Please Let the Auto-Tune Jokes End: A Brief History of the Pitch-Correcting Software's Legacy
If Auto-Tune hit its peak as a joke delivery device last week amidst the spectacle of a weirdly robotic Katie Couric involuntarily singing an "O Superman"-reminiscent lament for melting polar ice caps, it also hit its nadir at about the same time, when a tape surfaced of an Auto-Tuned Martin Luther King "singing" his epochal "I Have a Dream" speech. If there is a god, the internet's random desecration of one of the all-time great oratorical moments of the 20th century should finally put Auto-Tune-as-a-joke in the internet meme grave, hopefully never to rise again. As far as the larfs went, the technology had a good run.
The phenomenon started simply: Former Exxon seismic data explorer Andy Hildebrand manipulated a technology that had previously been used to detect oil under the Earth and applied it to music, debuting his Auto-Tune software in 1997. The program was immediately popular, used to detect pitch, correct vocals and resurrect the careers of Oscar-winning future Christopher Guest parody subjects. Humor ensued. And thus we begin.
The director of the video for "Believe," the first hit to employ the effect and Cher's biggest- song ever, realizes that Auto-Tune is going to blow everyone's mind. So he gives the video a sci-fi feel and, in it, Cher the abilities to violate the time/space continuum and to blur her face unrecognizably. As if she couldn't already do those things on her own.
"I'm going to make up a bunch of shit about how I used to run a high-profile chop shop and rotted in prison for years, but how are you gonna do it?" Akon asks his protege T-Pain, as the two of them contemplate how they're going to appear on every single hip hop song for the next four years.
Nursing a broken heart after the death of his mother and the break-up with his fiancee, Kanye West constructs what becomes known as the Auto-Tune era's first masterpiece, 808s & Heartbreak. The album is a critical and commercial success, and track "Heartless" is initially hailed as its emotional centerpiece. Later, though, the song becomes known mainly for inspiring this tribute to an underrated HBO series.
T-Pain and Tim McGraw -- who, like Faith Hill and Reba McEntire has been using Auto-Tune for years to correct his singing -- meet on the set of Saturday Night Live, and head out to Jimmy's Corner for a couple of "dranks" and a discussion of Nelly's pectoral muscles after the show. Compliments of the other's hat and a vow to collaborate on the first Auto-Tuned rap/ country collaboration ensue.
Lovelorn singer/ songwriter/ former Wisconsin-recluse Justin Vernon--aka Bon Iver-- uses Auto-Tune on the song "Woods," off of his EP Blood Bank. Tens of bloggers are outraged that a member of the previously incorruptible indie-folk genre would exploit the technology, and vow to find other, more principled artists to weep to.
March and April, 2009
At South By Southwest, Philadelphia DJ Diplo opens a Major Lazer set at the Fader Fort by Auto-Tuning the sound of baby screams, which is later played during the Coachella set of his ex-girlfriend M.I.A., a recent mother of baby boy. Procreation in Southern California immediately ceases.
Use of the technology reaches its zenith when Brooklyn-based singer songwriter Michael Gregory, with some help from his brother Andrew, parodies southern rappers, Sean Hannity, pirate-victim-exploiters, the 24-hour news cycle and global warming hysterics all in one in one fell swoop, simultaneously constructing a moving tribute to the creativity and optimism of humanity. Andrew does it while wearing a gorilla suit and a tie.
April 27, 2009
Auto-Tune jokes, RIP.