From soul and Motown to modern indie rock, the falsetto vocal technique has been in popular use throughout a variety of genres and for a variety of expressive purposes. Some use their upper-register head voices to be powerful and virtuosic, while others have used it to be vulnerable and emotionally fragile. There’s probably some musicological essay on sexuality and masculinity to be written on the topic, but for now, here’s a list of our 11 favorite falsetto vocalists.
11. Justin Timberlake
When Justin Timberlake announced he would embark on a solo career, the big question on everyone’s mind was whether or not he would be able to move beyond the boy-band image that plagued the careers of the other former members of N’Sync. The success of the more “mature” image portrayed in his two solo albums had a lot to do with the exploration of a new range of his voice, particularly his falsetto. Although he called upon artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, Timberlake also owned the technique and made it his own, particularly in singles like “Cry Me A River” and “My Love”.
10. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)
Long before he recorded with Kanye West, Justin Vernon had always had a dash of R&B hidden within his woodsy, folk music. This mostly came from his overdubbed, falsetto vocal technique he began using ins his debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon doesn’t have, by any means, a strong or confident falsetto, but instead one that instantly evokes emotion and vulnerability.
9. Michael Jackson
Because of his multitude of talents, you don’t often hear about Michael Jackson’s smooth falsetto. But honestly, watch the video below and tell us having an incredible falsetto voice doesn’t just scream Michael Jackson. Like his colleague Prince, Jackson’s falsetto was as sexual as it was virtuosic. Just another thing to praise the “King of Pop” for.
8. Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind, and Fire)
Some falsetto voices should be acknowledged based purely on virtuosity alone. Not only does Philip Bailey have one of the highest falsettos you’ll ever hear, he could also hold it out for ungodly lengths of time and still somehow make it sound both sensual and incredibly smooth.
7. Jonsi Birgisson (Sigur Ros)
Jonsi’s angelic falsetto was quite unlike anything that came before it. Because he primarily sung in Icelandic or his own made-up Hopelandic (until recently), to those outside of Iceland, Jonsi’s delicate voice always had a remarkably otherworldly quality to it as if he was singing in the tongues of heaven, making it both intimate and insanely epic. For the latter check out this video below:
6. Eddie Kendricks (The Temptations)
Every male vocal group needs a tenor who can do a falsetto, but Eddie Kendricks took it to another level. Taking the lead in quite a number of hit songs by The Temptations, Kendricks was one of the most significant falsetto proponents coming out of Motown in the 1960s.