Category Archives: Music
If you pass me on the road, you’ll see me during the summer driving with the windows rolled down, singing along with the radio. Admittedly, a lot of the time this summer, I have been singing along to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. This is partially because the song seems to be played on one radio station or another every couple of minutes, and partially because this is Taylor Swift’s latest summer anthem. After all, this isn’t the first time the Pop Elul Project has highlighted Swift’s songs. Last summer, we highlighted the important lesson she teaches in her Shake It Off single, in which she reminds us all to not be bothered by what others say about us or think about us.
This year’s summer anthem Bad Blood, teaches us something different. Another break-up ballad about a relationship gone sour, Swift focuses on the bad blood that now between her and another. Now, she can no longer trust her former significant other.
Yet, her lyrics speak more deeply about how difficult it is for us to let go and forgive. During these Days of Awe, we seek out those that we have wronged and ask for forgiveness. We admit our mistakes and apologize to all those we have wronged, believing that the only way to change is through teshuvah. The only way to be a better version of ourselves is to acknowledge our previous wrongdoings. However, asking for forgiveness is the easy part. We know we have done wrong. We know we want to do better. By admitting our mistakes, we are letting go of the weight on our shoulders, the knot in our stomachs. It is much harder, as the victim, as the one who has been hurt and wronged, to be willing to forgive. It is easier for us to stay angry. It is easier for us to hold a grudge. It is harder to give someone a second chance and a clean slate.
Swift’s hit single says exactly that. She is unable to forgive. She is unable to accept an apology and move on. She sings:
Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes
You say sorry just for show
You live like that, you live with ghosts.
Sometimes though, the opposite of her lyrics are true. Sometimes, we don’t forgive, just for show. Sometimes, we still love the person that wronged us – a family member or friend – but feel like we can’t forgive them. We have to stay strong in our efforts to reject their apologies. Yet, when we live like that, we are the ones living with ghosts. We are the ones stuck in the past.
By apologizing, by doing teshuvah, we – those who have made mistakes and have done wrong to others – have moved on. But by refusing to forgive – by holding a grudge – we refuse to move on. We hang on to the past and while others are changing and striving to be better, we are stuck in neutral.
The Hebrew month of Elul leading up to the Jewish New Year is about change. We need to let go of what we have done wrong in the past, but more importantly, we also need to be willing to let go of what has been done to us as well. We can’t truly move on and give ourselves a much needed fresh start until we are prepared to do so.
“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, is a single off of Swift’s “1989” album. The music video broke Vevo’s 24-hour viewing period record and received seven MTV Video Music Award nominations.
For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.
-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky
Meghan Trainor’s debut single on Epic Records, All About That Bass, was released in June and available to download, buy, stream, and listen for months. Yet, after spending the early portions of the summer barely in Billboard’s Hot 100 (it debuted at #84), the catchy tune skyrocketed during the month of August, from #28 to #8 to #4 to #2. It finally ascended to the top of the charts this week as the #1 pop song in the country.
At first listen, one might thing that the song is just about “booty shaking” and another example of degrading women as sex objects. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The lyrics are about empowering women, and all individuals, to recognize that they are beautiful. Trainor challenges societal expectations to look a certain way and to have a certain body shape – expectations that are a result of unrealistic photo-shopped images of models.
I see the magazines working that Photoshop
We know that – ain’t real
Come on now, make it stop
She tells listeners and the world that these unrealistic models aren’t true role models for what boys and girls should strive to look like or compare themselves to. Instead, the song offers an important lesson. Meghan Trainor’s pop anthem with a doo-wop feel to it is truly about self-acceptance.
She embraces her size and encourages others to do the same, as she sings:
If you got beauty building, just raise ‘em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top
The message of these catchy lyrics is profound during this time of year. During the month of Elul, we are taught to re-evaluate who we are and think about who we want to become. Yet, we also must recognize that we do not change because someone wants us to change or because society pressures us to look a certain way. We change because we want to change. We should not care about how others view us and how we look. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Instead, we should worry about changing that which we want to change on the inside and loving how we look on the outside.
Judaism teaches the notion that each individual is made B’Tzelem Elohim, in God’s Divine Image. God’s Divine spark is within each of us. Our beauty is God’s beauty. The beauty of understanding that each individual is made in God’s image is accepting that no two individuals are 100% identical, that each individual is unique. Each of us — whether we are tall or short, overweight or too skinny, blonde, brunette, or red-head — is Divine.
