I think that Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas is the best singer that I am aware of in the world. Admittedly I am not aware of that many singers globally, or indeed locally, but nevertheless I make this bold statement.
Why do I think this? Well it helps that some of her work (particularly Meet me halfway) has been very well received, with the consequence that it is on my car radio a lot so I’ve had a chance to really listen and analyse her technique. While her singing always sounds effortless each note is carefully shaped and has its own place in relation to the rest of the phrase. Meet me halfway is a great song to observe this in because the phrases Fergie sings are, in themselves, very basic and repetitive but the way she sings them gives them direction and meaning so they are all different. A conductor I once worked with would say that someone making music like Fergie loved every note; she does not overlook any note in the phrase – each one is considered, shaped and given its place and weighting in the phrase and the overall song. This is something I value very highly in a musician.
Studying baroque performance practice it was a regular occurrence to find parallels between historical performance and modern popular music. While researching the history and development of the violin bow I learnt about the Romantic preference for very long, sustained phrases taking over from the historical preference for clear articulation and smaller structures. Fergie’s singing has those long romantic phrases but not at the expense of the articulation of individual notes and words. Her musical rhetoric is impeccable.
So why do I have Mozart in the title of the blog? Because I’d love to hear Fergie sing Mozart. I imagine The Marriage of Figaro with rapped recitatives has been done before but I’d still like to hear her do it. I can’t decide whether I’d cast her as Suzanna or the Countess. Suzanna might suit her best but then we wouldn’t get to hear her sing Dove sono. Still the part in the opening number where she demands Figaro looks at her wedding hat would be a lot like the part in “Shut up” where she the argument climaxes (It was the same damn thing…)
Some people might find it strange that I want to hear a popular singer sing Mozart, but Mozart’s original performers were the acclaimed and popular singers of his day. These days the big name draws in opera do not have anything like the following of popular singers like Fergie. If she took to the opera house stage perhaps people would rethink their perception of opera. Or perhaps they wouldn’t. But I’d still like to hear “Fergie covers Figaro.”