The Power of Diversity in Pentatonix’s Music
On August 20th, the a cappella group Pentatonix walked onto the stage of New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center, an amphitheater packed with enthusiastic fans. As one of the eager spectators, I could feel the crowd’s excitement pulsing in the theater. Many of us had been waiting for the chance to see them group in person after following the band’s progress since its humble beginnings.
The three first members, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, and Scott Hoying, recruited cellist-beatboxer Kevin Olusola and bass singer Avi Kaplan to create the band for the a cappella competition The Sing-Off in 2011. Winning first prize, the group received a $200,000 record deal but was released from the deal, impelling them to create their own Youtube channel. Posting covers of popular songs including “Rather Be,” “Say Something,” and “Cheerleader,” Pentatonix used their vast vocal range to create their signature sound. Gaining 15 million subscribers, 3 billion views, and three Grammys, Pentatonix has proven that a group of vocalists can find success even without instrumental aid. The group’s 2015 album made it to the top spot on Billboard’s 200, and they have sold roughly 10 million albums. While these are accomplishing feats, one of the most unique qualities of Pentatonix is their diversity and ability to connect with varied audiences.
Pentatonix encourages listeners around the world to embrace their own identities in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation. As the son of parents born in Nigeria and Granada, Kevin is a first-generation American who cultivated his passion for music at a young age. Not only does he beatbox and play the cello, but he also raps and plays the piano and saxophone. Kirstie is a Hispanic woman who attended the same high school as both Mitch and Scott, who identify as LGBTQ+. Matt Sallee, who recently replaced Avi Kaplan, is a graduate from the Berklee College of Music and a previous member of Pitch Slapped, a college-level a cappella group. Hailing from different backgrounds, each Pentatonix member infuses their music with a flavor inspired by their distinct tastes in music. As a result, Pentatonix has sung every genre from soul and reggae to classical and country music.
As the five singers appeared on the stage in New Jersey, the crowd screamed, an occurrence that would become a pattern after each song performance. Wearing dazzling red-and-black costumes and combining their vocal acrobatics with choreography, the band fueled the audience’s energy and commenced singing our favorite numbers. Their sound on stage seemed almost identical to that of their Youtube videos, a refreshing and increasingly rare quality in today’s world of autotune. In the beginning, Pentatonix sang one of their original tunes, “Can’t Sleep Love,” a catchy melody that showcased Mitch’s falsetto. They launched into their covers of the latest songs such as Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and remixed different tracks to create a new piece from well-known items. Although their combination of “New Rules” and “Are You That Somebody” was enjoyable, it was not as memorable as their blend of “Shape of You” and “Despacito,” the massive hits of the past two years. To provide a contrast from their pop song covers, the band sang “Hallelujah,” the haunting tune that began with soft, mellow notes but crescendoed to a loud climax. Later, Pentatonix performed the “Evolution of Rihanna,” one of their many evolution videos that include a compilation of songs from the beginning to the current stages of an artist’s career. The last performance was a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a challenging endeavor that took years to perfect, according to the band.
Switching between decade-old songs and contemporary hits, Pentatonix managed to appease audience members of all ages. On their latest tour, the band has shown that music can promote diversity and turn anyone into an a cappella enthusiast.