On the High Holy Days, we symbolically stand face-to-face with God. In order to prepare for that experience, we must first stand face-to-face with ourselves. Look in the mirror. Smile. See your beauty and declare that beauty. For each of us is beautiful, made in God’s image. Each of us, as Meghan Trainor says, “is perfect from the bottom to the top.” Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.
Please Note: “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor is her first single released by Epic Records. The lyrics include a couple of words that may be inappropriate for children. The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
One of the summer’s unexpected hit singles comes from the unlikely band Magic!. The song, Rude, is catchy and has gotten plenty of airtime, but its success is surprising because it is the band’s debut song. A band that no one has ever heard of rarely has a song that tops Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Plus, Magic! describes itself as a Canadian reggae fusion band. I’m not even entirely sure what that is or what that means! Yet, their debut single off of their first studio album, Don’t Kill the Magic, the song quickly went viral, gaining over 9.5 million views of the music video on YouTube.
The song is essentially about a man’s conversation with the disapproving father of his lover. He is attempting to convince the father that he is a worthy partner to marry the man’s daughter. In some ways, the song seems out-dated, focused on an old-fashioned custom in which a parent’s approval must be given before someone pops the question and proposes. The song eventually accepts that this is an old-fashioned custom and the approval of the lover’s father is unimportant, as we read in the lyrics, “I’m going to marry her anyway.”
The chorus of the song though offers important advice, regardless of the situation, about how we speak to other people and how we talk to other people. In the world of social media, in which we share comments behind the security of a keyboard and computer screen, we forget about the impact that our words can have. We comment on Facebook statuses, respond to tweets, even write comments on blog posts, and feel that because we are typing instead of speaking, we can take a different tone.
The truth is, words – written or spoken – hurt. You can disagree with someone. Disagreement is natural. Disagreement is healthy. In fact, Judaism has volume upon volume of rabbinic literature because such scholarly disagreement among the rabbis has taken place over hundreds of years. We don’t always have to agree. We just have to think twice about the impact of the words that we say and type. When we share our thoughts and opinions, like the lyrics of Rude, we do not seek overwhelming approval and praise. We do seek, and should expect, respect from others. Sometimes, we are left to wonder:
Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’t you know I’m human too?
Why you gotta be so rude?
Our words have power. It is easy to be nasty. It is easy to be rude. Sometimes, it is much more challenging to smile and be polite, even when someone is saying something that we disagree with. That smile can go a long way. And it is never too late to start. Elul is about change. Change the rude to a positive attitude. May we take advantage of this month to change the way we respond, react, and interact. May we take an extra deep breath and think about the words that come out of our mouths before we say them. May we go that extra mile and strive, even in times of disagreement, to not be so rude. Instead, let our words help. Let our words heal. Let our words inspire. Our words have power. Let them be used to make this world a better place.
Please Note: “Rude” by Magic! is the first single off of the band’s debut album, “Don’t Kill The Magic.” The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
Singer, Songwriter, and Pop Star Taylor Swift has been a household name since 2008 when her album Fearless skyrocketed to the top of the charts, and every radio station played her hit singles, Love Story and You Belong With Me. Originally a country music star, she transitioned to pop music with that album and won a place in America’s hearts at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye West took the stage after Swift received her “moonman” statue for Best Female Video and proceeded to tell her that her video was not as good as Beyoncé’s music video that year. America loved how mature Taylor Swift was and composed she was during that situation, even though she was still only a teenager.
While still celebrated for her acknowledged responsibility to be conscious of her influence on young fans, she has also been criticized for choices she has made and how such choices are viewed by those fans. Some say that she dates too many other celebrities and musicians. Others have criticized her for being “dorky” and “neurotic.” Throughout her entire career as a pop star, from Kanye West literally stealing the stage to critics commenting on everything she does, Taylor Swift just smiles politely.
Her new single though, Shake It Off, answers these critics by essentially saying that you can’t sweat the small stuff. Her song lists many of the complaints critics have written in blogs, newspapers, and magazines:
I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, that’s what people say
I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay
At least that’s what people say, that’s what people say
She is no longer just politely smiling and pretending that she doesn’t hear such criticism. She is acknowledging that she hears what people say and despite, putting on a smile, words can hurt. Still, her message is a powerful one: it doesn’t matter what they say. She is not going to change because she is happy with who she is.
