15 of the Best Falsettos in Music Right Now

In Italy during the mid-16th Century, an entirely new kind of vocalist began to emerge due to the popularity of falsetto: the castrato. Castrati were men with the voices of angels. Their light, airy, falsetto tones were more akin to the voices of pre-pubescent boys. The falsetto became their natural tone, giving them full control over the highest of registers. These men were able to sing melodic lines otherwise reserved for the female soprano.

Castrati were the rockstars of their time, fawned over by women and coveted as house musicians by the rich and royal. It was the dream of many a young vocalist to someday become a castrato. These men even looked different than non-castrati. They were tall, beardless, with pale skin and a plentiful head of hair. They tended to gain weight around their hips and in the breast area. However, fame and fortune came at a price. As you may have surmised from the word "castrato" (and from the very specific areas of weight gain), these young men were able to preserve their pre-pubescent vocal range by sitting in a bath of warm rosewater while a big metal claw literally castrated them.

Thankfully, the castrati were outlawed long ago. Apparently someone came to the realization that no matter how pure the falsetto, it's just not worth it to allow someone near your testicles with lawn clippers. Nevertheless, the demand and value of a good falsetto is still alive and well. It’s used in about every pop song you will ever hear. Some artists can go their entire careers without singing a single non-falsetto note. But not all falsettos are created equal. There is clearly a difference between a run-of-the-mill pop songstress’s falsetto hook, and a well placed, pure ascension into a higher register by an artist who specializes in the fine art of the falsetto. Here are the 15 artists with the best falsettos in music right now.


2. The Weeknd

Clearly the falsetto plays a huge role in the world of R&B. But not every R&B artist can use his or her falsetto to such an effect as Abel Tesfaye. The small tremble in his voice is warily intense. It’s not the quiver of a weakness, it's the quiver of tender application. Combine that falsetto with his penchant for writing an entrancing melodic line, and you’ve got one of the best vocalists in R&B. His weapon of choice? The Falsetto.

3. Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake is a master of the pop falsetto. He’s a little Prince, a little Freddie Mercury, and a whole lot of pop gold. We shouldn't forget that Justin is a graduate of the school of bubblegum pop. N*Sync, The Mickey Mouse Club, these were institutions of the bubblegum sound–a sound that constructed by the sounds of prebuescent falsetto vocals. But even from those early days Justin's voice always seemed to rise to the top. Even after the demise of N*Sync, JT's voice kept him afloat. With the help of The Neptunes, he managed to translate the boy band vibe into something the less pop-inclined could appreciate.

When he hooked up with Timbaland, he made the jump from promising starlet to commanding superstar. The 20/20 Experience is filled with falsetto jams.

4. The-Dream

Before we ever heard The-Dream sing, we were hearing his songs sung by other artists. Between 2001 and 2007, Terius Nash wrote hits for artists like Britney Spears, B2K, and Rihanna. He was one of the main creative forces behind “Umbrella,” a nominee for Song of the Year at the 2008 Grammys. That whole "Umbrella ella-ella-ella-eh" thing? "Eh!" sounds suspiciously like The-Dream’s absurdly catchy ad-lib.

Considering this, it's clear the man has a gift for songwriting. However, when Nash stepped out from underneath the pen and paper, he revealed an aptitude for the unreasonably high. He even dedicated an entire track to the celebration of the more ‘intimate’ uses of the falsetto.

5. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)

Justin Vernon has essentially made an entire career from his masterful utilization of falsetto. I challenge you to scour For Emma, Forever Ago and find a single instance of a melodic line that does not involve Vernon's trademark high-pitched vocals.

Prior to the rise of Bon Iver, who would have thought a sentimental-indie-love-songer had any place in hip-hop? Well, Kanye did, and now he’s used Justin Vernon’s falsetto in several tracks. Vernon is even featured on Yeezus, the year’s most talked about hip-hop album. “I’m In It” is a banger with seemingly no place for Vernon’s fragile vocals, but the feathery falsetto prevails, providing the wailing emotional outburst that relieves a manic build.

6. Michael Angelakos (Passion Pit)

When Passion Pit crept onto the scene in 2008, it was clear that there was something special about the group. There were the bouncing synths, dance inducing beats, and clever songwriting–but it was Michael Angelakos helium-fueled vocals that really made Passion Pit sparkle. Manners relied heavily on the mercurial nature of Angelakos voice, with the album following him through a roller coaster ride of childlike refrains. The follow up, Gossamer, is admittedly less falsetto-happy, but he still pulls out the higher register when the moment calls for it.

7. Miguel

Miguel’s nosebleed-worthy, upper-echelon, higher-than-high vocals are a big reason for his recent rise to prominence. Apart from his fellow R&B falsetto-ers that populate this list, there aren’t many other artists who can hit the notes that Miguel so routinely belts. Not only does Miguel hit those notes, but he does it with relative ease. “How Many Drinks?” showcases those agile vocal chords right from the first note.

