Jake: [to himself] She's gonna do bad on The Voice.
When a character is supposed to be a bad singer, they will often use a ridiculous fake voice to simulate a supposedly "strangling a bag of cats" sound. Sliding the notes up and down randomly and screeching at the top of one's lungs, often complemented by bad lyrics, is a popular portrayal of bad singing, even though it is blatantly fake to anyone who has ever heard the real thing. If you listen to genuine bad singing (for example, certain American Idol contestants, or Jeremy Hardy on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, or any unskilled person trying to karaoke at a party), it typically sounds nothing like the kind of bad singing you hear in mass media.
There's a very good reason for trained (or even just "decent") singers to do this: they have to ignore everything they've learned about singing, which is naturally hard for people who've trained for years. Even after just a year or two of singing the proper way, the physical mechanics of singing mean that it's genuinely hard for someone to return to their untrained or "bad" singing because trained singers habitually try to correct being off-key or off-tempo as soon as they realize it or someone points it out. Hence, the best way for them to consistently sing poorly is to make their singing so horrendously godawful that they cannot possibly correct themselves in any way. It's like a self-inflicted Informed Flaw. (Also, trained singers are quite sensitive to the stress on their vocal tract that most styles of bad singing cause—they shy away, voluntarily or otherwise, from what feels like it's doing damage.)
Even if not familiar with proper vocal techniques, the majority of people are capable of hitting the approximate notes and even harmonizing within a group. In addition, almost anyone when listening to music can recognize when a note is off-key. Because this includes the audience as well, the extreme is usually needed in order to properly convey someone who cannot sing at all. Another consideration is that it's OK to laugh at fake bad singing, but most audience members are hesitant to laugh at bad singing that seems too real, just in case it is.
Expect "tone deaf" to be misused as a blanket term to describe anyone who sings poorly. A truly tone deaf person lacks "relative pitch," the ability to hear the difference between musical notes.note A great deal of self-proclaimed "tone deaf" people can't sing because they're untrained, not because they have any sort of impairment.
The "cause" of true tone deafness, if it can be called that, is the fact that people's own voices sound very different in their heads from how they do to other people, due to the fact that people hear their own voices through bone conduction, rather than just air conduction. As a result, there are some people whose voices in their heads are pitched several notes higher or lower than the way they sound to other people (leading to Do I Really Sound Like That? as soon as the phonograph was invented). If this is the case for someone, it takes a great deal more work and training for that person to learn to match pitch in a way that sounds good to other people.
This trope is something of a Truth in Television, since singing poorly on cue is actually quite difficult for someone who hasn't had vocal training or genuinely is tone deaf. Therefore an actor needs to be a good singer in reality in order to have the vocal discipline required to play a bad singer in character (don't think about that too much). Of course, another solution would be to just cast someone who really is a bad singer, but that would be kind of mean, and anyway most actors do have at least a bit of training in diction and vocal production.
For extra comedy, the bad vocals may become a Glass-Shattering Sound.
A close cousin of Stylistic Suck. Related to Vocal Range Exceeded, where the notes are too high or too low for the singer's voice, and Inopportune Voice Cracking, where someone who can normally sing quite well suddenly drops an octave or loses tone due to their young age and growing vocal cords. See Bad "Bad Acting" for this trope applied to acting. Compare Cute, but Cacophonic. See also Irony as She Is Cast. Also compare Dreadful Musician, when this is exaggerated beyond the bounds of impossibility. Contrast Beautiful Singing Voice.
- The 1986 National Arbor Day Foundation PSA with Carly Cardinal and kids singing how "Trees are Terrific" has Carly sing this way, obviously as a bit of comic relief to the important message about trees presented here.
- In the Noonbory and the Super 7 episode "Wangury Wants to Fly", Wangury sings an offkey song in his goofy voice, which gets even worse when his cronies join in.
- Shadow of the Dragon: Both Meiling and Toya describe Syaoran's singing in chapter 14 as sounding like a strangled cat.
