HomeLola Bunny, Beyoncé, & Beatboxing: Gender in Collegiate A Cappella and Beyond

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After digging around the internet for 3am YouTube adventures and the occasional ‘how‐the‐hell‐did‐I‐get‐here‐and‐why-is‐my‐cat’s‐face‐melting’ decathlon of watching collegiate competition sets (who hasn’t been there) I muted the sound in the middle of a video to talk to someone and after returning to playlisted ICCA sets, I noticed something new and started to watch again, without audio, and ended up watching a whole day’s worth of videos on mute. Suddenly without the musical constituent, I had accidently driven into a dark cave of college‐aged body language and I couldn’t divert my eyes away from the docile bobbing and pee‐pee shaking. There was a staggering amount of body rolling, and innumerable hand-to‐chest stroking. Another way to phrase it is that I was being subjected to a lot of “swag.” Now to be clear, I truly believe in the meta‐healing power and ‘it’ factor holiness of confidence but under the model of provocative entertainment, you can easily sentence your “swag” to a cheap motel in uh‐oh‐ville and please‐don’t‐metropolis.

Gender specific groups are facing a particular struggle to find an identity outside of their own gender clichés. The women seem to be campaigning for both a hyper-masculine and hyper‐feminine disposition. Men seem to run off a fair amount of fraternity charm. Both types exhibit themselves in popular culture, a wealth in which collegiate a cappella grants most of its routines from. There’s a scene in the Looney Tunes/Michael Jordan collaboration film, Space Jam, where the characters are looking for anyone who can play basketball to help them win a game and then by some miracle, in walks Lola Bunny. Lola was my homegirl when I was little because she was sexy, she was fierce, (and aside from MJ) she was the baddest ball player of them all. She was unstoppable. Lola also has this effortless disposition of simultaneous hyper-masculine and hyper‐feminine representation. I mean it showed me as a little girl that I could play basketball just like the boys did, and if I had to guess, that was the intention the moviemakers had for her character. To be a role model for little girls! But is it a fantasy? Of course women can play basketball and sing a cappella as well as their counterparts but it’s a matter of brand. It’s a matter of identity. A matter of what gender means today and how it’s not supposed to matter tomorrow. Are we trying to redefine the gender binary in a healthy way or eradicate it all together? Why have gender specific groups at all? Does the separation weaken or strengthen the group?

Now, it turns out that Ms. Bunny has a modern day personification: Beyoncé.

Queen Bey is a common repertoire filler for collegiate groups and she has catalyzed a lot of conversation about gender with her recent self‐titled album. When I first heard this album there was an overwhelming feeling that it will endure as an almost perfect allegory to how gender functions in ‐ not only a cappella, but also ‐ the year 2014 (check out the track “Flawless” if you want an even more convenient 101.) Something is being achieved and conquered for women, all while Bey satisfies this Lola Bunny rhetoric. Her music has this incredible anticipatory layering, sanctimonious beats, and beauty. It’s like submerging yourself into a low-frequency lasagna, a lasagna that you can dance in. AGGRESSION! CONVICTION! HYPERBOLIC VOCALS! The record is all sorts of immaculate pop.

But after the last track was over and I had crossed some proverbial finish line, I was overwhelmingly…disappointed. I think it’s an appropriate response in music history of the problems women are tired of hearing about; to the “you’re actually pretty good for a girl beat boxer” kind of thinking. It’s important in so many ways.

But I was disappointed because, both, Lola Bunny and Beyoncé offer defiance from stereotypes but no solution. My point is not that girls are seen as less than, but that they are actually starting to believe they are less.

A cappella groups from all over are starting to figure out their own sense of self. How the symbolic nature of the voice, through many voices, can manifest thought and not just imitate it. Gender is included in the movement. We are beginning to reject regurgitation and are starting to require the human condition in many, many ways. We’re starting to see a cappella through darkness, silence, transparency, plot, spells, elation, celebration, and through deepened mystery. Everything is changing. This is how a twenty-something year old in an a cappella group can change. How they can change others. By practicing higher thought through singing.

There are a lot of questions left on the table, but as a member of any collegiate group, it’s worth taking the time to understand how culture expresses gender and how it bargains with a cappella. It’s worth investing your artistic virtue and identity to contribute to the future art form. Art, after all, is the quality of something and not the object itself.

I could tell you all the things that I am tired of hearing as a woman and how that has its own set of duties. But sometimes you must remove yourself from the gender in order to further it.

About the writer:
Michelle Rocqet is a robot made of the trash found behind Muscle Shoals Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. Big Mama Thornton happened to be playing over the loud speakers while she was being assembled. Widely known through her astrological work as a double cancer, she enjoys staying at home a lot. Current member of MIX from UCD and designated beatbox/looper for Denver band The Milk Blossoms.