I used to think I can be very snobby about things but I just stumbled across the “Taemin is a true vocalist” and “Jonghyun and Onew are [crappy] singers” arguments, which I think is shockingly even snobbier. Apparently, a singer sings only with their emotions and may not be properly trained, but the vocalist uses their voice like an instrument and has ‘techniques’ to produce different sounds and textures.
Frankly, this sounds like a load of donkey poo.
Right off the bat, these definitions imply that one is inferior to the other, as one uses ‘technique’ and the other does not, if one is a great vocalist then one is a great singer, but never the other way around. This is perplexing because as trained singers, which all of SHINee are, they all would be using ‘technique’ to craft their singing, though they may be at different levels.
In strict academic terms, there is absolutely no tradition of distinction between the terms of vocalist and singer. If we were to say that those with most technique are vocalists, should we not say, “opera vocalists” instead of “opera singers”? Whatever Taemin has, it surely would pale in comparison to Renee Fleming. In fact, “to vocalize” in musical academia just means to sing, but not with human speech. In fact, there is a Grammy category called “instrumentals with human vocalization”, which means singing, but not in human speech, like humming or singing vowels. I suppose one may argue that this use of the human voice in this situation mimics instruments, in that instruments cannot say words. Well, in the strict sense, SHINee never has and never will sing songs full of nonsense syllables, so they cannot be vocalists.
This brings up the important point of ‘using your voice like an instrument.’ My question to that is, as a singer, every time you sing, how do you not use your voice as an instrument? By not singing? Clearly, if one has made it as far to have a career as a singer, technique must be used– no one can get by on emotion alone. This then brings up the distinction that ‘the better singers are the vocalists’, which again, as I have said before, is utterly asinine and arbitrary.
When I performed a quick Google of “vocalist vs singer”, all I saw were shady articles and blogs written by likewise shady people. I agree that I can be one of those shady people, and by all means, you do not have to subscribe to my thinking. Nonetheless, I honestly urge you not to take everything you read on kpop forums at face value even if they sound like they know what they are talking about: “technique”, “A4”, “open-throat”, and whatever. With the right buzzwords and incendiary tone, anyone can be a snobby critic on the internet.
Bottom line– if you like it, then chuck tomatoes at all the critics and bop your head to all the [insert music genre here, like kpop dubstep] you want.