8. Jónsi Birgisson (Sigur Rós)

Sigur Rós has an instantly recognizable sound. A huge part of that unmistakability comes directly from the vocal stylings of Jónsi Birgisson. Jónsi uses falsetto almost exclusively, and has an impressive range within his falsetto. He can send his voice into the atmosphere, above the ambient mire, only to retreat and melt into that same texture when the time comes. Versatility and dedication earns Jónsi his place on this list.

9. Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean's voice is incredibly flexible. He can go low–like he does in “Songs For Women,” or he can go insanely high–like he does on “Pilot Jones." Or maybe he’ll just call in his OF crew and have Tyler growl a few verses. Any way you have it, Franky Ocean is pretty damn versatile. But having those weapons at your disposal is only half the battle, as you’ve also got to know when to use them. How different would “Thinkin ‘Bout You” sound if Frank had decided to forgo the falsetto on the chorus?

10. Ezra Koening (Vampire Weekend)

Ezra Koenig does some crazy things with his voice. One of their brand new tracks “Diane Young” enlists the aid of a few nifty after effects, but even without all the vocal CGI, Koenig’s got some seriously gifted pipes. He can twist a melody with the best of them, and his falsetto has a preppy texture that fits the Vampire Weekend sound perfectly. When he stops employing tricks, and we just get pure Ezra falsetto, you can hear the calm purity that makes all those illusions so effective.

11. John Gourley (Portugal. The Man)

John Gourley is not only the lead vocalist of Portugal. The Man, but also the mastermind behind the group's whole inception. After eight full-length albums, the band has become something of a staple on the modern indie rock scene. Gourley, along with bassist and childhood friend Zach Carothers, created the mythical character of Portugal, and took the band from their Northwest roots to full blown major label fame. But it's the airy, flexible vocal stylings of Gourley that really help the band stand out. His voice is often joined by his bandmates for big, soaring choruses, but more often than not he carries the song all on his own. It feels like the higher the song goes, the more his voice expands to fill out the upper registers with his flitting, unstoppable falsetto.

12. Pharrell Williams

When Pharrell isn’t busy being one-half of the hit factory that is The Neptunes, he’s pretty wrapped up in making music of his own, or lending his iconic falsetto to the music of others. He’s been doing it for a long time, and his feather-light vocal styling is still in huge demand. The man has already been featured on two of the biggest songs of the year: Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Pharrell’s been involved in a plethora of pop-music (read up for a refresher), and whether he’s just singing a hook, or doing the vocals for the entire track, his falsetto is one of the most easily recognizable voices in music.

13. Arthur Ashin (Autre Ne Veut)

So much of what sets Autre Ne Veut apart is Arthur Ashin's unconventional vocal acrobatics. Listeners often only get flashes of Ashin's falsetto, most likely used for the same reasons that people utilize abruptly short sentences in writing: to capture one's undivided attention. To make a point. These random morsels of his unfathomably high falsetto (sometimes to the point where you can't even recognize the lyrics) swiftly transition into a drastically lower register, packing a greater punch than those of others due to its unpredictable nature. Evidently, Ashin's on to something.

14. Thom Yorke

Some falsettos are heavenly, and some are just spooky as all hell. Thom Yorke seems to have mastered the latter. Yorke has cited Jeff Buckley as one of his initial inspirations—which makes sense as Buckley was one of falsetto’s pioneers in the rock and roll era. Take a listen to “Ingenue.” Listen for the way Yorke’s voice floats hauntingly above the fuzzy muck of driving synth and pattering drums. He sounds more like a ghost than one of the most sought after vocalists in the industry.

But Thom’s falsetto shouldn't be pigeonholed into the ‘haunting’ category. “High and Dry” gives us a look at the sweeter side of Yorke’s register. The same voice that plays poltergeist in tracks like “Pyramid Song” and “Sail To The Moon” becomes a sweet serenade and the perfect companion to the simple guitar.

15. Prince

This one’s a no-brainer. Prince’s voice is one of the most iconic of our time, and he’s made a career of exploiting his fantastic falsetto. The Purple Man’s falsetto is a bit different than most on this list. Where other artists use it for soaring, gliding melodic lines, Prince doesn’t restrict his high register to sustained notes. He uses it for punching, staccato riffs. Give a listen to “Kiss.” Most vocalists can only dream of hitting the register that Prince uses in this song, let alone achieving the sheer attitude and texture. Prince is one of the few artists to master an almost gutteral falsetto.

16. Mariah Carey

Actress, mother, wife to Nick Cannon, American Idol judge–it’s easy to forget what got Mariah famous in the first place: her atmospheric range. Mariah possesses the elusive female falsetto, and her gender gives her what's easily the greatest vocal range on this list. There isn’t even a close second. Carey’s the undisputed queen of upper register flourishes and runs, and she’s held that title since bursting onto the scene in the early '90s. Back then she was a young vocal phenom, now she’s a veteran vocal phenom, and she’s got the chops to keep the hits coming for years.