Published in Happy, 2017
Vocal fry is a phenomenon of speech style that has gained remarkable popularity across the globe over the course of the last decade, and seemingly infected vast swathes of the Western population. From pop songs to reality television, radio hosts, colleges, actors, and every sixteen-year-old girl on the west coast of the United States, vocal frying has become an intractable habit – and you may not have ever heard of it.
Described by speech specialists as a mode of speech with very low fundamental frequencies and “discrete laryngeal pulses with nearly complete damping between successive glottal excitations”, vocal fry is perhaps best recognised simply as the subtle croak at the bottom of a vocal register.
The most notorious exemplars of the vocal fry trend are generally recognised as pop culture figures such as Kim Kardashian, Zooey Deschanel , Emma Stone , and Katy Perry; notice a trend here? Vocal fry is style of speech that is steadily associated with young women and consequently derided as vapid, apathetic, and conformist.
There is, however, such rich history and sociological reasoning behind this trend that it would be nothing short of ignorant and sexist to dismiss it merely as a painful female speech style – the fry is infinitely more complex than that.
Physiologically speaking, vocal fry is caused by a slackening of the vocal chords, allowing for irregular vibration in the chords and audible popping or “crackling” to occur as the air is released in spurts. The initial popularisation of the term is generally credited to a 2011 Science magazine article discussing its sudden popularity amongst college-age women.
This low staccato vibration at the onset of a sound is perhaps most easily recognisable in singing and it is near-impossible to read an article discussing this vocal fashion phenomenon without an author citing Britney Spears’ 1998 gift to the universe, Hit Me Baby (One More Time).