Since signing with RCA Records, Pentaholics like myself are wondering how RCA will take this group to the next level. We know they conquered Christmas last year with their platinum That’s Christmas to Me, so we waited in bated breath how their music can gain inroads in the pop realm–especially promoting original songs to radio. What gladdens me is that there is indeed heavy amount of publicity in media for the album, along with guest appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Today show, both on NBC, among other promotions. They particularly did a terrific version of the intro to Jimmy Fallon’s show, check it out below:
The only peeve I have about how the media wrote up about the release of this album is that some of them created the impression that this is the first time they sang original songs. This is definitely not the case, as from their first EP, PTX Vol. 1 they have featured original songs. And several of those originals were terrific, like “Show You How To Love” from PTX Vol. 1; “Natural Disaster”, “Hey Momma / Hit the Road, Jack”, “Love Again” and “Run to You” from PTX Vol. 2; and “On My Way Home” and “Standing By” from PTX Vol. III. The only disadvantage was for the first two EPs, they were handled by an indie label who don’t have the marketing muscle to push those songs to radio, and for the third EP, well, let’s excuse RCA for just starting to figure out how to promote an act that is associated with a less-regarded genre, though they squanderedsuch a big opportunity in giving “On My Way Home” a push, especially with the release of their tour documentary last June. But there are outlets who got it right that this is their first album of almost solely original music (with the exception of their Jason DeRulo collaboration on the standard version, plus the three covers on the deluxe version).
During their tour with Kelly Clarkson, they debuted a new cover, Omi’s summer smash “Cheerleader”. It was fun listening to the festive beats employed by Kevin, but the highlight was they added a breakdown featuring three-part counterpoint. It was a treat to hear live, but the studio version is enjoyably silky smooth. The video is a simple affair, set in a school gym and the five members in collegiate black-and-white hooded jackets. There is a nice homage to their classic formation in their “Evolution” and early videos in the middle, too.
The end of the above video features a teaser of their first single. Towards the latter part of Kelly Clarkson’s tour, they debuted their original song and first official single off the album, “Can’t Sleep Love”. The song is an R&B romantic ditty. I liked it, but at first listen in my opinion it paled compared to “On My Way Home”, “Natural Disaster”, and “Love Again”. But I have to say, on further listens it won me over with its charms–and Scott’s “Uh-huh”s and Mitch’s “Yeah”s are a fun touch. The video is pretty lush and stylish, with the gimmick of vibrant backdrops, backup dancers painted to blend into those backdrops, and the five members clad in printed haute couture fashions. My only quibble was Kirstin’s hairdo–in my opinion it’s not a good look on her. The first thing that pops in my mind when I was watching the visuals was “K-Pop”. I think Korean (and Japanese) music videos have a whole host of these visuals. I think I started liking this song more when I heard the version that added rapper/singer Tink–just like a good dish, a little seasoning could make it go to the next level, and that’s what Tink’s contribution did to this song–she added some spice and that extra “something” that made this a more delicious and memorable treat. It’s such a shame she’s obviously a tack-on in the video version; I wish they integrated her more in the video ending, at the very least. Below is the “featuring Tink” version of their song, which just made a chart bow at No. 99 this week.
When I saw the track list of the deluxe version, I was stoked to see Jack Ü (aka Skrillex and Diplo) with Justin Bieber’s “Where Are Ü Now?” in the tracklist. I was intrigued how they’ll do the instrumental hook and will they do a vocal “jump” like in the song’s intro? I was a bit surprised that they stripped it down–but this arrangement showcased the song’s lyrics better and it made for a more emotional, heartbreaking rendition. I also love the disembodied vocal effect on the “I need you” line–it undercuts the desolation the singer feels. They did bring the electronic instrumental hooks later in the song, and it’s a treat, especially how Mitch mimic the instrumental hook. This, for me, is one of their masterpieces. My only quibble–after they did a rave-up and one run of the instrumental hook, it then abruptly ended. Well, on one hand, it undercuts the frustrated feeling expressed in the song’s lyrics. But on the other hand, it felt like listening to the Beatles’ 7-minute-11-second “Hey Jude” and cutting off after the first “Na na na na” coda. I wish they have another go-round of the raveup and instrumental hook, and let Scott do more runs. In fact, just like “Hey Jude”, I can fantasize them making the song even much longer by repeating the rave-up and hook, and add more ad-libs and perhaps tack in mash-ups of other songs–I thought of Loreen’s Eurovision winner “Euphoria” and U2’s “Beautiful Day” as mash-up possibilities, though the way the lyrics of those two songs contradict the sentiment of the main song would result in an effect that the singer became lost in a delusional reverie.
On the album release date, they released the video of their second single, “Sing”. Two weeks prior to the album release they let fans hear a snippet of the song as they have a promo that some of the home videos they would submit singing along to that snippet would be included in the final music video. The Pentaholics delivered in full force as the video is a great collage of those home videos (plus several celebrity home video contributions like Today Show‘s Hoda Kotb, Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, not to mention YouTube friends/stars Tyler Oakley and Todrick Hall) interspersed with Pentatonix filmed across various Los Angeles locations. One of my favorite shots was Pentatonix walking on a street crosswalk reminiscent of the Beatles’ classic Abbey Road album cover–it’s so apt as at this point Pentatonix could be regarded as the a cappella Beatles. This upbeat, uptempo jam is for me an immediate charmer. My only quibble is that Kirstin didn’t have a solo part–yes, Scott is the main lead singer here, but Avi and Mitch each had a solo line, and Kevin got a rap verse. Why no room for a line by the girl in the group?
Pentatonix’s main competition on that release date for the No. 1 album honors was Demi Lovato. Demi had more significant inroads into radio over Pentatonix, especially since she already has “Cool for the Summer” on the radio, and the title track from her album, “Confident”, was given a splashy push. With the Billboard 200 now factoring individual track sales and streaming, it is highly possible that Pentatonix may be tops in true album sales, but may be pipped off the Billboard 200 number one–it happened earlier this year with Madonna’s latest album versus the Empire soundtrack. But to the relief and delight of Pentaholics like myself, Pentatonix officially topped both the Album Sales chart and the Billboard 200–in album sales it beat Demi Lovato by 11,000 units, 88,000 vs. 77,000, but though Demi obviously caught up with streaming and individual track downloads factored in, Pentatonix still pipped Demi by 200 equivalent units. And with that, Pentatonix made history as the first a cappella group to make it to No. 1 in the album charts.
This breakthrough is indeed an achievement worth celebrating. However, Pentatonix has a long way to go. There is still radio resistance towards a cappella music, though some of that was worn down by “Can’t Sleep Love”. Hopefully the big sales can convince radio stations that their songs are worth playing, and I hope there would be more streams and spins for their follow-up, “Sing”. There is also thhe international market to think of–though they did make the charts in other territories, they were not as big as in the US. Well, Pentatonix has already hurdled one major obstacle with the Billboard 200 achievement, so the other challenges ahead are achievable, and it looks like this group is up for them.
COMING UP: TRACK-BY-TRACK ALBUM REVIEW