It’s What’s Happening: Anna Kendrick and “Cups”

Anna Kendrick - CupsAnna Kendrick is a Broadway and movie actress. She was nominated for a Tony at the age of 12 for her work in High Society and received an Oscar nomination a few years ago for Up In The Air. You might also know her from the Twilight films. She most recently appeared in Pitch Perfect, a movie musical about competing a cappella singing groups. In that movie, her character auditions for the group with a piece now known as “Cups.” Here’s the song:

Anna Kendrick – Cups

And here’s the original video which led her to learn the routine:

What’s kind of amazing about this is that Kendrick’s version made the Billboard charts — the lower reaches, mind you, but still. And it managed to do so despite the fact that Kendrick is not a pop singer, there’s no musical accompaniment, and the song is only slightly longer than a minute, which ties it for the second-shortest song ever to land on the Billboard Hot 100. (Ready for useless information, music geeks? You’d better be. There’s going to be a quiz later. The shortest ever to make the chart is “Little Boxes” by The Womenfolk at 1:02, and “Cups” ties with “Some Kinda Earthquake” by Duane Eddy at 1:17.) It has sold over half a million copies to date with no radio play.

We are looking at a sea change in music. It’s been coming for a couple of years, but with Billboard’s decision to include YouTube views as a method to help determine America’s most popular songs, everything will change. Theoretically, I could have the #1 song in the country this summer. You could, too — without a record company and without radio play. All you need is a catchy song, and if there’s an element of novelty, even better. (It’s unlikely, of course—one would still probably need to be on itunes—but it’s not as laughably impossible as before, and simply making it onto one of Billboard’s many charts is certainly within reach with a little luck.)

minutemenHistorically, you could only support a song once — when you bought it (unless you’re crazy and enjoy buying hundreds of copies, in which case, some lucky singer probably has a restraining order out on you). One sale equaled one vote. But if you watch the video for “Cups” seven times, that’s now seven votes. I don’t know the particulars of how Billboard factors all of this in with sales and radio play, and I’m sure there’s potential for ballot-stuffing, but a weird kind of democracy has now infiltrated the music biz. Good luck, giant corporate record labels — the colonies just discovered guerrilla warfare.

Note: Universal Music Group has recently released a radio version of “Cups” which doubles the length, adds music, and totally sucks the charm out of the song. Way to go, suits! Don’t believe the conglomerates when they tell you piracy kills music — accountants kill music.

[Update: It’s now July and the radio version of “Cups” has reached the US Top 10. According to Billboard, this puts Anna Kendrick in rarefied company. She and Barbra Streisand “are the only two people that have earned a top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and Academy Award and Tony Award nominations in acting categories.” Also, the radio version is growing on me — it seems the song is catchy no matter its incarnation.]

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