Important note: I’ve commissioned two new pieces of fanart for this blog entry, from my lovely friends @IamjustMissy and AMB. Please don’t share them elsewhere without acknowledging their work, or cropping off their signatures.
I often get my writing ideas when I’m either driving or walking; I think it must be something to do with movement helping my little brain work faster. Anyhow, I was musing on a comment that I’ve seen all over the internet about Adam’s voice – that he “transports” people, or “takes them to another place” when he sings, and also that once they’ve heard him, they simply can’t get enough. So, is this because he has the voice of an angel?
(video from istaykool’s YouTube uploads)
Adam’s voice often has a pure, beguiling and angelic quality; when he performed Mad World for American Idol he used a slender head voice for most of the song, giving it a silver tone throughout. Although there were added stage effects from the lighting and dry ice, there was little movement and the whole picture was still and ethereal. I’m aware that throughout his journey on AI, there was criticism of him being theatrical (including for his interpretation of this song), which I struggle with. Music should be theatrical – it’s about giving the audience an experience that moves them!
Sometimes voices are truly unworldly – readers who have seen the sci-fi movie The Fifth Element (I’m sorry, I’m a sci-fi nerd for my sins!) may remember the Diva Song, a combination of opera and dance music sung by a blue alien. The song is actually a combination of a nineteenth century operatic aria by Donizetti and a specially composed section by Eric Serra. This version of it was taken from a live performance by the music theatre Evgenia Laguna. It’s all sung by a real human voice, except for two very short sections where the voice is digitised; the first is at 4’21” where it wasn’t possible for a human voice to produce Eric Serra’s notes at that speed, and another at around 4’31”, but I think this was to get a specific sound effect rather than because it wasn’t possible for the voice to do it.
(video from Evgenia Laguna’s YouTube uploads)
Then at the other end of the spectrum, we have people who have voices that can do the entire colour spectrum, who are both the archetypal angel and the dark angel.
When Adam uses the dark side of his voice, like for Whole Lotta Love, this doesn’t engage only the “beautiful angel” aspects of it; this is the whole instrument with hormone-provoking cutting edge added. Interesting also for this performance at the Kradison his jacket has angel wings on the back of it!
(video from All things we love’s YouTube uploads)
The crowd reaction speaks for itself; sometimes it’s difficult to pick out the voice from the screaming, but I’m sure you get the overall picture. We can get an adrenaline rush and chills from both types of music, but it’s the reactions that are incredibly interesting.
The music we truly love can have magical, even spiritual effects on us. It can lift mood, give us solace, make us calm and induce strong physical sensations. Centuries ago William Congreve (not Shakespeare!) decided that music had the power to “soothe the savage breast”.
Now for the scientific part; all of these reactions – and more – are the result of a sneaky substance called dopamine that is produced in our brains.
Dopamine is responsible for a lot of things; it provokes feelings of ecstasy, it focuses our attention and it is a very real contributor to romantic love. When you even look at a photograph of the object of your desire, it lights up the part of the brain that releases dopamine.
Dopamine provides the energy, arousal and focus that are a part of love. It is also a major player in addiction; dopamine levels rise on exposure to cocaine, nicotine, morphine and pretty much all other addictive substances. It seems fairly logical that this is how we can get hooked on one particular type of music – or one voice.
You may or may not be surprised to know that this same “reward” reaction is triggered by music; the rush of dopamine through our bodies give us those all-too-familiar chills when we hear music that we love. If it’s a piece of music that we know, we get them in anticipation. We can even get them when we think about a piece of music that gives us chills. If it’s a piece of music that we don’t know, the chills can overtake us really abruptly and be a genuine shock – that sudden, crashing glory note can send us into ecstasy and dopamine overload.
Lots of us (as many as 90% at times) get chills when listening to music, which puts music on the same level in our brains as love and addiction. And this is a real, visceral reaction. I can sit here now and think about the introduction to One Vision, and because of the way memory works, the chills explode instantly.
Oddly, sad music is more likely to give us this sort of reaction, and that then turns the experience of listening to sad music into an uplifting one in that odd way that pain and pleasure can mix. This must be why so many of us have loved sad songs for decades as ultimately the music itself is a reward.
Another interesting thing is that people who are more open to new experiences are more likely to get chills when listening to music. There might be a correlation coming here for the people who have thrown themselves into the QAL experiences and loved it – they decided that they were open to hearing something different and so made themselves more receptive to the brain’s pleasure mechanisms. That’s some reward.
When that voice – the one that triggers that sensory overload seems to provide an infinitesimal range of experiences, then it can truly become addictive. You want that Original High again and again, so you will seek out the music any way you can; at least in the age of YouTube there are plenty of options available for those desperate for a fix. The reaction is always more intense with a live performance, so it’s easy to work out why there are fans who will be desperate to go to several concerts in a tour, and then become quite depressed when they can’t get that hit again.
The good news is that on the whole music addiction doesn’t seem to have the destructive effects of substance addiction. It doesn’t tend to put people into rehab (unless of course, you know differently!) and it’s freely available, courtesy of the world wide web.
But there are other elements that add to the basic reaction the voice; for Adam’s fans, it’s his constantly-changing image, the androgynous elements to it – he will wear leather with lace, eyeliner, he’s emo boy, rock boy, the camp Killer Queen and the elegant rock god who slays us with WWTLF.
The final garnish is the unpredictability of his behaviour. Even though I’m a late starter, it didn’t take me long to figure out that there is Angelic Adam and Wicked Adam – hence the angel images which have popped up in today’s blog.
We’ve seen that Angelic Adam sings flawlessly, looks beautiful and is effortlessly elegant. But Wicked Adam is something else; Wicked Adam is the one that kisses Tommy, gets off the stage in Sydney to kiss a perfect stranger in the audience, licks fans’ phone screens, smiles sweetly at his fans and then twerks them into a frenzy. At the Nottingham QAL gig, it’s caught forever on YouTube that he spots a cute guy in the audience who is treated to a special dance:
(video from Glamberlicious’ YouTube uploads)
It’s completely outrageous – and Adam knows it, as he wheels away to giggle to himself about it and get smirked at by Brian. Don’t forget that Freddie’s 92-year old mom was in the audience on this occasion!
Wicked Adam is most definitely part of the addiction – for anyone open-minded, there’s always an extra rush at the performance that pushes the boundaries. This is the thing that pushes the fan to want more, to hear more, to see more – and definitely to need the cataclysmic rush of live performance.
I suspect it’s incurable…