An A Cappella Rendition of Lorde's 'Royals' Will Renew Your Hope in Pop Culture (Video)

Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 6:27am

An A Cappella Rendition of Lorde's 'Royals' Will Renew Your Hope in Pop Culture (Video)

by Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer

Pop culture matters. Pop culture makes meaning.

A few weeks ago in New York's Upper West Side, I had the honor of observing a dinner party/salon with a group of leading public intellectuals, a dozen or so in number, whom I personally hold in high regard. The conversation was lively and smart, measured and thoughtful. Then it took a turn. References to television and movies and "the Internet" were made with a certain naive condescension by some. There was an almost apologetic tone, as if these artistic media sources are leading to the downfall of civilization in the U.S.

The thing is, I knew they cared deeply about the subject at hand — about the state of our democracy and the life of the mind of our citizenry, especially our youth. And I think they genuinely feared that our country's popular culture was leading to our downfall. At first, I was a bit annoyed with the conversation, then I became sad. I won't go so far as to say I pitied them, but I wished they could see all the joy and happiness and comaraderie it builds among friends and families — and even my colleagues at work.

If I could loan them my eyes, they'd see my wife and two boys singing hip-hop with glee and repeating lines from movies with an indescribable authority. At this moment in my household, there are two things being played and replayed by my immediate family: on the television, the movie Pitch Perfect, and in the car, Lorde's catchy hit song "Royals."

Enter Florida State University's AcaBelles to beautifully merge these two spheres. The video is nearing five million views on YouTube now and is worth posting, if only to hear a flesh-and-bone a cappella group rival those Barden Bellas. It's a gorgeous rendition that just might compel you to loop it a few times this morning — and in the process smile, groove, and contemplate the message of the song.

Let's hope those dinner party attendees see this too. I'm convinced they'll find renewed hope in the state of our society through the creativity, fun, and interpretation of messages being put out there via the larger popular culture.

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Trent Gilliss is executive editor of On Being and chief content officer of Krista Tippett Public Productions. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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27Reflections

Reflections

I won't pretend to know what your dinner colleagues concerns are or were with reference to our current pop culture. In sharing your experience that night you didn't dwell on specifics. At extreme risk of being presumptuous, let me dare to fill in the blanks. Songs like this among some others, are...within the context of past generations, especially the cultural awakenings of the sixties...true exceptions to the rule that expresses the utter lack of evolution and progress in pop music over the last twenty, and dare I say thirty years. Granted there are indeed some fascinating variances in what hip hop is today as compared to twenty years ago, but when one compares the amazing, literally breath-taking leap pop culture made from say, February 9, 1964, the night The Beatles sang, "She Loves You" to a record television audience of seventy-three million viewers, in essence the entire nation watched...and then, just three years later, we witnessed "Purple Haze" and the Beatles themselves composing and performing a Timeless Ballad every bit as different from "yeah, yeah, yeah" as a song can be with "A day in the Life" and leaving the listeners, many of whom watched them on black and white TV sets with mop tops shaking...with their jaws wide open, fumbling for the needle to hear the entire album yet again, not believing their own ears, and when one realizes the short length of time in this amazing evolution in pop culture its mind boggling, especially in reference to today's stagnation.. Three years.

By the way I was only four years old in 1964. It wasn't my time so I'm not waxing nostalgic here. In fact as I stumble over "YouTube" recordings of sixties iconic groups and pop culture performers, I see numerous anecdotal threads of young teenagers currently pining for wanting to have been born in 1950 rather than 2001 so that they could have lived through such an amazing era as adolescents.

Yet, as a nightclub Disc Jockey who helped bring Hip Hop to the world in the eighties, I don't see anything close to that kind of amazing journey. Again, I hear some fine variations on a theme, but I don;t see that kind of transference, that kind of innovation, literally reinventing composition, lyrically and in so many other ways.

I use that juxtaposition as but one of a myriad of examples that I think explains what your colleges were wringing their hands about. This song and, specifically, this rendition are "diamonds in the rough" ,yet even here I can easily imagine it being composed twenty years ago, or more convincingly ten years ago. I then would have you recall, my three year example of 1964 pop music compared to 1967 pop music.

