I like Rihanna and her song "Diamonds".
She sings the phrase "At first sight I left the energy of sun rays" at 01:25. And I can't hear this "rays" but "ray-hey" or "ra-hey".
Is this her original accent or something? Or simple American emphasis?
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This is just this singer's individual way of singing 'rays'. Since singing can be an emotional expression, coupled with a musical beat, as well as possible showmanship, singers will express words differently from how they do in speech. I'm sure it must be the same in your first language.
Your question reminds me about questions I had about words in a French song (or actually some French words in an American song). So I asked someone who spoke French. I found out that not every syllable corresponds to a word, because singers will add syllables to keep up with the beat.
Neither. It's music.
She wants to emphasize all three beats in the music, but because neither the word not the pitch changes, she adds in an extra consonant sound to distinguish the third beat from the second.
In speech, nobody says ray-heys when they mean rays. (Just like nobody says umbrellaellaella when they mean umbrella!) But if you listen to a lot of western pop music you'll find lots more examples.
The short answer is yes you are hearing her Bajan accent come out in that song. To prove it yourself, you can go to youtube and search for Bajan accent, Bajan Music etc. You'll get people from her Island, and you'll hear them sing the same way, but even more distinctly.
Having spent so much time in the USA has probably softened her original Bajan or Barbadian accent, and that's what you hear her sing with in that song.
If you read the linear notes on one of Rihanna's earlier CDs,Good Girl Gone Bad, you'll see people credited for Vocal Production.
This is something you usually don't see on any release for anyone. When she first started, people were hired to help her sound as American as possible, or to put it another way make her Bajan accent go away.
To that end, they coached her in the American R&B singing style that was foreign to her at the time, or to put it another way they taught her how to sound like a Black American when she sang.
That is not an insult by the way.
It's a compliment to the great success of Black American singers that someone coming from a place with its own strong Black singing traditions had to learn their way, before they can have their chance at success.
In Good Girl Gone Bad the vocal tricks of the trade that sounded so natural and smooth from Rihanna were the result of a lot of hard work and dedication both on her part and the vocal producers who worked on her songs with her.
Barbados may be a small Island, but it has a distinct culture and Barbadians speak their English dialect with a distinct accent.
Because Black music in the USA is so dominant, few people realize that it is just one of several musical styles, each distinct from each other that were a product of the African diaspora in the Americas.
Most are at least aware of Jamaican music, even if the don't listen to it, but far fewer are aware of the music of the smaller islands like Barbados which has mixed up all the various Black Caribbean styles and blended it with English traditional and pop music styles to create something of their own very distinct from Black American musical styles.
While she probably grew up listening to a fair share of American music, that doesn't mean she learned to sing that style perfectly.
That's why initially she needed the Vocal producers to help her sound perfect.
Obviously as she became a megastar the need for her to sound so American wasn't as important as it first was.
I wouldn't be surprised if she or one of her producers on that song decided it was a perfect opportunity to introduce elements of her natural singing style to see if it had any negative impact.
Obviously it didn't. So I imagine if another song comes along where her natural accent works with the song, I imagine they'll do it again.
And honestly she is such a big star now, she could sing practically any way she wanted, and as long as she hit the notes, she'd sell millions. Bitch bettah have my money is proof of that.