Top 10 Rock Singers of the 21st Century You Can’t Ignore

Florence + The Machine Songs

Photo By Anaïs Chaine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

What exactly is it that makes a singer good? Certainly, they need to be able to hit all the right notes, but there’s definitely more to it than technical ability. All of the singers on this list have voices which are the opposite of generic; each voice is distinctive and, it’s fair to say, unique. As soon as you hear them featured on a song, you can’t help but feel something. It could be argued that this is because repeated listening and exposure have ingrained their voices, alongside certain associations, in your mind, but you could also suggest these exceptional voices have something genuinely special about them; an intangible magic that stays within you and is somehow able to touch the soul. After all, singing has been a huge part of life and culture for almost as long as human beings have existed, it’s not a huge stretch to think that what makes a voice extraordinary is something we somehow feel on a primal level.These vocalists manage to embody the song they’re singing, still meaning every word despite having performed them a hundred times before. Their voices take listeners on a journey, with each song becoming an emotional – almost visceral – experience. No wonder they’re the best the 21st century has to offer.

# 10 – Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons)

Since the band hit the big time in 2009, the gravelly vocals of Marcus Mumford, lead singer of Mumford & Sons, have been enthralling audiences around the world. There is something quite old school about Mumford’s gruff voice, which perfectly compliments the folk-rock of the band – a subgenre that was invisible in the mainstream when the band debuted. Mumford’s deep and throaty vocals are perfectly suited to the content of his lyrics, such as on the punchy-yet-introspective Little Lion Man, and the warm tenderness of the festive-sounding Winter Winds. Marcus Mumford is a strong and confident singer whose vocals can simultaneously send shivers down your spine and make you want to throw your hands up in celebration, a rare talent.

Check out: Little Lion Man, The Cave, I Will Wait for You.

# 9 – Hayley Williams (Paramore)

Ever since they exploded onto the scene in the early 00’s, Paramore and lead singer Hayley Williams have been the perfect antidote to the formulaic male-driven pop punk that dominates the genre. Williams has a rich and expressive voice, which is able to perfectly express the band’s often cynical and confrontational lyrics. She can effortlessly switch between the spitting and snarling of songs like Ignorance and the sweet melodies of The Only Exception. It’s no surprise that Hayley Williams is immensely popular, she’s not only got an amazing, unique voice, but is also a style icon to girls and women across the globe.

Check out: Ignorance, Misery Business, Brick By Boring Brick

# 8 – Danielle Haim (HAIM)

Danielle Haim might not have the most technically strong voice out there, but there’s still something incredibly compelling about her vocals. She has an interesting style of singing, often using very clipped syllables which give the band’s music a bouncy feel; something which perfectly compliments the heavy twanging bass prevalent on a lot of HAIM’s music. It’s impossible not to find yourself bopping along to the catchy and feel-good sound of Danielle’s voice, and in fact, since the group makes liberal use of three-part vocal harmonies, the vocal input of other members Este and Alana should not be overlooked. HAIM are the perfect 21st-century evolution of guitar-driven Girl Power.

Check out: My Song 5, The Wire, Falling

# 7 – Tyler Joseph (Twenty One Pilots)

It’s entirely possible that Tyler Joseph might balk at being pigeonholed as a rock singer since the band also take many elements of their music from pop and hip hop. Still, there can be no doubt that they’re one of the biggest rock bands of the moment, especially with the younger generation. Joseph has a particularly interesting voice, melodic when he wants it to be and rough and brittle when he doesn’t. The band often makes use of various pitch-shifting effects (such as on Heathens and Stressed Out), and it’s refreshing that Joseph is so eager to be playful with his vocals, after all, what is a voice if not an instrument to experiment with?

Check out: Heathens, Stressed Out, Ride.