You may say "apples and oranges" but I'm talking about the "fruit"...the pop culture...and its truly stagnant journey on a road that used to take young people on amazing new paths rather than a carousel that goes round and round, repainting the ponies pretending its going somewhere when it isn't.

I do love this latest "pained pony" and I await the young artist who steps off this thirty year merry-go-round" and finds another bright, dramatic new path.such as the new paths discovered over the first three quarters of the last century. Just my take anyway.

Beautifully written thoughtful comment.

Mr. Sciolino, Bravo, what a beautifully written analysis of the state of pop music today. Having watched part of the AMA's last night, I was saddened by the influence of corporate greed the business puts on artists today to be shocking and sexy. Not to mention the absolute "need " to dance while singing. You are a bit younger than I, I was born in 1956, but we still were a part of the magnificent rise and transformation of pop music into art. There were so many good/great albums coming out each week there was no way to keep up except to buy what you could and then go to your friends homes to listen to what they had purchased. Sitting and listening for an hour or two at a time, sharing the experience and then doing it again. Music was so transcendent and influential. It is sad that those days are largely passed. Growing up I had often wondered why classical music died. The same thing is happening today to pop. It is less and less art and more and more commerce, the aural version of cotton candy.

Thank you for this wonderfully expressed comment. As a musician, it sums up my feelings exactly. Three years.

But you ARE PRETENDING to know what it's like to be a young music consumer. My point: you aren't living it. Do you think young people aren't perfectly capable of navigating past bullshit pop towards worthier music? They're like sharks in the water when it comes to this and you're trying to analyze them from the boat. I don't think you're recognizing that the reflections from surface level are blocking your view.

I love On Being to death. It's one of my favorite things. I didn't really get what stands out about this though. I'm really not trying to sound like a snob, but it's not a standout performance as far as music at the end of 2013 goes. It's a mostly European American group performing a pretty good version of a European (New Zealand) song. Is this special because they threw a little beatboxing (around since the 80's) into the mix? "Let's hope those dinner party attendees see this too. I'm convinced they'll find renewed hope in the state of our society." If someone learns to like Royals (a great European pop song), it brings hope? I'm sorry, I don't see where this is anything but maintaining Status Quo. Which is fine if that's what you're into. - Am I just in a bad mood this morning?

Trent Gilliss's picture

Ben, what I love about this rendition, though, is that it takes a popular hit by a teenager from New Zealand (who is making a statement about the current state of media and its coverage of celebrity and such, reimagines it with an a cappella lens, and then posts it on the Internet. It's playful and fun and brings it back to the States with a different sensibility. For me it exemplifies the creativity that takes place through popular culture, rather than the negative that can so often be worried about coming out of popular culture.

I don't get it either Ben. I think that version of that pop song doesn't redeem pop culture at all and her family dancing to glee doesn't either. "I don't care that I will never be Royal because I can be that in my dreams"? The nursery rhyme cadence is no more impressive than the contradictory lyrics. I think the writer was just emotional when she wrote this and conveyed her feeling but no reasoning to go along with it. Pop culture is pop culture. It appeals to the masses in part because it is cliche and devoid of any true viewpoint. Pop music is to art what McDonalds is to cuisine in my opinion and this slick video production by some lipsyncing teens doesn't change that.

This is good, but I am not sure why it's getting posted everywhere. There are hundreds of a cappella songs on youtube that are breathtaking, spectacular, etc. Some professional, some amateur, that people should see:

Amazing, all of them.

I can't watch them? They look awkward .

Don't watch them. Listen to them. If you want to really hear something you must close your eyes.

Pop culture.... most harmful thing in the world next to religion.

Hey Trent,

Hope you didn't take that selfie while the car was moving.

We LOVE Pitch Perfect in our house. Totally underrated.

Great video. But could have done without the self-congratulatory bloviating from Trent Gilliss. Trent, we don't care about your wife and kids or the fact that you go to UWS dinner parties with "leading public intellectuals". Puke!

