We’re at the point now in society where Emma Watson singing as Belle is good enough reason to make national news on ABC. A grown woman willingly admits that she will be singing all the songs in theaters, knows all the lyrics, and will be bringing her co-workers along with her for the ride. Emma Watson being able to sing is a big deal. It cannot be understated. And I just have to ask, did we listen to the same audio?
And for anyone wondering if she had the singing chops for the part, this should of course dispel any doubts.
Uhh… I don’t agree. Not one bit. Let’s try to be objective and compare Emma Watson’s clip against the original voice of Belle, both the theatrical version and the Broadway one.
Paige O’Hara remains to be, with maybe with some bias, my favorite vocal representation of Belle. It’s a very soprano, rich, Broadway voice that spews with maturity and–as the scene requires–playfulness and love. The tape of Egan puts her at a disadvantage as it isn’t a studio recording. Still, I think she has some great bits in this particular performance. Notably, her entrance note–it’s stunning. Lots of levity which brings chills and the vowel is extremely on point, making the pitch fall naturally into place with a pleasant vibrato. Emma Watson’s version is undeniably pop. And I just don’t get it.
Why is Disney moving towards pop?
Even with singers who CAN sing, like Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho, they chose to make her featured song pop. Let’s listen to it to see what makes it closer to mainstream pop music than Disney’s past dabbling with Broadway theatre during the 90s.
It starts out closer to a piano ballad than anything else. Which is ironic, since it doesn’t have a piano from what I can hear. How Far I’ll Go strays from the more orchestral backgrounds found in Part of Your World, A Whole New World, Belle’s Song, and even more recent songs in I See The Light and Let It Go. Let It Go is probably the most pop from the ones I listed, but I appreciate how they hired a really competent and professional singer for the role of Elsa. There’s no electronic equivalent of a good singer, and it shows.
It really bothered me when I heard the small bits of dubstep in Let It Go play a bigger role in How Far I’ll Go. To hear what I’m talking, really pinpoint the bass drops during 1:26-1:32 and heavy reliance on percussion as the song moves on. Not only is it unnecessary, but it is out of place and inappropriate in my opinion. There is a similar bass drop in Let It Go (3:03) at a really dramatic moment of the piece–it’s no coincidence why these little editing flourishes didn’t sit well with me for either songs.
The mentioning of bass drops, which only occur for seconds of the song, may seem like nit-picks, but in my mind, they are representative of the larger problems of the song as a whole. Let It Go is objectively a good composition, but features a lazy chorus which recycles a popular chord progression from the pop industry. The same is the case for How Far I’ll Go, which is also hurt by lazy lyrics. Like, how many times can you say the word “island” in a single verse? These are all heavy criticisms of pop songs which are found in some of Disney’s more recent soundtracks.
I know, everybody on this island seems to happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know, everybody on this island has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine
But alas, we are straying away from the original question: can Emma Watson sing? The simple answer is no.
I know this because if you look up to the second video from the top comparing each of the different versions of Beauty and the Beast’s Something There, it should be obvious that Emma Watson’s voice is edited heavily. A common effect called “compression” is clearly used, which gives the fake impression that Watson is able to fill a large concert hall with her voice. It’s typically used to compensate for bad breathe support. Also, I suspect there are bits of auto-tuning. Her pitch fluctuation (or sliding) on the word “that” reeks of the same type of effect that pop-singer Jason Derulo often goes for. To say what I am saying in less technical terms… Disney is trying to convince us that Emma Watson can sing, which unintentionally makes the vocal audio seem more pop in nature.
I know I’m not saying anything particularly astonishing–there is a decently sized backlash against Emma Watson’s recordings thus used for promotion. I just thought I’d add some legitimacy to what they are saying, and to tell Disney to stop selling themselves short and aim for quality instead of money and fame. We all already know this film will smash the box office.