The Difference Pentatonix Makes by Mia K.

Looking around, music is the universal connector. You don’t need to know the language, the artist, the genre, or anything. A simple pleasure; but maybe not so simple. You see, many artists have become a source of inspiration for their listeners. The actions of an artist can forever change the way a fan thinks of the world. 

Many artists conform to the social norms for themselves and their genre. Not that it’s a bad thing; after all, the more they appeal to the public, the more successful they become. What truly stands out in music, though, is when (an) artist(s) manage to stay from their expectations and be true to themselves, yet still be successful. The band Pentatonix is a great example of how embracing differences can not only raise yourself high but also encourage others to do the same. 

Pentatonix is a five-person acapella group that started with Scott Hoying (baritone), Mitch Grassi (counter-tenor), Kirstie Maldonado (mezzo-soprano), Kevin Olusola (vocal percussion/beatboxer), and Avi Kaplan (vocal bass). Scott had brought the five together to compete in season 3 of the show The Sing-Off. They won season 3 in November of 2011. After their victory, they took to YouTube to spread their music, gaining fame and eventually releasing their first studio album. On May 12, 2017, Avi announced that he was leaving the group and did his last performance with them on September 3. Matt Sallee took his place as the group’s bassist in October. The group has gone on world tours, collaborated with famous artists like Jason Derulo and Dolly Parton, and have won 3 Grammys (Daft Punk, Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, Jolene). 

Despite their obvious success, PTX isn’t just a group of people singing. They’re “a collective of such different types of people and [they’ve] all come from vastly different backgrounds…” (Mitch in Episode 6 of PTXperience Summer 2018). Just these five people have identities that relate to numerous communities. Mitch and Scott are both openly in the lgbtq+ community, Kirstie (and Mitch who talks about himself/herself with masculine and feminine pronouns) is female, Avi is Jewish, Kevin and Matt, are both black, Kirstie is Latino, the list goes on. Even their music is varied. Pentatonix has sung pop covers, classic covers, medleys, Christmas music, originals, and instrumental music (songs with no lyrics). They typically sing acapella but have been backed by cello, piano, and full orchestras in the past. Not just the genres, they even sing in different languages including French, Spanish, English, and Japanese. All this diversity doesn’t just help people of all identities relate with the singers, it makes it a lot more real and personal than perhaps a pop group where every member acts, dresses, and sings the same thing. 

Looking at many successful pop groups, there is always some form of equal conformity between the groups. Beyond the previously mentioned appearances, many groups also stick with familiarity. That can show in their music when they stick with one format or style, outfits with similar styles, or their media personas that seem to be their entire personalities. In many groups, each member is often portrayed as having a different stereotypical role in the band/group. For example, the roles can be anything from flirt to bad boy to emo. None of these labels can successfully represent a person but many celebrities will conform with what society labeled them as.

Pentatonix, on the other hand, has not only chosen not to conform to what’s expected of them but has gone above and beyond to encourage others to do the same. In the music video of their Imagine cover (By John Lenon), the five made sure to stress that they have differences and shared traits but in the end, they are all human. They have been open about themselves, their beginning, and their beliefs in both people and music. Despite the amount of hate they could’ve gotten for their differences, they still stuck with it and continued being uniquely themselves, whether it is by exploring with their content or just promoting things they enjoy. 

Each celebrity has a certain level of power that comes with their fame. Artists have the ability to spread their ideals not just with words but with the art they create, whether that is music, drama, or more. This power can lead people down different paths, save or break people, and inspire people to follow their passions. Pentatonix is not the only band out there promoting difference, but they have the influence to make a change in the world, and that is exactly what they are doing, one mind at a time. Simply put, they are a simple band with not so simple impacts.