The human spirit seems always to conquer all else. Is the glass half empty or half full? Thanks, Krista for affirming the beauty - always alive and doing well. Please continue to teach and inspire.

I just listened to this, then the original on youtube - got to say I like this version way better. Good luck to all these girls. The lead voice is amazing!!

Pretty singing by the AcaBelles, nice blend and pitch. Do the Lordes also not bother with consonants in their version? I have no idea what this lovely song is about.

Wow very nice I love the harmony of this song you girls sang, very well done.

This really got my attention...i am not up on pop music, so I watched Lorde's video and read the backstory on lyrics in Royals...very enlightening! I love in Florida and my husband was on FSU's first football team. The young women are very talented.

Another reason to like On Being!

I think I'm in love with the woman beatboxing.

Popular culture abounds with reasons for aesthetic and intellectual hope. It's also rich (as are all other cultures of art and entertainment) with examples of work that only seems deep from certain perspectives. "Royals" is narcotically catchy and problematic.

In "Lily Allen's Anti-Black Feminism," Ayesha Siddiqi nicely calls out Allen, Lorde, and Macklemore for "the myopia of latent racism [among white artists ostensibly making anti-consumerist statements] that’s more anxious about gold chains on a rapper than an Armani tie on a hedge fund analyst."

That's another way pop culture can be a vehicle for hope: it inspires some pretty deft criticism and necessary dialogue.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Godsey, thanks for adding to the discussion. Reading the discussion following on Ms. Siddiqi's commentary (on Vice, no less) is heartening in many ways. Truth is neither singular nor independent of context. This is what I find so edifying about artists building on and extending popular culture — that they are examining and redefining the many sorts of meaning these works may not have done on their own. And this invitation deepens and connects, even if the many people who participate in the discussion don't come to agreement.

Since long before there was United States of America, adults have worried about the state of society and the effect of the current “pop culture” on young people and society. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles expressed similar concerns about the pop culture of the late 1960’s and 70’s when I was growing up. They did not understand what we kids liked about the often dissonant Rock ‘n Roll we were constantly listening to on our battery powered transistor radios (which were small enough for us to carry everywhere) and they worried about the hours we wasted watching TV.

These are the same family members who played jazz and swing themselves in their own bands and who danced the night away in dance halls that popped up all over the country to host local bands as well as the famous big bands and orchestras of the 30’s and 40’s. According to what I remember of their stories, the “homogenizing” influence of radio and movies at that time, which spread a particular pop culture throughout the states and eventually around the world during the war years, seem to have had a similar “revolutionizing” effect on their generation to what the personal computer and internet have had on my generation and to what the cell phone and constant personal radio communication are having on the current generation.

Now that we can access a larger volume of media there is a corresponding increase in material that is not enlightening, uplifting or instructional about the human condition. However, there is also a corresponding increase in the capability to access those pearls of culture from this country and around the world that truly entertain, enlighten and enliven us. It is also easier for artists ignored by the current entertainment “business” to distribute media to a huge audience without relying on agents or recognition from commercial promoters. I think there is hope that as long as most parents, extended families, friends, and educators do what they have always done, which is teach our youth the joy of sharing a great performance no matter what the medium, they will develop their own ability to create, discover and recognize the pearls of life, even if they are not the same pieces that we would chose for ourselves.

Absolutely beautiful, the ladies and the voices. But some of the words the ladies sang are wrong. It's "that kind of luxe just ain't for us
we crave a different kind of buzz".
I'm sure that I'm not the only person who commented on this.

Frank Zappa, in response to congressional concerns about rock music corrupting youth pointed out that 98% of rock was about love.... and that if it was that onfluential there'ld be far less war and strife. I believe that's an accurate statement about the more rapidly accessible media today.
The internet makes accessible to everyone all of the diversity of the group/societal mind - but much like your own mind, its both the thoughts/ideas you want to acknowledge and those you don't wish to claim. Simple possession of those contrary thoughts no more governs your outward behavior than does eating chocolate while on a diet.

It's okay to enjoy pop music and culture. You don't have to pretend it's high art. This is an in-tune, in-time rendition of a pop song by a bunch of young pretty girls. Mozart it ain't.