But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my body and it’s gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
We know that the childhood mantra of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not true. Names do hurt. Gossiping, spreading rumors, and speaking ill will about someone can do a great deal of damage. As a result, we are too often overly concerned with what others think of us. We want to be accepted by all. We want them to speak highly of us and we fear if the opposite happens. We fear others talking about us behind our backs.
Taylor Swift’s new single, besides being really catchy, gives us permission to let go of what others think of us. She encourages listeners to not be bothered by what others think. Be proud of who you are, not who others want you to be. Just shake off what they say and don’t let such negativity stick to you. We would all be better off if we could do that.
The Hebrew month of Elul allows us to look back on the year that has passed as we prepare to change our ways in the year ahead. As we do so though, let us change what we want to change about ourselves, not what others pressure us to change. Let us each be proud of the individuals that we are, as well as the individuals that we strive to be. And when someone criticizes you, learn to just shake it off.
Please Note: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift is the first single off of Swift’s upcoming fifth studio album, “1989.” The song premiered during a Yahoo! live stream only a couple of weeks ago. The music video was released the same day on YouTube. As a result, the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it Taylor Swift’s second #1 single in the United States.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
When A-ha hit it big almost thirty years ago with their breakthrough single Take On Me, no one could’ve predicted that we would have to wait until now for another Norwegian pop sensation to top the Billboard charts. However, that has happened with Nico & Vinz’s Am I Wrong. The song has been getting airplay on radio stations all summer with many deejays even calling it this summer’s anthem.
The truth is this duo from Oslo first released this single in April 2013 under the group name Envy. When artists Nico Sereba and Vincent Dery signed with Warner Bros. Records and ventured into the international market, they changed their name to Nico & Vinz. Their hit single is a rhetorical question, but also an important mantra to live by, especially during this month of cheshbon hanefesh, self-reflection.
The pop song begins with the lyrics:
Am I wrong, for thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong, for saying that I choose another way?
I ain’t trying to do what everybody else doin’
Just ‘cause everybody doin’ what they all do
If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow
I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home.
We often feel stuck in a particular stage or situation in life. This is what others decided our lives should be like. This is the box that they put us in. Or maybe this is the box that we have put ourselves in. We feel it is impossible to change. So we conform. We act as others do. We walk down another’s path without thinking about it, without willing to create our own path.
As a result, we never try to change. The powerful reminder of the Hebrew month of Elul and this High Holy Day season is that we all must look inward for self-reflection. No one is perfect. Even the kindest and most righteous among us still must strive to change for the better. We are taught not to settle. Rather, we must strive to be the best version of ourselves. We are afraid to do something different. We are afraid to change. It is easier, as the lyrics suggest, to do what everyone else is doing. But what is right for another is not necessarily right for someone else. One’s path is not the same as another’s path.
We avoid change — even change for the better — because we fear failure. Nico & Vinz also remind us that I’ll fall but I’ll grow. The road to become the best version of ourselves is not necessary a straight path. It is a bumpy road with detours along the way. However, just because it is bumpy, that doesn’t mean we don’t take the journey.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong for doing something different, for trying something new, for changing your ways. In the year ahead, may we all be brave enough to think outside the box and walk down our own roads. May we have the courage to fall and to fail, so that we can ultimately grow as a result. This time next year, may we look inward and comfortably say “I am right” without worrying about being wrong.
Please Note: “Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz was originally released internationally in April 2013. The music video was released via YouTube in June 2013 and has been viewed over sixty million times. The song topped out at #1 on Shazam’s Top 100 worldwide and peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart this summer.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
I admit that I do not have the best sleeping habits. I often stay up late, either catching up on work, or winding down from a long day by watching whatever is recorded on my DVR. For this reason, I set my alarm clock a wee bit earlier than I need to in order to ensure that I don’t oversleep at all. Many mornings, I’ll set my alarm a full forty-five minutes to an hour before I actually plan on waking up in the morning because I love pressing the snooze button. It is almost like a game I play between my groggy self still half asleep and dreaming and the alarm clock to see if I can fall back asleep and continue dreaming for the next nine minutes until the alarm goes off again and I, in turn, once again hit snooze. I find joy and satisfaction in knowing that when the alarm goes off I can sleep a little bit later, even if my wife doesn’t find joy in my alarm waking her up! I find joy in knowing that I don’t have to wake up. I appreciate staying in my dream world. However, I also know that this is not reality.
