Your College A Capella Group Sucks

Sam here.

Let’s talk about a disturbing trend on college campuses that has made its way across the Tube de la You in the past couple of years: college a capella groups.

Now don’t get me wrong: a capella music is often some of the most beautiful music you can find, and when sung live, the power of voices blending in harmony can move even the stoniest heart to tears. Even a capella covers of popular music can have this effect… but only if done right.

What I’m talking about is the plethora of groups springing up on campus after campus, writing cheap knockoffs of pop songs. And in the cheapest way possible. Across the country they appear, with pseudo-clever names like “All-Night Yahtzee” or “Pitch Slapped”, acting as free entertainment at events where the university doesn’t want to pay a real band, and directly knocking off whatever Katy Perry tune happens to be playing on the radio that particular week.

The most telling aspect of a crappy college a capella group  is the direct knockoff. Repeat with me: Good a capella music does not have a star. It’s about harmonies and voice blending. Shitty a capella, on the other hand, involves converting the instrumental portions of the song into “doo doo da da”, and arranging in a semi-circle around whichever member has been chosen to sing lead this time. And then they recreate the song exactly how we already know it. (See figure A)

“I’m holding a microphone and standing out front so everyone knows to look at me!”

I’m sorry, but that’s not a capella. That’s karaoke with a less interesting track. If I wanted to hear a soloist singing “Two Points for Honesty”, I would listen to Guster’s original version… I searched for an a capella version because I wanted to see what harmonies people came up with.

And then there’s this guy:

Reason #4924 why foreigners hate Americans.

Without fail, the SAGs (Shitty Acapella Groups) feel the need to spice up their acts by including someone with no musical talent, probably the brother of one of the organizers, to provide beat-boxing. He is generally the whitest, douchiest male they could find, and tries to disguise this by wearing a baseball cap in the inevitable backwards/sideways variation. You know the backwards hat: It’s the universal sign that you were unequivocally street smart in 1974.

Oh, and he gets a microphone too. It’s not because he really needs one (his contribution to the piece is only harmful to all that is sacred), but it’s because he threw a temper tantrum and wanted people to look at him.

Now, like I’ve said, good a capella music does exist, and good a capella covers of pop songs are even out there. Some of them even involve the occasional soloist. There have been some great arrangements of Ben Folds songs, and I participated in a six-part rendition of a Billy Joel piece back in high school all-state choir. Unfortunately, the market is inundated with so many SAGs that these are all most searches will yield. Looking for good a capella music on YouTube is like looking for a Weird Al song on Napster 12 years ago that was actually a Weird Al song and not someone’s homemade parody.

The SAGs, you see, have failed in the same way bar bands have failed. To cover a song well, you have to reinvent it, not just recreate it.

Otherwise, you’re just unoriginal.

Sam out.

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One response

  1. Toilet Cleaner

    It seems to me like popular a cappella groups now are just groups of technically proficient singers but all with extremely dull, vanilla voices, who collectively get by on the schtick of performing current pop songs with clever arrangements, but individually, none of them seem to be unique or distinctive singers at all. All the a cappella groups I’ve heard, whether it’s Glee, or Pitch Perfect or people on YouTube (even Sam Tsui’s “one-man a cappella group”) sound the same to me. (YouTube is the go-to place for forgettable singers to try and get famous)

    I guess they should be congratulated for being clever enough that their individual voices are so boring that the only way they’d get any recognition is through the schtick.

    March 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

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