“I honestly think Pitch Perfect did wonders for college a cappella,” Victoria Conroy (C ’24), music director of the pop/rock a cappella group Off The Beat, told Street. “I think one of the reasons that it was so successful is that there’s nothing like college a cappella … and there’s just something about it that draws people into it.”
It’s been ten years since Pitch Perfect hit theaters for the first time, and it has quickly evolved into a sleeper hit. The film follows Beca (Anna Kendrick), a first year at Barden College in Atlanta and aspiring DJ, who gets caught up in the vibrant, dramatic, and high–stakes world of collegiate a cappella. The romance, drama, and incredible performances introduced all of us to this wild atmosphere for the first time.
However, there are bound to be some mistakes, misconceptions, and exaggerations about college a cappella in the film. A decade since the first film and with a new Pitch Perfect spinoff TV series releasing on Peacock, Street asked some of Penn’s a cappella community about their thoughts on the film itself, its legacy, and how similar the a cappella scene it portrays is to ours here at Penn.
To address most people’s first question: unfortunately, no, Penn does not have a version of the legendary riff–off scenes from the movies (though interviewees expressed regret over that fact). However, the iconic audition scene, where Barden’s various groups occupy a theater and watch the auditionees perform Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone,” does have some strong resemblance to Penn’s a cappella audition process.
“All of the a cappella groups go to Williams Hall all day—11 a.m. to 11 p.m.” Conroy explained. “It’s an open call audition—anyone can come in.” Though she de–emphasized the competitive nature of the process, Ethan Soloway (C ’25), a member of the Shabbatones—Penn’s Jewish a cappella group—as well as Penn Glee Club, mentioned that entering Penn’s performing arts community can feel just as stressful as it’s portrayed in the film.
“I ended up auditioning not just for [the Shabbatones], but for a bunch of a cappella groups. And it’s kind of a cutthroat process—that’s a parallel with the movie,” Soloway said. “They’re sitting in front of you. They’re judging you. They want you to be a social fit as well as a musical fit, and you go through several rounds of auditions.”
Nonetheless, Soloway feels that he eventually found a home in the Shabbatones, just like how the Barden Bellas became a family for Beca in the film.
“A cappella for me was not about the cutthroat [mentality] … [Shabbatones is] much more of a family, because we’re a smaller group and a lot closer [to one another]. And I’ve really enjoyed that,” he says.
Allegra Greenawalt (C ’23), president of Dischord—which focuses on pop and R&B a cappella—agreed that much like with the diversity of the groups at Barden, everyone at Penn can also find a group where they fit in.
“Auditions can be competitive … but all of the groups are so different in their niche that everyone gets to be a part of the group that they feel like they most fit into,” Greenawalt explained. “It’s more of a community than a cutthroat environment.”
Others highlighted how the a cappella community at Penn is much less high–stakes and competitive than that of the movies. Groups here don’t tend to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, which is the central theme of Pitch Perfect. Equally, the series’ emphasis on single–sex groups is great for generating drama, but isn’t reflected in the prevalence of co–ed organizations at Penn. Instead of competitions, groups focus on performances and recording music. Off the Beat, for example, has released almost 30 albums.
But the links between Penn and the movies go beyond mere similarities. Penn Masala, Penn’s South Asian fusion a cappella group, was featured in Pitch Perfect 2, representing India in the world ICCA final. The movie was huge in propelling the group to the stardom and fame they currently have, as well as inspiring current members to join the group when the film came out seven years ago.
“The group got reached out to by [Pitch Perfect 2 director and Penn alum] Elizabeth Banks … and we got invited to come on out and perform a segment of the movie as a guest act,” Sachit Gali (C ’23), Penn Masala’s business manager, recounted.
Before Gali even knew that Masala was an a cappella group at Penn, the representation of his culture on the big screen was very important to him.
“I distinctly remember watching Pitch Perfect 2 and when the segment came on with a South Asian a cappella group singing, I did not know it was Penn Masala, but it stuck in my mind that [we had] representation [on a] global stage,” Gali says.
Masala doesn't place responsibility for all of their popularity on Pitch Perfect’s help, but the movie was groundbreaking for catapulting them to stardom. Due to the series’ success and their own influence, they’ve been happy to see other groups like them appearing across the country.
“I would say that at almost every school across the country, you can find some sort of South Asian fusion a cappella group,” Albert Gu (C ’23), Masala’s music manager, recounted. “You realize that we are the standard bearers for this, and that pushes you to elevate the content you’re making … and to be a better musician generally.”
The franchise’s expansion to other cultures is set to continue this month with the recently released series, Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin, whose entire first season is available to stream on Peacock. The show follows the titular character and former Treblemakers leader Bumper Allen as he moves to Germany in pursuit of fame; this Peacock original presents the chance for more a cappella content in the mainstream, but invites fears that the Pitch Perfect name is being milked for clout, especially given lackluster reviews for the third movie installment.
Greenawalt, for instance, is fully in favor of more a cappella content. However, she hopes that future content focuses less on the competition side of the a cappella scene.
“I think it’s great that [a cappella is] getting more attention, especially from someone who does it and is passionate about it,” she says. “The competitiveness and the dramatic parts [make for great TV], but there are great parts to being in a cappella [aside from competing] that hopefully they’ll highlight in the upcoming TV series.”
Though the film is mostly remembered fondly, Pitch Perfect does have some serious problems which haven’t aged spectacularly. Stereotypes are very prevalent in terms of certain characterizations—Rebel Wilson’s Amy plays the classic “fat friend” role, while Hanna Mae Lee’s Lilly demonstrates a harmful orientalist interpretation of East Asian women as extremely quiet, mysterious, and possessing dark secrets.
“I watched Pitch Perfect recently with two of my friends from Off The Beat, and we were like ‘wow—this is a little racist!’,” Conroy concurred. “I think that is a reflection of it being made in 2012 … but it’s crazy that that was ten years ago. That’s not that long ago.”
But Saaketh Narayan (W, E ’23), Penn Masala’s president, views the franchise in a more positive light.
“Maybe it represents some parts of Asia badly. But [Pitch Perfect] was, in some respects, a start for representation, especially for groups like us. And if you look at where mainstream media is going, you have people like Hasan Minhaj and Mindy Kaling really pushing the envelope for the South Asian community,” Narayan said. "[Today] there is a more even–handed representation than in Pitch Perfect. So I don’t know if it’s aged badly, but I think it’s one of those things where you can look back and say: look how far we’ve come.”