After Sam Smith canceled a ton of tour dates earlier this year -- and gave a mute acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards -- many fans were distressed. Smith had lost his voice, requiring surgery and recovery time that necessitated keeping those golden vocal cords under wraps.
Now you can add Meghan Trainor to the list of artists sidelined by similar vocal cord problems. The singer was forced to cancel the rest of her MTrain Tour this week after suffering yet another hemorrhage on her vocal cords and now she's getting surgery to fix it.
Given that Smith and Trainor aren't the first -- or last -- pop stars to require such treatment for their pipes, we started wondering: What's up with that? Are these singers partying too hard? Or are they just singing wrong, somehow? Also -- not to rush it, Sam and Meghan -- but how long until you're back on your feet and singing?
Well, as it turns out -- according to the group of experts MTV News hit up back in May when Smith went under the
knife laser -- vocal loss is just a part of the job. If you use your voice too much, you could be abusing it. Like, think about how your knees feel after a long, hard run. Now imagine that times 10, but with your vocal cords. You know, the thing that makes you a pop star.
"I rarely see patients because they're literally not using their voice correctly, per se," Dr. Steven Zeitels, chief of the Center For Laryngeal Surgery & Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital, told MTV News a few months ago.
Zeitels is the pre-eminent vocal surgeon to the stars, helping out everyone from Adele to Smith to Cher to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to Lionel Richie, to name a few -- and he gave us the scoop on what's up with all these celebrity throat failures.
So Why Does This Keep Happening?
"What happens is that they have very complex touring schedules, singing at night and doing media interviews all day long and then they get a little dehydrated or get a mild cold or allergies," Zeitels said of singers who run into similar issues as Smith's. "If you or I get something like that we don't do anything, we go about our business. But the collision forces on vocal cords are the greatest in the human body... nothing pounds together like them."
When we feel that hoarseness coming on, we just push our voices a bit harder and maybe sound funny for a few days. But if you're Smith or Trainor and you have a delicate, precise instrument, you can't do that. Even if you have a mild respiratory tract infection, you don't want to disappoint your fans or band, so you do what you have to do to get through a show.
That might mean being a little hoarse the next day and needing a few days off before hitting it again. What's happened in the meantime, though, is that you've sustained a vocal cord hemorrhage that caused bleeding, an injury Zeitels said never really snaps back to normal.
That's what happened to Smith -- whose surgery Zeitels said went well -- and the damage he sustained was serious enough that it could not be ignored.
"The vocal cord comes back abnormal in its strength, or the way it's shaped, and while it's not dangerous, you don't have the same ability to get through it like you did when you were younger," he said of the damage from vocal cord bleeds.
So How Can Singers Prevent This?
For someone like Aoki, or the lead singer of a heavy metal or punk band, the "injuries" that many non-classical vocalists endure often help define their unique style, according to Melissa Cross, the renowned "The Zen Of Screaming" vocal coach who has worked with everyone from Courtney Love to Machine Gun Kelly, Coheed and Cambria, Slayer, Maroon 5 and Cradle of Filth.
"Vocal injury has a new definition, now that 'perfect' vocal cords are not necessarily required," Cross told MTV News in May. "But vocal irregularities when combined with say, for example, a bad cold or sleepless nights yelling over loud music in bars -- things that make even the perfect larynx go awry -- can often be the culprit sooner than later in the case of a singer dealing with an irregularity."
Among the steps she teaches her clients is breathing, but not the kind we do thousands of times a day. "Breathing is HUGE," she said. "A singer's warmup is not like sweating at the gym. It should be a mindful coordination of air and sound that allows a singer to function without 'thinking' or 'judging,' which causes holding of your breath."
And, believe it or not, she said that the kind of scream-singing some of her more metal clients do is no worse for wear-and-tear on the vocal cords... as long as it's done correctly. "Again, it's about a consistent and efficient balance between the air pressure in the lungs and closure of the vocal folds," she said.
When Will Smith (and Trainor) Be On Stage Again?
In the case of someone like Smith, who is at the beginning of his career and hustling to take advantage of his exploding fame, Zeitels said the pressure to keep pushing harder can lead to potentially serious damage.
"I couldn't tell you what his vocal cords looked like a year ago, but when the blood went away and he'd had a couple of bleeds, he was in Australia and one of my former trainees happened to examine him and he told him it was really something he should do something about," Zeitels said. "Because multiple bleeds caused the tissue to be scarred and that causes a variation in pitch and your voice becomes more unreliable."
That's when Zeitels' pioneering microsurgery comes in, and it's the reason a bunch of his former patients created their own non-profit a decade ago, the Voice Health Institute, which counts Tyler, the Who's Roger Daltrey, Christina Perri, Kiss' Paul Stanley and sportscasters Joe Buck and Dick Vitale among its advisory board. They're trying to spread the word about the kind of voice-saving surgery Zeitels is doing.
Just two months after his surgery, Smith hit the stage again in July in time for the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. And he sounded amazing, even if the weather didn't exactly cooperate. So, if Trainor's surgery goes as well as Sam's, chances are she could be on the road again by the fall. Finger's crossed!