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Pink’s “Over the Rainbow”: Whatever Happened to Phrase. Ing?

Pink’s “Over the Rainbow”: Whatever Happened to Phrase. Ing?


I should begin by saying I am a fan of Pink.  I think she is as talented a pop singer who has come to the fore in the Internet age as any I’ve heard.  Vocally she has pleasing tone, reasonable range, and power, but the limitations of her abilities, such as they are, were thrown into sharp relief at Sunday night‘s Academy Awards, when she performed Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg’s standard “Over the Rainbow.”  Before you jump to the assumption that this just the rant of an overly protective Judy Garland apologist, please let me explain why Pink is a very good pop singer but not good interpreter of standards.

Pink Oscars
Pink performing at the Oscars

As any of my friends in the Broadway or Cabaret worlds will concur, singing a standard places a premium on the interpretation of lyrics—the acting piece, if you will.  With more sophisticated pop songs, a good singer has made conscious choices during the learning and rehearsal period (in other words, in advance) as to where she will breathe in order to convey the meaning of the lyrics as she wishes to interpret them.  This is called “phrasing.”  In the pre-rock era, people appreciated a singer’s phrasing; today, no one even knows what it means, most visibly Pink and the millions of folks who lit up social media with praise for her cringe-inducing performance last night.

Though Pink looked lovely and stuck to the melody (points for that), with standards you simply can’t wing the phrasing: even a marginal wedding band singer would know better than to phrase the first line of one of the most beautiful songs ever written: “somewhere o.  Ver the rainbow.”

I still like Pink and don’t primarily blame her what she doesn’t know.  I do, however, blame Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the show’s producers, who certainly do know better.  In fact I would wager that these two veteran showmen—gay gentlemen of a certain age—had better phrasing at the moment they sang their Haftorah portion at their bar mitzvahs, than Pink did Monday night.  Speaking for those of us who really care about good singing and upholding the standards of (pop) standards, I would just like to say: we can do better.  More specifically, Pink can do better (study!), and Neil Meron and Craig Zadan can do better.

You may also enjoy:

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 1: “The Man That Got Away”—How The Loss of a Generation of Gay Men Affected Our Ears as Well as Our Hearts

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 2: How to Reduce Twentieth-Century Gay History to a Stereotype in Three Lines or Less

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 3: Bombshell! An Open Letter to Christina Aguilera Exposing the “Dirrty” Secret She Doesn’t Want You to Know!

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 5: (N)e(u)rotica: The Unbelievably Bitchy Thing Madonna Said to k.d. lang

Melismania! The Art of Good Singing Has a Terrible Case of the Runs

Stargayzing Review: Annie Ross at the Metropolitan Room, New York City: The Singer as Actor


  1. Bobby Knight
    March 8, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    My first thought was that it would take some balls for anyone to make such suggestions to her. However she may well have been open to them. Somehow I doubt it though.

    • David Munk
      March 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      Hi Bobby,

      Not sure because I don’t know much about her personally. I think one of the downsides of the breakdown of the label system is that certain traditions of excellence are not handed down the same way they always were. I brought all of this up not to seem meanspirited but to insert certain aspects of what constitutes “excellence” back into the dialogue. Certainly with pop standards, phrasing is extremely important. As I get older I am entirely comfortable being “that guy,” it’s a priviledge of age.

      I so appreciate your comment and hope you will keep reading and letting me know your thoughts.


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