I find a similar message in Swedish disc jockey Avicii’s self-described 2013 “summer anthem,” Wake Me Up! This song suggests that when we are younger, we live in a dream world. We are content not dealing with real life or real life struggles. We feel invincible. The lyrics reveal such a message:
So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost
The conclusion to the chorus, and to the song, is telling: I didn’t know that I was lost. The lyrics suggest that this is a realization not only limited our youth. Also as adults, we are lost and don’t even realize it. Sometimes, we think life is fine and we continue on the course we are on. However, it is only after “the alarm” goes off that we become aware to the fact that we must make a change. We do not always know where the journey will take us, but we realize that we are going in the wrong direction. To accept this takes a lot of strength and courage. To hear the alarm, the wake up call, takes even greater awareness.
During the Hebrew month of Elul, which we are about to conclude, Jewish tradition instructs us to blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, every morning. While the shofar is blown one hundred times on Rosh Hashanah, participating in this ritual during this month would suggest that hearing it on the New Year would not be a new thing; the staccato blasts would not surprise us, for we heard the same sound every morning this past month. The reason we are taught to hear such a powerful cry each morning is because the shofar, like my alarm, and like this summer anthem, is meant to be our wake up call. It is meant to help us realize that something is not right in this world and something is not right with ourselves. Once we are awake and aware, we can change. Rosh Hashanah is not about becoming awake and aware. That is what this month leading up to the New Year and new beginning has been for. Now that we are awake and aware, as the New Year begins, let us no longer be lost. Let us be willing to change our paths.
We each could use a wake up call. We could each benefit from waking up from our personal and collective slumber, being aware of where we are and where we need to be. Let the sounds of the shofar, the long blasts, the short cries, and the broken staccato, be our alarm. Let us be aware enough to no longer press the snooze button. As we approach the New Year and we become a little bit older, let us also feel wiser. No longer feeling lost, let us find ourselves.
Please Note: “Wake Me Up!” by Avicii was released in the United States in June 2013. It has peaked at #1 in twenty-two countries including, Australia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The song peaked at #7 in the United States while soaring to #1 on Billboard’s Dance/Mix Show Airplay Chart.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
There are those who strive to enter a room, a meeting, or a party fashionably late – not too late to miss out on all the fun, but just late enough to give off the impression that one is so busy doing other things that he or she got delayed. How does a band arrive fashionably late to the music scene? Well for starters, they release a single digitally and then wait two and a half years for it to blow up on radio stations everywhere! Yes, you read that correctly – two and a half years! Capital Cities, the American indie pop pair based out of Los Angeles, California, digitally released their single, Safe and Sound, in February 2011 yet somehow two and a half years later, it finally got air play during the summer of 2013.
This fashionably late arrival to the music scene may be because the song is included on the duo’s debut studio album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, which was released in June at the beginning of summer, thus reintroducing the song to the music world for a second time. Finally, it was included as a track on the Now That’s What I Call Music! Volume 45, the definition of having made it in pop music. So, here they are, two in a half years later and Capital Cities’ Safe and Sound is getting daily airplay on the radio.
While the theater performance style of the music video is a little odd (and probably intentionally so,) the song itself, like many pop anthems, is love poetry. The lyrics speak to that love that one has for another:
I could lift you up
I could show you what you wanna see
And take you where you wanna be
You could be my luck
Even if the sky is falling down
I know that we’ll be safe and sound
While some may think that the lyrics of this song are an example of silly puppy love, I see a spiritual statement for I choose to read these lyrics not as a promise between two lovers, but rather as a testament of faith between man and God.
Jewish thought and ritual has a tendency to link romantic symbols and text with God’s relationship to humanity. For example, rabbinic commentary interprets the love poetry of the biblical Song of Songs as speaking of the love between God and the People of Israel. Furthermore, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which is observed only weeks from now, we participate in many of the traditional Jewish wedding rituals (wearing white, fasting, saying the liturgical confessional) as if we are renewing our vows to the divine.
Many of us grew up in our respective Houses of Worship being taught that God is our Heavenly Parent, watching over us, rewarding us when we do good and punishing us when we do wrong. Not only is such an explanation of our relationship with the divine theologically problematic, it also is not the right analogy of that relationship. I believe that our relationship with whatever our understanding of God is should be defined as a partnership, a spousal relationship, and a mutual commitment to each other. We often turn to God specifically in our time of need, following heartache, illness, or hardship. We are disappointed if we think that God doesn’t answer our prayers or even hear our call. Yet, at the same time, God is also calling out to us, searching for us.