- In Queen of Shadows, Jade's kitsune slave handmaiden Koeri is eventually shown to be both absolutely awful at singing, and completely oblivious to this fact, much to the aggravation of Jade and all the other Shadowkhan.
- The The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Game Mod, Beyond Skyrim: Bruma, has the hilariously inept Nord bard, Renod Even-Toned of Bruma, who also suffers from a serious case of Small Name, Big Ego to boot.
- Shrek: A sequence in which Fiona's singing kills a bird actually had a talented singer come in and replicate the sound of an incredibly off-key note. This was noted on the DVD, in which they explained that a true bad note required either a truly tone-deaf person or a professional singer that knew the difference.
- Rio: Eva, Rafael's wife, is shown to be a rather terrible singer, though Rafael seems to think otherwise, which Jewel acknowledges by snarkily saying "I guess love is deaf too". Ironically, Eva's voice actress, Bebel Gilberto, is actually a very talented singer in real life.
- Home on the Range: Grace has extremely putrid off-key singing. Turns out it's actually important because it was the one thing keeping her from being brainwashed by Slim's hypnotic yodeling, unlike all the other cows.
- Garth from Alpha and Omega. He is such a bad howler that birds drop from the sky every time he sings. However, it actually portrays this trope rather realistically, as he just hasn't learned how to properly howl; once Lilly gave him some lessons, he sings very well.
- Peewit in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, particularly in "The Ballad of Friendship". His singing is so bad that it brings on the rain. He also gets constantly kicked off the stage when he tries to join in with the minstrels playing "Life Is A Voyage" in the United States English version and "Gentle Lady" in the United Kingdom English version.
- Mumble from Happy Feet was born tone deaf as a result of being dropped when he was an egg. Ramon compares it to the sound of a dying animal.
- In My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), Baby Lickety Splitnote is commonly perceived to be this during the "I'll Go it Alone" number, especially during the end.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, the Dazzlings are given incredible singing abilities by magical pendants, and are revealed to be horrific singers once they're destroyed. This is aided by two of them being played by non-singers, with separate actresses being used for their singing until this scene.
- In Turning Red, this is downplayed and enforced. While it doesn't come off as outright terrible, Ava Morse was told to have Miriam "sing bad" when she's trying to cheer up Mei and starts singing "Nobody Like U."
- The Elenium: When a character asks The Archmage Sephrenia why she only taught them the Language of Magic and didn't mention the existence of Magic Music, she sings something completely unrecognizable, then admits that that was her best rendition of one simple, well-known tune. They then collectively remember what Magic Misfires can do...
- Jaine Austen Mysteries: Taylor Van Sant from Death by Tiara. She's a sweet and smart kid, but man, she cannot sing to save her life.
- Stick Cat: Edith's singing has been described as screeching, and sounding worse than nails on a chalkboard by a girl who's screaming at the top of her lungs, and three dozen donkeys braying in the hallway while stomping on harmonicas.
- Darlene Edwards would often sing in a high grating voice, change keys without warning, and make weird sounds for no reason. Her husband Jonathan Edwards would do equivalent on the piano, playing an untuned piano, switching meters as the winds changed. (See The Kentucky Fried Movie for their rendition of "The Carioca".) They were actually a comedy duo played by respectable musicians Jo Stafford and Paul Weston, who enthusiastically claimed the two were a lounge act they had discovered.
- The fake 80s heavy metal band Bad News consists of 4 comedians (3 of them from The Young Ones) gleefully massacring "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Pretty Woman". Okay, Adrian Edmondson has a good voice, which he tones down for the songs. The other three, however...
- This version of "O Holy Night" is the closest to a true, unironic example of this trope you'll ever hear.
- Producer Steve Mauldin offers some pretty good evidence that he was the original singer on the track, which would make it a straight-up example as he (claims he) did it as a spoof.
- Mozart has fun with this trope in Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke).
- The Country Music version of Jonathan & Darlene Edwards: The Statler Brothers recorded an entire album in the persona of a hilariously untalented group called Lester "Roadhog" Moran and His Cadillac Cowboys.