 

# 6 – Beth Ditto (Gossip)

Although the band sadly went their separate ways in early 2016, Beth Ditto remains one of the biggest and most outspoken voices of modern rock. The self-styled “fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas” is, for some, responsible for many of the biggest and most memorable songs of the mid-’00s. Her simultaneously angry and joyful vocals on Standing in the Way of Control were the perfect choice to soundtrack the commercial for the hedonist and controversial British show Skins – perfectly capturing, as it did, the fraught highs and lows of life as a teenage millennial. Meanwhile, her brooding and foreboding work on Heavy Cross earned the song a feature in a Dior advert. Gossip may have broken up, but hopefully, Beth Ditto’s stunning voice will be back in action soon.

Check out: Heavy Cross, Standing in the Way of Control, Pop Goes the World

 # 5 – Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)

The front woman of this Grammy-winning blues rock group has an utterly unmistakable voice; gruff, deep and throaty – even bordering on androgynous – with some undeniable tonal similarities to Nina Simone’s iconic rich vocals. When you first see Alabama Shakes live you might struggle to believe that such a distinctive and gravelly voice could come from such an unlikely source, after all, Brittany Howard looks like every geeky indie girl out there – but this just underlines how wrong it is to judge people by their appearance. The way Howard croons and growls her way through tracks like Hold On and Sound and Color is something to behold, quivering with the power and emotion of the tracks; you can tell she really means every word she sings.

Check out: Hold On, Don’t Wanna Fight, Always Alright

 

# 4 –Dan Smith (Bastille)

Best known for their huge singalong choruses (most famously on festival-favorite Pompeii), the multi-talented frontman of indie-rock joint Bastille has a voice which is truly a pleasure to listen to. It’s hard to pin down just what is so enjoyable about Smith’s vocals. Perhaps it’s because when he sings you can’t help but be oddly comforted by his middle-class British accent, or because of the epic divaesque vocal runs he’s capable of. Smith has a versatile voice, mixing the styles of rock, pop, and dance to truly impressive effect.

Check out: Pompeii, Bad Blood, Things We Lost in the Fire

# 3 – Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy)

Though at the height of their fame – as the poster boys of emo – it was bassist Pete Wentz who was the band’s go-to frontman, since the band’s 2013 comeback, lead singer Patrick Stump has well and truly taken the limelight. Even back in the day Stump had an enormous voice, but seemingly preferred to let Wentz take control. Therefore, it’s a relief to see Stump as confident and comfortable as he seems to be now. Stump can belt, and seems to do so with little effort (such as on Uma Thurman and This Ain’t a Scene It’s an Arms Race), but he’s also capable of a wonderful falsetto, as is particularly evident on the band’s Folie à deux album. With such a stunning voice it’s a delight to see Patrick Stump doing better than ever, with over a decade of experience under his belt.

Check out: Uma Thurman, Sugar We’re Going Down, Thnks fr th Mmrs

# 2 – Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine)

Florence Welch’s voice, quite simply, is capable of amazing things. She can be breathy, soulful and powerful, all within the space of a few seconds. There’s something very otherworldly about Welch’s vocals; it is as if they should be coming from a forest nymph or ocean siren rather than the mouth of the tall and fierce redhead that actually produces them. Florence exhibits rich and complex vocals which perfectly compliment the band’s esoteric lyrics – which are often concerned with the natural world – and is able to paint some wonderful mental images with her bright and vibrant tones.

Check out: Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up), Kiss With a Fist, Dog Days Are Over

# 1 – Brendon Urie (Panic! At the Disco)

The fact he had the balls to cover the magnum opus that is Bohemian Rhapsody, and didn’t make a fool of himself, should tell you just how skilled a singer Brendon Urie truly is. The 29-year-old Utah-born singer has an utterly phenomenal voice, with a vocal range of four octaves (to put this in perspective, Adele has a range of two), and he can move between them with complete ease. Urie is one of those rare singers who is able to perfectly reproduce their studio vocals in a live setting, always treating audiences to outstanding performances of tracks like Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off and Miss Jackson. It is apt that Urie would attempt Bohemian Rhapsody, since there can be no doubt that he is in some ways the spiritual successor to – the utterly irreplaceable – Freddie Mercury, being both an incredible performer and a truly gifted vocalist.

Check out: Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off, Nine in the Afternoon, I Write Sins Not Tragedies

Top 10 Rock Singers of the 21st Century You Can’t Ignore article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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