The Barden Bellas are back. The Bellas, the female singing group from fictional Barden College, showed the inner workings of a cappella and made Pitch Perfect a surprise box office hit in 2012. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and the rest of the group return in this summer’s sequel, Pitch Perfect 2. After winning the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) tournament in the original, the Bellas set their sights on the world championships in Copenhagen, with a new member joining the group. Did the filmmakers get it right? Who better to ask than a group of a cappella singers?
In another installment of our periodic series, PAW Goes to the Movies, senior writer Mark F. Bernstein ’83 took three members of the Wildcats — Arianna Lanz ’17, Kat Giordano ’18, and Samone Blair ’18 — to see Pitch Perfect 2 and then discuss how Hollywood’s conception of a cappella compares with the real thing. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.
MFB: What did you think of the movie?
SB: I loved it.
KD: The original was funnier, but the sequel definitely built on it. The central themes of a cappella and intergroup love were all there.
AL: The movie is dripping in clichés but it’s still enjoyable and entertaining. As far as life in a cappella goes, we’re not a sorority and we don’t all live together. The Wildcats are like sisters and we love each other, but it’s not like we spend all of our time together. We all have other interests and activities.
KG: The level of funding the Bellas had was also unrealistic. We don’t have our own bus and extravagant costumes. No one can afford that.
MFB: The Bellas have a lot of choreography in their sets. Do the Wildcats?
AL: Very little collegiate a cappella is that choreographed. That sort of dance routine only happens on [the TV show] The Voice.
SB: Snapping our fingers is about as much as we do.
MFB: How many hours do you spend together in a typical week?
AL: Eight hours rehearsing, a few more if we have a gig that week. Then usually a few more for social things. There are a lot of friendships within the group.
KG: There are three freshmen in the Wildcats and we spend a lot of time together. The group brought us together and we’re now best friends because of it.
MFB: What did you think of the Bellas’ performances musically?
AL: They sounded good but they’re too perfect for real a cappella. That was all auto-tuned and prerecorded. The mashups they sang were incredible, but they were nothing like what real students could actually do, especially with the time constraints of academic work.
KG: Anna Kendrick is phenomenally talented in real life, but I don’t think their sound is what college a cappella sounds like. They have these amazing sound systems and we often sing without microphones because we’re singing in arches. So there is a different appeal to our sound.
MFB: If some of the Bellas auditioned for the Wildcats, would you take them?
AL: They are super musical, the fact that they can harmonize on the spot. If you can do that then you have some sort of innate musical ability that we would eat up.
MFB: One of the new characters was Emily, a freshman. How did that come across?
SB: It was accurate in terms of her feeling a little bit as though she had no idea what was going on. The Wildcats did a great job in terms of making sure that I learned the music, but there were still times when they would start a new song and everyone would know it and I’d be like, what on Earth is going on?
MFB: How big is your repertoire?
KG: We have both an active rep of songs that we sing regularly and an inactive rep of songs from the past that we can still do, but not as often. Our active repertoire is pretty large; we have more songs than ever that we’re really confident performing at any time. How many songs are we working on for this coming week [Reunions]?
MFB: Were there any songs you heard in the movie that are also in your repertoire?
SB: The only one was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
AL: They had a beat boxer in their version, which was just like, whoa.
KG: I don’t think a beat boxer was a good fit for that song but otherwise I thought their version was great.
MFB: Have the Wildcats ever competed in the ICCAs?
AL: No one on campus competes in the ICCAs except for the Footnotes.
KG: I think it’s partly a product of the Princeton environment. We are engaged in so many other activities that taking the time off to travel to ICCAs would be unrealistic. It’s such a large time commitment.
MFB: How big is a cappella at Princeton?
AL: It is what you make of it. If you surround yourself with people in a cappella, it becomes a big thing. I have friends who come to every single arch sing and they stay for the full two hours and see all the groups perform. But if you don’t have friends in a group, you don’t have to go.
KG: I have a few friends who are really involved in athletics and they had no idea even what the campus a cappella groups were named. They had never been to any of the arches.
MFB: Where can people hear you during Reunions?
KG: We have a release party for our new CD, The Purple Album, on May 29, the Friday of Reunions, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Mathey Common Room. We recorded it over the last two years, so it includes some alumni who will be back for our reunions arch as well as some new voices. It includes Wildcat classics, like “Angel Eyes” by Ella Fitzgerald, but it also has new repertoire, like Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass.” So it has something for everyone.
MFB: Where else will you be performing?
KG: We are also singing in 1879 Arch on Friday night at 10 p.m., at the 35th Memorial Performance at 9:30 on Saturday morning in the 9/11 Memorial Garden, and at a parents’ arch at noon on Sunday in 1879 Arch. We are also singing at 40th and 15th reunions. We’d love for everyone to stop by.