- Biz Markie deliberately sang "Just a Friend" off-key, thus becoming a one-hit wonder.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis had not been a talented singer before 1998; he would approximate the keys for certain songs and would need hundreds of takes to record even the simplest of tracks. Starting from the Chilis' seventh album Californication onward, he began to hire a singing coach, and his voice has improved quite a bit. However, he usually saves his voice for popular televised performances, and decides to sing slightly off-key during less popular live shows.
- Grand Puba sings off-key in 'I Like It' and a few other songs. It adds to the humorous tone of the music and also makes his rapping sound even better.
- The song "A Word on My Ear" is from the POV of a tone-deaf singer and requires a very good ear for music, since you have to sing at odds with the pianist. Word on My Ear example 1 and Word on My Ear example 2.
- Florence Foster Jenkins, who ironically used to command large audiences because people would flock to hear how genuinely awful she was, ultimately appearing at Carnegie Hall a month before her death. Despite lacking a developed sense of pitch or rhythm Florence herself remained fixedly assured of her own greatness; due to early recording technology we can decide for ourselves.
- A Biopic about Florence, starring Meryl Streep (who is not a bad singer, as Mamma Mia would indicate) as Florence, was released in 2016 to great reviews.
- Lacuna Coil once held a contest to promote their upcoming DVD, where fans could send in footage of themselves hanging out at concerts, rocking out to the band's music, or doing other band-related stuff, with the chance of having the footage appear as bonus material on the DVD. Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro made a Youtube video demonstrating the kind of thing that fans could send in, where Cristina hilariously sang a deliberately off-key "karaoke" version of the song "Closer".
- The William Hung might count, depending on whether or not his bad singing is intentional. If it isn't, it's So Bad, It's Good instead.
- In "I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)," Jay-Z raps "In the club, high, singing off-key/'And I wish I never met her at all...'." His delivery of the second line is, as promised, sung off-key.
- After Noel Gallagher criticised rappers, specifically getting one (Jay-Z himself) to headline Glastonbury, Jay-Z decided to open his performance at the festival by coming on stage strumming random notes on a guitar singing "Wonderwall" off-key, before jumping into a performance of 99 Problems.
- Harry Chapin's "Six String Orchestra" is sung from the POV of a terrible guitarist, and includes several instances where Chapin deliberately stumbles over the notes.
- Another rare non-ironic Real Life example: This poor guy, made somewhat famous in a viral video, has been described as the "Worst Church Singer Ever." He appears to be Southern Gospel's answer to Florence Foster Jenkins: he's completely sincere and even appears a bit smug about his singing, but there's not one note on-key in the entire song. That takes...talent?
- In his brilliant parody of Metallica's St. Anger, Matt Smith, singer of Christian Power Metal band Theocracy, sings horrendously off-key in order to emulate Hetfield's performance on the album. The lyrics even include the line "and boy it sounds raw to intentionally sing out of key."
- NOFX's Cover Version of "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac, performed as a duet between Fat Mike and guest vocalist Greg Graffin: Greg Graffin sings in his normal style and plays things relatively straight, while Fat Mike deliberately sings off-key and off beat the entire time.
- An instrumental example: The George Garabedian Players And The Awful Trumpet Of Harry Arms parodied Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass by playing standards like Spanish Flea just a little... off.
- Legendary British music producer Joe Meek would record demos of his compositions by singing the melody, which he had to do since he couldn't write music or play an instrument. Problem was, he couldn't sing to save his life, which gave a really hard time to the poor souls who had to transcribe it into proper musical notation.
- In an interesting misuse of the "tone-deaf" term, those demos led to the fake rumor that Meek was literally tone-deaf, which doesn't make sense because someone without relative pitch would never had been able to come up with "Telstar" or any other of the more than 200 compositions to his name.
- The Bonzo Dog Band were in the direct line of descent from people like Spike Jones twenty years previously - extremely competent musicians who realized they could have more of a comedy impact by playing seemingly badly. Their take on trad jazz has to be heard to be believed.
