The Scientific Explanation Behind Austin Butler’s Bizarre ‘Elvis’ Accent
"The way that Butler sounds now is just absolutely an authentic reflection of him at this point in time in his life, in which case it's perfect.”
The 2023 Golden Globes delivered dazzling acceptance speeches from Jennifer Coolridge, Michelle Yeoh, and Key Huy Quan. But, when Austin Butler took to the stage to accept his shiny gong, we all definitely noticed something.. odd.
It’s been a running joke for a while now, but during his speech after winning the award for ‘Best Actor in a Dramatic Picture’ for Elvis, viewers couldn’t help but ponder once again whether Austin Butler has in fact been possessed by the spectral King of rock and roll himself.
Austin Butler’s voice post-Elvis pic.twitter.com/r91Dt5dKiQ
— Rob Anderson (@smartthrob) January 11, 2023
Speaking in a warm southern drawl alarmingly similar to his portrayal of Elvis Presley as he thanked his fellow cast and crew, audiences were torn. Was Butler taking the piss, or had the actor been irrevocably changed by three years of intense method acting?
Later, after Variety put the issue directly to the actor, Butler confessed that he didn’t think he sounded remotely like the iconic crooner, but acknowledged that the extensive training he embarked on for the role could have had unintended effects. “I’m sure there’s pieces of him in my DNA and I’ll always be linked,” Butler said.
Speaking Like Elvis Is Perfectly Normal
In the days after Butler’s speech, the majority of online discourse (hi) has largely poked fun at him for adopting this “new voice”, given how markedly different it is from how he used to sound. But as the director of the Voice Research Laboratory Dr Catherine Madill points out, the science behind this phenomenon is experienced by literally everyone on the planet.
“Human beings are designed to learn and adapt. It is a fundamental skill of ours,” Dr Madill told Junkee. “For example, if you spent three years in Italy, you would come back to speaking English with a residual accent after being constantly immersed in another language.”
There you have it: while we’ve all probably made fun of that friend who returns from a three-week stint in England with a terrifying new pronunciation of ‘yoghurt’, subtle vocal changes are actually a universal part of being human.
Granted, Butler’s drawl does feel markedly different to his Disney days. According to Dr Madill, the average man’s voice will typically raise in pitch over life, while a woman’s voice will deepen. This is the opposite of what’s happened with Austin (his voice is far deeper than it was pre-Elvis) but human beings do naturally adapt their speech patterns to suit different contexts on a day-to-day basis.
“We see it in our own lives, with our friends and family as they get influenced by different people, different contexts. The way I’m talking to you now is not the way I talk to my dog first thing in the morning.” Dr Madill says. “Because [Butler] has spent three years in his professional role of immersing himself, it is pretty normal and ordinary that there would be some features of his speech and his voice that would be retained maybe forever in his professional role.”
Even The King Used To Speak Differently
A classic example of this concept ironically involves Elvis himself. According to music historians, he adjusted his singing style closer towards a key musical influence, African American gospel artist Roy Hamilton.
You’re right. Austin Butler imitated Elvis Presley who imitated the voice of ROY HAMILTON, THE ORIGINAL, that Elvis use for Heartbreak Hotel, so technically, Austin Butler imitated Roy Hamilton and won Best Actor in a Motion Picture for imitating Roy Hamilton. #GoldenGlobes 🤣 https://t.co/OEEthwA8gD pic.twitter.com/e8quJqmJX9
— Bettinna (@bettinna) January 11, 2023
This should serve as a reminder that even a unique creative voice like Elvis’s doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Actually, as Dr Madill reminds us, the idea of anyone having an innate “natural” voice is pure myth. “In my role in speech pathology and as a scientist and a researcher, we can’t talk about a natural voice because what’s natural?” Dr Madill says.
“I don’t use the term natural, I’ll use the term optimal, appropriate, reflective, authentic. Because the point is, possibly the way that [Butler] sounds now is just absolutely an authentic reflection of him at this point in time in his life, given his experiences, in which case it’s perfect.”
Like “giving”, a word which has begrudgingly worked its way into my vocabulary courtesy of this job, Austin Butler’s new Elvis accent looks like it’ll be hard to shake off. According to Madill, we shouldn’t blame him. “He got so imprinted that there has been a residual effect on him, I don’t know why we’d expect anything else really.”