until we started talking about it for this story, I never even noticed it in your voice.
Chana Joffe: And now you notice it every single–
Ira Glass: Yeah. Have you noticed that I do it too?
Chana Joffe: Not until right now.
Ira Glass: Yeah, yeah, even as I say these words.”
Honestly, the treatment of vocal fry in women is not much different than past criticisms of phrasing with upward inflection or the use of “like” as a hesitation in speech. It’s a weird mix of sensationalism, sexism and ageism, and it not only causes young professionals to second guess if they “sound right.” It also causes unnecessary discrimination against a sound that is oftentimes perfectly natural. I’ve seen many auditions where I was a perfect fit…until I saw in quotes and all caps “ABSOLUTELY NO VOCAL FRY.”
Does this mean they don’t want the modern valley character that the media told them is vocal fry, or do they literally want no rasp, gravel or creak, even if it naturally occurs in speech? I’m sure there are girls out there who do speak outside of their register and creak more on purpose (Why, Girl? Love YOUR voice!), but if I’m speaking with healthy placement and have a little fry, is that a deal breaker? Would auditioning be a waste of my time, or am I exactly what they wanted but won’t apply because they accidentally excluded talent with their poor choice of words?
Now that I have a better understanding of A) What vocal fry actually is, and B) How the term has been misused, mutated and abused in media in recent years, I feel confident again with how I speak and where I fall into the voice over equation. Some people are going to just keep hatin’ on vocal fry, but I’m just gonna make like a Tay Tay and shake it off. I mean, discriminating against people because some stupid news show told you to seems way worse to me than a little fry. Fry aye aye! Talk about having egg on your face (See what I did there? Fry? Fried egg? Being embarrassingly uninformed about fry?).