- Christian Weston Chandler of Webcomic/Sonichu infamy is actually tone-deaf in the proper sense, but this hasn't deterred them from making many videos of themself "singing"; they may be one of the few actual examples of unironically singing this way. See here.
- While Eminem eventually became a pretty capable rock vocalist in his middle age, during his early career his singing voice is weak, even more nasal than his rapping voice (which is saying something), and usually out of tune. He exploits this, using it to play up the mocking, deranged cruelty of Slim on the wheedling, flat hook for "Kim", but also to play up his sincere, unironic joy in "Hailie's Song":
Yo, I can't sing, but I feel like singing... I wanna fuckin' sing. 'Cause I'm happy. Yeah, I'm happy.
- When Bret Hart signed with WCW and was supposedly going to join the nWo, the nWo celebrated his signing with an extraordinarily horrible rendition of the Canadian national anthem.
- La Resistance's Sylvan Grenier. The rendition of the French anthem combined with the fact the team was the Foreign Wrestling Heel type made for some pretty intense heat.
- Used straight with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who has admitted more than once that he can't sing worth a damn—yet still attempted a duet with Lillian Garcia in 2003.
- This was played with immensely during the Invasion angle in which he sang a revised Queen song into "I am the Champion" and "Kumbaya" for a despondent Vince and singing an a capella duet of "Margaritaville" with The Rock towards the end of the story.
- And lampshaded on the WWE Originals CD. In between the real songs (most of which featured actual bad singing) were spoken tracks of Austin getting ready to record his song for the album. Of course, the song doesn't actually exist.
- Austin recalled a story from his upbringing where he was looking to be a rock star until one day his brother slapped the headphones off his head while he was practicing and declared, "You suck!"
- Following Austin's lead, Kurt Angle played with this trope as well, singing "Jimmy Crack Corn" to Vince and later a revised "Heartbreak Hotel" at the prompting of the Rock. He also did the famous "Sexy Kurt" bit but that involved more non-singing than bad singing.
- Tan Drake and Jon Moxley at CZW's Cage Of Death, singing about the pay per view while Rich Swann played (surprisingly well) on his guitar.
- Heath Slater, who calls himself the "One-Man Southern Rock Band". In June 2012, he interrupts a guest-starring Cyndi Lauper and declares himself a better singer... and proceeds to sing horribly until Lauper and Roddy Piper beat him up.
- Jon Lajoie's MC Vagina persona is a prime example; he doesn't so much sing as he does mumble in a monotone while music plays. And that's not even getting into the lyrics...
- An independent extension of Salina de la Renta's MLW feud with Alicia Atout involved a literal example; a singing contest which Atout was to win handily, except de la Renta wasn't vocally capable of singing as badly as she was supposed to. The solution was to have it decided by judges rather than fans, with Francine exaggerating how badly Salina did.
- Disembaudio in RiffTrax often performs painfully off-key renditions of award bait songs (such as "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic and "I See You" from Avatar over the end credits, singing over the actual singer.
- Rod and Karen of The Black Guy Who Tips belt out intentionally off-key lyrics to the segment themes to "Fucking With Black People" and "Guess The Race". Their real voices tend to come through when they sing along to "Do You Wanna Funk" before "Gay People News".
- Harry Secombe's Goon Show alter-ego was an enthusiastic but Hollywood-terrible singer, in deliberate contrast to Secombe's accomplished singing in real life.
- Jack Benny's violin playing. In reality, he was a very talented violinist, and counted virtuoso Isaac Stern among his friends. Jascha Heifitz, another virtuoso violinist and friend of Benny, once remarked of him "It takes a lot of practice to play as badly as he does." (i.e. that a genuinely bad violinist would play in a way that was unlistenable rather than laugh-out-loud funny)
- The musical Souvenir is about the notoriously bad singer Florence Foster Jenkins. Actresses playing Jenkins have had to study bad singing in an effort to sound genuinely awful.
