A PENTATONIX UPDATE: YULETIDE SPIRITS

Pentatonix has been on a relentless promotional blitz to promote their full-length Christmas album, That’s Christmas to Me.  There are appearances on QVC, the launch of the Barney’s Holiday Campaign (conceptualized by director Baz Luhrmann), the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and the Christmas Tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.  Besides the media saturation with these appearances, they also released a blitz of promotional videos for seven tracks from this album thus far.  Let’s take a look at them:

“White Winter Hymnal”.  This is a cover of the Fleet Foxes 2008 song.  Besides the pristine echo-ey harmonies, they have an engaging handclap choreography that I know several people want to emulate.  It’s such delicious irony that underneath the seemingly bright and upbeat melody the lyrics seem to evoke something dark, even violent (especially with the prevalence of the color red in the lyrics, and the lines “And Michael you would fall/ And turn the white snow / Red like strawberries in the summertime.”.  The Fleet Foxes themselves never give away what the true meaning of the song was, but it did bring forth a bunch of interpretations such as a metaphor about conformity vs. non-conformity, and even some thinking the song was about a lynching, a la Billie Holliday’s jazz classic “Strange Fruit”, gang culture, even the French Revolution.

A Korean co-ed a capella group D.I.A. decided to cover this song, with Korean lyrics.  But the twist is that it’s not a literal translation but they use a Korean folk tale as the basis for the lyrics instead.  The video shows an English translation, and the Korean lyrics are no less enigmatic and dark as the original, what with a tiger eating their mother, and falling down from the sky and bleeding on a sorghum field.  It’s a terrific treat to listen to their interpretation, shown below.

“Winter Wonderland / Don’t Worry Be Happy.”  This is featuring YouTube star Tori Kelly.  I suppose the group is inspired by reggae-fying the Christmas ditty that it could easily mash up into Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 smash.  Love the bright, Brady Bunch-ish visuals and is appropriately festive and light-hearted.  Love Tori sounding sweet and brassy as she sings the wordless hook from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

“Mary, Did You Know?”.  Many people have deemed this the highlight of the album, for good reason.  It’s a dramatic, solemn, and soul-stirring rendition of a religious song written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene back in 1984 but was first officially recorded by Christian artist Michael English in 1992.  Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd (as a duet), Clay Aiken, and Cee-Lo Green have also recorded versions of this song, but I think for most of the public, this version will become the definitive version of this song.  The video likewise provided an appropriate mood as it was set in a cave with Pentatonix carrying candles.  A key highlight within this song is a solo verse from Kevin–we never heard him this angelic and soulful in the rare occasions he sang a solo line, so this is a stunning treat.  This song also became their second Hot 100 hit single, making it as high as No. 26.

“That’s Christmas to Me”.  The title track of the album is also a self-composed original.  And it’s a great song with the right sincerity and sweetness that can make this a popular and heartfelt chestnut for years to come.  My only quibble is that for a song that has minimal percussion, there is no solo verse from Kevin in this song–“Mary Did You Know” had heavy percussion parts, but they still made room for a Kevin vocal solo, so why not on this song?  The treat of the video are the home movies of the group members as children.

“Silent Night”.  Though the dissonance they employed in the latter part of the song may unsettle some listeners and make one wonder if they went off-pitch, it’s still a solemn treat you can listen to as you meditate and pray.

“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”  This is a fun and highly entertaining interpretation of that tinkly passage from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet suite.  It’s a treat how it’s converted into a wordless vocal piece, and it’s both playful and creative–don’t you love Mitch’s high-pitched squeal in the middle of the song, plus Avi’s operatic solo?  The video is also a treat–I got visions of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” video when I saw the quintet in their formation, and the playful fades, cuts, and edits despite the stark black clothing and black backdrop, makes for a great video.  Obviously each member was shot separately, but it’s awesome how they were so in synch when composted together.

The results of the promotional blitz has paid off very well, as That’s Christmas to Me is now their highest charting and best selling album thus far (already certified gold), warded off the No. 1 spot in the Billboard 200 only by Taylor Swift’s still unstoppable megasmash 1989 album.  It looks like it can even aim for platinum before this Christmas season is over–it’s a big deal considering the depressed state of the recording industry.  An extra cherry on top is that they finally also got a Grammy nomination for best arrangement (instrumental or a cappella) for their “Daft Punk” medley.  In my opinion, they deserve a few more nominations like best Pop Album or Best Pop Group Performance, but hopefully they can earn that next year.  Anyway, after this holiday blitz is done, Americans can look forward to their “On My Way Home” tour from February to March next year–hopefully they also get to promote that stunning song of the same name, too, and finally get an original song as a hit in the Billboard charts.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

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