'Pitch Perfect 2': Inside 9 of the Sequel's Intricate, Star-Studded Medleys
Says music director Deke Sharon: "It's a schoolyard thing people can reproduce at home — the girls who did 'Cups' when they were 11 are now 14 or 15, right? They're ready for something new."
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow are back in tune in Pitch Perfect 2 — only this time, they're turning up the volume with more onstage numbers and ambitious arrangements.
As Deke Sharon, the film's music director and vocal producer who created the competition portrayed in the 2012 film, jokes to The Hollywood Reporter: "In the first movie, the Barden Bellas are only singing the same few songs — if I hear 'The Sign' on the radio, it's like post-traumatic stress disorder because we went over and over that song in multiple scenes!"
So with a much bigger budget, the sequel — which challenges the female a cappella group to compete on a global level — licensed up to 60 songs from more well-known artists. "Let's remember that the biggest breakout hit of the movie was a 1937 tune sung by a woman onstage with nothing but a plastic cup — completely impossible to predict," Sharon recalls telling the team, which included a cappella maven Ed Boyer (who arranged for Glee's Warblers), seasoned songwriter Alana Da Fonseca and Tony-winning composer Tom Kitt. "We wanted to go bigger, but create music that, first and foremost, served the story," says Sharon.
Just before leaving to shoot Lifetime's docuseries Sing It!, Sharon broke down 9 of the film's arrangements, including director Elizabeth Banks' a cappella debut, the Green Bay Packers' "Bootylicious" moment, the Treblemakers' "ridiculous" breakdown and numbers from the "perfect" a cappella group:
While the original movie's introduction featured Boyer's voice with the Treblemakers, this Universal theme song is touted by a cappella announcers John Michael Higgins and Banks. "John sang in the Amherst Zumbyes; he's the most knowledgeable person about this world. The tradition in that group now is that one person, for absolutely no reason ever addressed, wears a giant banana suit, and he's responsible for that Monty Python-level of obscurity," noted Sharon. "And Liz Banks went to University of Pennsylvania and didn't sing in a group, so this might have been her first-ever a cappella singing!"
"Musically, we need to start a couple years after the first movie — intricate, complex and multi-layered," Sharon says of mashing Icona Pop's "We Got the World," Pitbull and Kesha's "Timber" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Once again, the Bellas learned all vocal parts (either via sheet music or audio) and choreography in a pre-production bootcamp: "Everyone has to memorize and sing their part for me perfectly before they can go into the on-set recording studio, and then act behind the microphone. It's a round-robin three-ring circus, and I really cracked the whip."
The Treblemakers only get one number in the sequel, and it's Mika's 2007 song. "They give us an opportunity to anchor the film in the college a cappella world, so we wanted something quaint, funny, silly and felt small-scale in comparison to the Worlds stage," explains Sharon, adding that the Treblemakers is composed of Broadway alumni Skylar Astin and Ben Platt along with actual collegiate singers. "Over dinner one night, Liz and I thought, what's the stupidest thing a male collegiate group can do to a song? A gospel breakdown. It's so ridiculous, and yet explains what a cappella is, for those who didn't see the first movie."
Villainous German singing troupe Das Sound Machine is introduced with an intimidating, robotic rendition of Muse's "Uprising" (licensed only after director Banks wrote a plea to singer Matt Bellamy). "We went back and forth on how much accent to have in there," says Sharon of the comedic moment. However, the group, led by actress Birgitte Hjort Sorensen and YouTube star Flula Borg, is mostly composed of "awesome dancers" and back-sung by professional singers, including Sharon. "It's an impossibly perfect group. The charge was to create an unbeatable group and then try to beat them, but bottom line is, we cheated."
"That’s the biggest logic puzzle in the world," says Sharon of the masterful mash-ups, spearheaded by Kitt and featuring everything from Sisqo's "Thong Song" and Lauryn Hill's "That Thing" to Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The seamless "meet the beat" scene is grounded by beatbox champion 80Fitz and Late Late Show bandleader Reggie Watts — "I'd say 99 percent of what you hear is them" — but the star is the Green Bay Packers (who loudly loved the first film) rocking "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. "They sing their own parts, they beatbox — that's all them. They're such joyous guys."
"Cups (When I'm Gone)"
"It was the monkey on our back from the beginning — how do you address the song without letting it take over the movie? It's a minefield of things that could go wrong," Sharon says of brainstorming a stunning "campfire" version of the first film's breakout hit, with stripped-down female harmonies. "It's a miraculous victory that the lyrics have so much meaning now: They're graduating, and this is last time they're all going to sing together. It's a comedy, but you have to care about these characters, even while you're laughing with them the whole time. I think it's one of the simplest and yet most powerful musical moments in the movie."
"Any Way You Want It"
Introducing the Worlds competition, the Journey track is performed by professional groups Pentatonix, Penn Masala and The Filharmonic, as well as two other fictional groups fronted by Sing-Off alumni — in five languages. "Each group had to do an entire arrangement of the song with choreography, and shot them in full for the montage," Sharon recalls, stressing he fought for the song choice. "We have a lot of current music in the movie, and this gives you a fun, rock-pop throwback hit that's very a cappella. But more so, the double entendre — you can have a cappella any way you want it."
"World Championship Finale 1"
Das Sound Machine's competition song is a precisely-performed mash-up of Fall Out Boy's pyro-friendly "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" and DJ Khaled's inherently confident "All I Do Is Win." Explains Sharon, "They're great and they know it, so there's this braggadocio, obnoxious quality — story-wise, it makes you root against them a bit more. It's fun, powerful and clever, but we wanted to rub people the wrong way, and juxtapose the Bellas' performance."
"World Championship Finale 2"
"You can't have the Bellas go head-to-head with DSM purely musically — they have higher highs, lower lows, stronger beatboxing, amazing dancers, they're indomitable in so many ways, so the story we told was one of connection, tradition and history," says Sharon, as the Bellas compete with a mash-up of Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)," David Guetta's "Where Them Girls At" and Pat Benatar's "We Belong," plus a lush, heartfelt arrangement of "Flashlight," an original song penned by Hailee Steinfeld's newbie character. Plus, its "cool, integrated body-percussion" intro is the franchise's latest viral entry: "It's a schoolyard thing that people can reproduce at home — all the girls who did 'Cups' when they were 11 are now 14 or 15, right?" says Sharon. "They're ready for something new."
Pitch Perfect 2 hits theaters May 15.
May 14, 2:30 p.m. A previous version left out a member of the arranging team. THR regrets the error.