- The first girl auditioned to sing "Who Wants To Live In New York?" in the "Opening Doors" sequence of the musical Merrily We Roll Along. (In some productions, she ad-libs, "I can sing it higher!") "Sopranos with voices like bees" indeed.
- Played straight in all versions (film, theater, TV movie) of The Phantom of the Opera, where we are led to believe that Carlotta is a terrible singer, when in reality, she sounds almost exactly like any opera singer would.
- In the film, Margaret Preece—who sings for Carlotta—obviously has a lot of training and talent, but one can also tell she's doing all she can to sound really annoying. She turns her high notes squeaky as they end, pushes way too hard in her lower range ("from our saviors, from our saaaaaaAAAAAAEEHHHVIAAAAAHS") and, particularly in her rendition of "Think of Me", uses way too much glottal emphasis at the beginnings of the higher notes.
- Kristine in A Chorus Line, who has a song about how she can't sing.
- In the comic opera La Fille du Régiment, Marie (coloratura soprano) has been raised by soldiers to sing rousing patriotic songs and camp ballads, but apparently needs to be retrained to sing "refined" music. Meanwhile, her mother clucks and squawks like an old hen. The contralto has to be genuinely horrible throughout, which only makes Marie's already beautiful voice sound even better.
- On the reverse, or flip-side of the trope, Peter Schickele's "P.D.Q. Bach" operas are performed with legitimate opera singers, and orchestras, who perform them straight.
- In Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia, Limited, the number "A Tenor, All Singers Above" calls for the singer to purposely botch the high notes, on the grounds that he has let himself go from being too madly in love.
- Gypsy: The strippers' singing in "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" is deliberately harsh, too loud and off-key as the whole point of the song is that they have "no talent" and are relying on their gimmicks to get by in Burlesque.
- In Orpheus in the Underworld, Orpheus is a terrible violin player, with his music being used as torture for Eurydice.
- The Tramp of The Backwater Gospel isn't very good at singing. His voice actor, Zebulon Whately, is however a member of the Gothic Country band Sons of Perdition.
- Red vs. Blue has Agent Carolina, who is still complimented by her bandmates, "and we're definitely not just saying that because she could kill us." She's well aware of it. She just feigns ignorance because she thinks it's funny to watch them squirm.
- The Most Epic Story Ever Told in All of Human History: The trailer features each cast member singing a tune. Some do okay, others not so much. Epic Fail, Captain Epic, Epic Robot Guy, and Ridiculously Epic Fail can be easily identified as the worst singers.
- In Whateley Universe, Merry has a rather unique version of this. When drunk on electricity, she sings exactly off-key, enough that they're pretty sure that's it's part of her abilities. Unfortunately, she's a prankster, so she's probably doing it on purpose.
- Sarah in lonelygirl15 sings a tuneless, croaky rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" in "Mission Gamma". Actress Alexandra Dreyfus is a classically trained singer.
- A central feature of Miranda Sings. It would be better if she actually knew the notes, but she doesn't.
- Megami33 is actually a really good singer, but when she voices Serena in Sailor Moon Abridged, she has to make her sound bad.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- The review of The King and I features a sketch of Russell Crowe (played by Doug Walker) and Shakira (played by Rachel Tietz) both performing off-key renditions of the songs from said musical. In reality, both Walker and Tietz are very accomplished singers (Walker has sung in previous episodes of The Nostalgia Critic, and Tietz's YouTube channel features her performing a mixture of original songs and cover versions).
- Similarly, in Critic's review of Les Miserables, Brentalfloss performs his singing in a monotone with the AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle as a parody of (once again) Russell Crowe's singing style in the film. They also point out that the original is actually on-key; it's just that he's falling back on his rock/folk background instead of the usual musical theater style, which clashes noticeably with the other performances.
- In WarpZone Project, Léa, Téo's Love Interest, is a dreadful singer to the extent of her singing teacher collapsing at the end of her lesson. Unfortunately, one of the super-villains living in their city is such a music fanatic that he considers that any "offense to music" must be destroyed.