I attended an a cappella concert last night in Cape Cod, featuring ten young men, ages eighteen to twenty-two. Their arranging and singing skills were flawless. But the unnerving chit chat in between numbers proved to be a show-stopper–and not in the desirable sense. Having seen this group evolve over twenty summers, they have become a petri dish of sorts, demonstrating how the social aptitude of our young males has changed. But there is an androgyny and a forced cluelessness that takes away from their performances. What began years ago as idle comments, that seemed to connect the numbers over the course of two hours, has now turned into a puerile, sleep inducing litany of the mundane.
This focus on minutia (the long winded discourse on buying four white T-shirts at Macy’s for $20, only to wash them with red shorts to find out–OMG–the shirts had turned pink!) may perhaps be attributable to the youtube platform, bastard child of the reality show coupling with often poor judgment. This misconceived notion that your audience is interested in your derivative monologue based on your curious personal habits takes away from the enjoyment of truly gifted musicians. It is such a sharp contrast juxtaposed with the elevated singing sans instruments that has made this group legend on the Cape and throughout the country (though their graduate members’ group did not make the cut on the a cappella reality show, The Sing Off, on NBC for four seasons).
I cannot totally fault these young men for their misguided efforts in weak stand-up, however. Somewhere in their evolution, the group discovered a “cuteness” quotient in its musings, based on audience response. But friends who attended with us (having never seen or heard the group before) were confounded by their lack of self-awareness (disguised as too much anesthesizing self-disclosure). These singers are also robbing themselves of their own young manhood, gay or straight, bi or transgendered, by being posers: posing as innocents dealing with the vagaries of communal life, when we all know that during the academic year, red cups rule and innocence is waning. The prevailing mood of their riffs on hygiene, cooking, driving, etc. feels antiquated, false, and intentionally on the spectrum (with a dash of homoeroticism thrown in). With few exceptions, they are not at home in their own collective skin.
It feels hypocritical to sing “She’s Always a Women to Me” by Billy Joel (experienced by the audience as being sung with emotion, and emanating from a real place), and then to revert back to the ramblings of a middle-schooler. I hope this is not the future of males in America: testosterone-deprived but stuck in some 6th grade locker room. The music choices are contemporary and mirror today’s angsty youth; but the chatter is caught between “Leave it to Beaver” and an unsophisticated, unfunny “Seinfeld” attempt (heralded back in the day as a show about “nothing”). Hopefully these young men are not symptomatic of their demographic, but an imitative anomaly in the “Pitch Perfect” world.