Even at the darkest of moments I prefer to find the light of God. With an understanding and appreciation of the divine, I know that “even if the sky is falling down, I know that we’ll be safe and sound.” This is a statement of faith I make in God, but also a statement of faith that God makes in us.
One of the most revered thinkers and theologians of the 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, published one of his many works of theology in 1955. The title was not Man in Search of God. Rather, it was more appropriately titled, God in Search of Man. We search for each other in our attempt to have personal revelatory experiences. Even in our darkest moments, we will be safe and sound, comforted in God’s eternal presence. We emphasize this belief in the Psalm for the Season of Repentance, Psalm 27, during this Hebrew month of Elul:
God will hide me in God’s shrine, safe from peril.
The Lord will shelter me beyond the reach of disaster.
Throughout the Season of Repentance, and all year, we turn to God and hope that God turns to us, knowing that with faith in God, and belief that God is by our side, even during the most tumultuous moments of our lives, we will be safe and sound. During these days leading up to the Jewish New Year and High Holy Days, we focus on prayer, Tefillah in Hebrew. The Hebrew verb ‘to pray’ is L’Hitpalel, a reflexive verb, suggesting that to truly find God, we must find ourselves. As the New Year approaches, let us find God and find ourselves.
Please Note: Capital Cities hit single, “Safe and Sound” appears on their debut album, “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.” released this summer under Capitol Records. As of August, the single has sold over a million copies in the United States.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
In the world of Twitter, we do not judge a show, a speech, or a performance by viewership or critical reviews. Instead, we judge by spur of the moment reactionary thoughts that are 140 characters or less. That was certainly the case with Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards. Many had plenty to say about the performance of Miley Cyrus as well as Katy Perry’s finale underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Yet, much of the twitter hype leading up to the event was about the supposed *NSYNC reunion.
Justin Timberlake was to receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, MTV’s version of the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” It’s pretty impressive that Timberlake is only 32 years old and is already being awarded with the lifetime achievement moon man.
Rumors began to spread last week that the former *NSYNC members would join Timberlake at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn as part of his medley performance when a picture was taken of the former boy band members together at the Justin Timberlake/Jay Z concert in Miami. The band members denied this possibility, but in the end, it seems that this was just to throw us all off, much like what happened with the Destiny’s Child reunion this past year during Beyonce’s halftime show performance.
There is no reason they shouldn’t have joined JT on stage. If anything, it was an opportunity for them to return to the limelight. While Justin went on to become the new king of pop, other members of *NSYNC did little following the band’s break-up. JC Chasez tried to go solo as well and had one successful single, Blowin’ Me Up, from the Drumline soundtrack. He continued his “stardom” as a judge on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew until it was cancelled. Joey Fatone tried to make it in Hollywood, appearing in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, before eventually finding success in reality television, as a runner-up on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, a host of NBC’s The Singing Bee, and currently the announcer on the syndicated Family Feud. Lance Bass is less known for his post-*NSYNC musical work and more known for his attempt at becoming an astronaut, as well as revealing that he is gay in a People magazine cover story. I am pretty sure that Chris Kirkpatrick hasn’t done anything since the boy band’s break-up.
The crowd at the VMA’s went crazy as, in the middle of Timberlake’s performance, he was joined on stage by his four former bandmates for a brief rendition of Girlfriend and Bye, Bye, Bye. Performing on stage together for the first time in over a decade, *NSYNC’s slide step, jump, and hand wave dance moves seemed rusty. Timberlake is only 32, but the five of them together seemed old. Still, the crowd (and the twitterverse) appreciated the nostalgia. Rumors immediately spread that *NSYNC would soon launch a reunion tour (similar to New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys.)
What stood out to me was Justin Timberlake’s acknowledgement of his fellow *NSYNC members in his acceptance speech. He made it clear that he owed his entire career to them and that half of the Video Music Awards that he won as a musician were with the boy band. How appropriate that in celebrating Justin Timberlake as an individual, he acknowledged his friends, his musical family, his community that led him to stardom.
So too, no matter who we are, or who we become, we cannot forget that we are shaped by our friends, by our family, by our community. As we prepare for the New Year, we reflect on who we are. Who we are as individuals is a result of who nurtured us; we are who we are because of those who molded us along the way. In Judaism, our Hebrew names are announced as ben or bat, son of or daughter of, followed by our parents Hebrew names. We identify not just with our first and middle names, with our individual selfs, but also with our parents names, with our roots, with those who shaped us and made us who we are today.
