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)

Pop culture makes meaning. Enter the Florida State University AcaBelles' a cappella rendition of Lorde's "Royals" to make the point.

Commentary by:
Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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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 the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. 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

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.

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