Pop songs are to cupcakes and autotune is to cherry: The latter completes the former. It’s an industry standard, much like photoshopping a magazine cover. It has to be done no matter how talented the artist is, because songs are products, and record labels want to release the best products possible. Even if a vocally-gifted artist is, say, on pitch 99% of the time, the engineers working on the song will use a bit of autotune to get that accuracy to 100%. “No, my favorite artist doesn’t use autotune!” Sorry, but he or she does, not necessarily out of need but for formality. “But he/she doesn’t sound like T-pain! Are you deaf?!” Well, just like a light with a dimmer switch, autotune can be configured on a sliding scale of prominence, ranging from barely there (not a lot of help) to robotic (T-pain take the wheel!). Just because it doesn’t sound like a cyborg or because your favorite artist can actually sing, doesn’t mean autotune is not being used on the record. It is.
That being said, it’s very interesting to hear artists give an impromptu performance without help from the audio plugin. Below is a video of Ariana Grande, singing an acapella version of her hit song “The Way” during an interview with Z100 New York. The video starts with Ariana consulting with her team. “Am I allowed to do this?” to which the response was “yes.” She then proceeds to get her jitters out of the way and starts singing.
If you’re not convinced yet, here’s a video of Ariana singing to her webcam while doing impressions of her favorite artists–including Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Shakira–before she achieved worldwide fame. I remember watching this years ago and thinking “why isn’t this girl ultra famous?!” Welp, I probably should’ve wished for a billion dollars.