As we re-examine who we are and who we want to be, let us not forget those who shaped us. I am who I am because of my mother, my father, my brother, my friends, my community, my wife, and even my toddler. I am unique. I am made in God’s image. Yet, they all shaped me and made me who I am. As we reflect on our own unique selfs, let us also reflect on all those who made us who we are today.
Please Note: Justin Timberlake’s current album “The 20/20 Experience” sold between 900,000 – 950,000 records in its first week of release and debuted atop the Billboard 200 Albums chart. His continuation of this album, “The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2” will be released at the end of September. The boy band *NSYNC, one of the most successful pop groups of the late 90s and early 2000s set a new standard with their “No Strings Attached” album. This album sold a record 2.42 million copies in its first week and was the best-selling record of the decade.
Here is a taste of Justin Timberlake and his roots, during his *NSYNC days:
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
Even actress and musician Anna Kendrick can’t really believe what is going on with her hit song Cups. Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone) was performed by Kendrick as part of a short scene in last year’s surprise hit Pitch Perfect. Pitch Perfect, the successful 2012 musical comedy directed by Jason Moore, follows the story of rival college a cappella groups. Main character Beca Mitchell (played by Kendrick) auditions for the Barden Bellas singing Cups, with the song getting its name from her unique ability to create rhythm and percussion for the song by tapping on and moving a small plastic cup on stage.
The movie was more successful than producers predicted and as a result, Universal Studios confirmed that they would release a sequel to the film in 2015. The music of the film was catchy and fun, like many a cappella performances are, and the soundtrack is the best selling soundtrack of 2013. Still, it is surprising that Kendrick’s Cups, which landed on the soundtrack after the buzz it created by movie-goers, is so successful. The film premiered almost one year ago in September of 2012. The soundtrack was digitally released the following month. Yet, for the past month and a half, Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone) has been sitting in the Top Ten of Billboard’s Top 100 Chart. Even Anna Kendrick herself can’t believe it!
While Cups is a popular song, with creative percussion, and even a fun music video, it is certainly not a new song. The song, with the tapping of the cups, was popularized by the band Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009, giving Kendrick inspiration for her character’s audition performance. However, the lyrics of the song were written by A.P. Carter and Luisa Gerstein and performed by the Carter Family in 1931. So not only is it remarkable that a song from last year’s hit movie is a hit this year, but it’s even more remarkable that this new hit song is actually over 80 years old.
The lyrics focus on not living in the moment and not appreciating what we have when we have it. The song, presumably about a lover who is leaving her significant other, is about missed opportunities. Such a notion is exemplified by the chorus:
When I’m gone (when I’m gone)
When I’m gone (when I’m gone)
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me by my walk
You’ll miss me by my talk
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
This song reminds us that we must appreciate what we have in our lives now. It is easy for us to be so-called “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” and reflect back on moments in our lives after the fact. It’s common for us to think about how to do things better or consider whom or what we should’ve appreciated more at the time. Even the Hebrew calendar encourages us to reflect and look back. After all, the entire month of Elul is about reflecting on what we are proud of and what we should’ve done differently. Yet, looking back only matters if we are able to look forward, so that ultimately, we can appreciate the present. Elul sets us up for the New Year ahead, reflecting on the past in order to better appreciate the present as we are living in it. This song is a charge to us all: don’t wait until that which is holy to us is long gone to realize the sacred nature of that individual, that place, or that moment in time. Appreciate the kedushah, the holiness, of the moment. Live the holiness!
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, taught that “the Old should be Renewed and the New shall be made Holy.” Anna Kendrick and the writers of Pitch Perfect took a sound that is over 80 years old (although it has been covered by many) and made it new again. She made the message relevant again and in doing so, she made it sacred to a new generation. Let us not worry about missing others when they are gone, for in the year ahead, let us focus on the here and now. Let us also be reminded that that which is old can become new once again, and as long as we appreciate God’s gifts in our lives, we make it holy as well. Let us all make the old new and make the new holy in the year ahead.
Please Note: “Cups,” sung by Anna Kendrick currently sits in the Top Ten on Billboard’s Top 100 Chart. It appears on “Pitch Perfect: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” which is the best-selling soundtrack of 2013. The film “Pitch Perfect” is rated PG-13 for strong language, drug references, underage drinking, and sexual innuendos.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky