Singing as we’ve come to know is cool enough I guess. Prince was/is/will forever be the Song Gawd. The 60’s-90’s gave us some immortal hits. Drop any Dru Hill in right now & I’ma steal your spotlight & your thunder all while I Sisqo the whole place to ash with every the ad-libs he straight snatched from Jodeci’s K-Ci. But can I be honest for a minute? Can I keep it 100 emoji?
Them shits may be obsolete. We done evolved and most people have no idea. Well you gone learn today. You gone get this work.
Welcome to the world of The Sing-Off. Population: infinite swarms of a cappella singing groups.
As far as I’m concerned Take 6 really started this gangsta shit but we’ve come a long way. And The Sing-Off is like the School Of Gifted Youngsters of these fledgling vocal mutants. Understand: it’s one thing to to be able to sang… like with an a. It’s another thing to be able to drop them harmonies on someone & float their otherwise menial existence within about 50 miles of what we been taught is heaven. And yet it’s a whole new beast when you got three-part harmonies popping off while some mutant is in the background mimicking an 808 drop whilst covering a Kanye West that you somehow turn into sing-down-the-house slow burner.
Have you seen such a defiant beast rise from the darkness in soft, non-threatening colors and edgy hair or costumes, executing choreography, laying face-first into the moment? I have.
I’ve witnessed a group of former back-up singers named Ten snatch Adele’s wig straight off her head with nary an instrument on stage and transition Skyfall first into gospel and then into Devonte Swing ether (also check out their rendition of Proud Mary btw).
I’ve gazed upon a bromantic kegger of 20-or-so of the most annoyingly cornball college buds called the Darmouth Aires, a bro-vert op group that every fiber of my being demanded I hate-shade relentlessly, somehow Voltron into a gotdamn mighty conduit that channeled legit shades of Freddie Mercury if only for 3 glorious minutes and gave the world a Queen medley that was meant to be the protagonist final performance of some male Pitch Perfect spinoff.
And then there is the mountaintop. The acoustic apex predator. Mt. Crushmore. The evolution of all professional karaoke, college acapella competitors, car-ride “damn this is my jam” harmonics and beyond: Pentatonix.
Pentatonix does more with five people than most people do with they whole lives. You know how you can be in Detroit and get your pair of Cartier frames snatched off your face? This is exactly what Pentatonix will do to your song when covering it. Doesn’t matter how dope the original version or performance of that joint was. It’s theirs now. Needs more soul? 4-octave range? An impromptu electronic synth? Lightwork. Done. All powered solely by the voice, fam. Remember the beast I mentioned above, flipping Kanye joints into primordial rock soul hybrid shit? Love Lockdown. Bodied it. Florence & The Machine – The Dog Days? Full time jack move — under new management. Man they went full “I’m The Captain Now” on like four whole Daft Punk songs, I’m sitting there hearing lyrics I had never noticed before, making the same face I make when someone says they weren’t really feeling The Get Down.
(You could literally get lost down the rabbit hole of their YouTube channel for a day and probably not get tired. Watch the Beyoncé medley two of them- Scott and Money-making Mitch – stitched together and then sign my racial draft petition to trade trash Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake for the position of “white dudes who can sang their asses off and seem cool enough to invite to the cookout”)
The re-centering of the lyrics is definitely one of the cooler, indirect joys of a cappella singing. The new musical arrangements hack into some songs’ potential and allow for all new elements of it to be brought to the forefront. This allows the lyrics that we wish we could hear if not for the crushing levels of bass and synth and vocoder to come forward and engage with us in ways we aren’t originally aware of. When my girlfriend realized Yeezy said “I can’t keep myself and still keep you too” after hearing Pentatonix actually SAYNG that muh’fuh we had to legit stop for altar prayer and reflect. Like, there’s “This Love” Maroon 5 wants you to understand and then there’s “God Is A Black Woman” vapors the group Committed ascends the song into.
And I cape for this all as hard as I do because it adheres to Aquarius commandment almost to the letter: creative freedom allowing otherwise unknown talents to explore and re-imagine uber-rigid Lamb Chop Play-Along repetitive pop/Hip-Hop songs; unlocking unreached potential when the pressure’s on as in every coming-of-age competition movie that lied to us about what this life would be; the fact that folks like Patrick Stump and Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men are judges; it’s all there, appealing to me at an astrological level. And I thank The Sing-Off for being my gateway drug into this Narnian world of vocals. It is a liberation. And I’m willing to bet if you dare to stare into the face of these leviathans — dare to baptize your ears in their song — you will raise a praise hand and know freedom as I do:
One layer of melody at a time.