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by Olivia Rodrigo

Can a female lead vocal be too bright? I mean, I get it – you want to maintain the extreme intimacy and intelligibility of the singer, even as the backing track gets progressively more aggressive-sounding through the timeline. And if I compare the brightness here with some of the ’end stop’ references I’ve collected over the years in this respect (things like Cascada’s ‘Hold Your Hands Up’, Megan Thee Stallion’s 'Savage (Remix)', and Madonna’s ‘Sorry’), the overall HF density of the vocal tone initially does seem just on the right side of overbearing.

But the problem is that the high frequencies also seem to have been heavily compressed, but without sufficient work having been done to de-whistle sibilants (eg. “sometimes” at 0:30 or “was strange” at 0:50), soften overhard ‘k/t’ consonants (eg. “think” at 0:57 or “teeth into” at 1:07), and remove a multitude of unpleasantly spiky lipsmacks (eg. on the first couple of lines of the second prechorus at 1:49-1:55: “real big mistakes / you make the worst one look fine”). As such, this is a song that quickly becomes excessively fatiguing and distracting to my ears at anything beyond background-level listening volumes.

In fact, I’d say this is kind of a general rule for mixing: the louder you mix anything, the more you have to control it. Or, as Marvel might put it: With Great Level Comes Great Responsibility.