This weekend Pitch Perfect, a movie about a scrappy competitive singing troupe, hits screens in an explosion of mind-blowing 8-part harmony. Think Bring It On with jazz hands instead of spirit fingers. And no Eliza Dushku. (And no Jesse Bradford. And no “cheer sex”. I could go on.)
I have a love/hate relationship with a cappella. On the one hand, I genuinely respect the vocal skill it takes to sing as a tight group without any outside guidance. The pitch, the rhythm, tone, everything - it's incredibly difficult to do well, and it's an amazing way to showcase a true mastery of the vocal instrument.
It's also usually cornier than a johnny cake. The massacring of popular music, the cringe-inducing near-choreography ... all this combined with a healthy dose of earnest enthusiasm is usually enough to make many of us look the other way whenever we see a loosely-collected group and a pitchpipe.
At its best, it can sound incredible and stretch the ear’s expectations of what the human voice can do.
At its worst, all the singers can take on the exact facial expression of Beeker from The Muppets.
Anyway, while the idea of a feature film about competitive singing troupes in the age of Glee (which, thanks to the magical on-demand band that manifests whenever its characters break into song, is never actually a cappella) and a dozen different televised vocal competitions may not be a bad one, the whole concept of a cappella has had at best a questionable track record in films and on TV.
But don't take our word for it. Movies and TV have been using a cappella to various effect for years. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of a cappella in pop culture.
Pro: “Goodnight Sweetheart” from Three Men and a Baby