Turn on the radio and you'll definitely hear it, but defining cursive singing, the vocal trend that's pervasive across genres, is a little harder. The Guardian takes a stab at this in an entertaining piece, noting that it occurs when singers tack on extra vowel sounds to syllables, often drawing them out as they croon, and maybe even dropping off an ending consonant. These creative diphthongs can sound like completely different words—as with "before" morphing into "bef-ou-oi" on the Tones and I track "Dance Monkey"—but opera singer Frédérique Vézina likens them more to "a texture or inflection." "It's simply a choice and it's a style," she tells the CBC. As an explainer on the cursive style by Vice puts it, "these singers are doing the most."
It was Twitter user Trackdroppa who first smacked a label on the styling in 2009 when he tweeted "singing in cursive" to describe the smooth, jazzy, vocal fry of artists like Corinne Bailey Rae and Amy Winehouse. While people like to poke fun at singers belting out lyrics in cursive, it's hardly something new, and can be heard in songs from Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Etta James. "I love to say as a teacher that it started with somebody who was probably pretty lazy in their diction, but happened to get a couple of hits under their belt," singer Cassandre McKinley tells the Guardian, noting that these trends can "catch on like wildfire" after they're heard.
Artists as different as Halsey, Sean Mendez, and Bob Dylan use some form of cursive singing, but the form has been mostly associated with women, sometimes called "indie girl voice." "Whenever young women ... create a new sound, whether it's the valley girl of the 1980s or the cursive singing of the 2000s, there's always a resistance to it, right?" says musicologist Nate Sloan. Vice notes that while critics can point to artists "relying on vocal trickery and trend-based singing as opposed to technique," it's not necessarily a sign of bad singing. In fact, vocalists known for their range, like Billie Eilish, have Grammy-winning hits with plenty of diphthongization. (Streaming has influenced how music is made.)