Britney Spears, the burned-out teen pop phenomenon who returned as a Las Vegas showgirl, has been busted rehearsing a song without voice enhancement, such as Auto-Tune.
And you guessed it: it's bad, fingernails-on-chalkboard bad.
Spears, now 32, is flatter than a dunny mat from the first verse she sings of Alien from her 2013 album Britney Jean in the recording.
But things only get worse, as she wobbles her way through the three-minute-58-second song in a manner that is a little shocking for someone who has made over $US200 million from sales of more than 100 million records. It's not the first time Britney or other artists have been outed for how they sing without digital correction, but it's no exaggeration to say you'd hear a stronger vocal than this at any number of late Friday night karaoke sessions.
The song's producer William Orbit (best known for his work on Madonna's Ray of Light) came out swinging on his Facebook page in Britney's defence. He argued Britney was warming up whilst helping sound engineers prepare to record and the vocal was "not supposed to be shared with millions of listeners".
Orbit wrote: "A generous singer will put something down the mic to help the engineer get their systems warmed up and at the right level, maybe whilst having a cup of herb tea and checking through lyrics before the session really kicks off. It's not expected to be a 'take'.
"I think that 99 [per cent] of you reading this will totally understand ... Whomever put this on the internet must have done so in a spirit of unkindness, but it can in no way detract from the fact that Britney is and always will be beyond stellar! She is magnificent! And that's that."
But criticism of Britney's voice (she's allegedly a soprano) on record and especially in concert are nothing new. Way back in 2009, American critic Allan Raible wrote of her album Circus: "It would be nice if she attempted a full-on sincere artistic statement where all the computerised vocal effects were dropped. Odds are, however, if she attempted such a thing, it would be disastrous ... would anyone want to hear her attempt such a performance? Does it matter? No. The focus is still image over substance."
It is also widely known that Britney lip-syncs at gigs: in 2009 the-then New South Wales fair trading minister Virginia Judge even called for concert tickets to carry a disclaimer stating that a performance might not be sung live. It came on the eve of Britney's Australian tour.
It should be acknowledged fans and critics have forgiven Britney time and time again, mostly because the perpetual motion in her dance routines and the myriad of strange and wonderful costumes changes make singing difficult.
And anyway, Britney is a showbiz performer - that's why her current two-year stage show, Britney: Piece of Me residency, at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas seems about right to most of us.
When you buy a Britney record or ticket, you buy an experience that is only partly about singing. That might be sacrilege to fans of celebrated singers like Mariah Carey, Prince or David Bowie or even singers whose flawed but emotive vocals are a part of their appeal (think Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen), but that's pop music.
The top tier of big-selling pop stars sell their image at least as much as their music, to the point that pop music should probably be a separate genre of entertainment (the spangly-spandex-singalong-twerk-athon category). And that is OK, as long as we all realise there is a world of music out there that does, to be frank, involve more actual talent.
Still, strip away all (entirely reasonable excuses) and what's left is an unnerving truth: a megastar singer appears to be not a very good singer. Go get 'em kids: suddenly that showbiz career looks more realistic than ever.
- The Age