Early in September, XIV Hours, Durham Academy’s auditioned a cappella group, released a music video entitled “Lost In The Game: A Musical Story of Relationships, Sex, and Gender Politics.” Since then, the video has accumulated over 30,000 views on Vimeo and national attention from sites such as MTV, Seventeen, and Huffington Post.
It really began, I think, in the lunchtime rehearsal, when we sang through Act Two for the first time. We had known before that, if we could pull this off, it would be good, even great.
But Act Two – blending Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s “Stay” and Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Mr. Meyer’s (we call him “Meyer”) unparalleled ability to create heartbreak from a few simple notes – carried the potential for this to be amazing.
XIV Hours had performed in competitions before, winning the high school competition at SingStrong festival in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and auditioning for the Sing-Off in 2011 in Nashville. But mostly, we just got together every Sunday night to make some music together. So when Meyer, our leader, first introduced the idea that we put together a set inspired by the discussion DA was having about gender roles, hookup culture, and unhealthy relationships among teenagers, and that we possibly travel to Florida and perform it in an international competition, we were floored.
And really, really excited.
The music video is divided into three “acts,” a total of 18 songs mashed up into just under 9 minutes and 59 seconds of a cappella madness.
Act One (“Battle of the Sex…ist Song Lyrics”) comments on the overtly sexual nature of today’s “club anthems” – and if you really listen to those songs, you realize just how inappropriate and frankly, terrifying, those lyrics can be.
Act Two (“What Is It That You Want?”) focuses on the intentionally vague relationship between a boy and a girl who are not communicating their expectations clearly to one another.
Act Three (“We’re All In This Together”) begins with each person alone and broken and ends with the realization that the only way to mend each other is through open communication and holding each other up.
It sounds cheesy. The title of Act Three is literally taken straight from a Disney movie. But ignore that for a second, because, I think, our message runs a lot deeper than happy endings and the High School Musical soundtrack.
The message of unhealthy relationships, of hooking up with a different person every night, of taking advantage of women because “I know you want it,” has become almost ubiquitous. A child grows up with the idea of happily ever afters; that child becomes a teenager and hears that the cool thing to do is have a lot of sex and remember that feelings are secondary, if considered at all. What other choice does that child have than to equate the two?
Why are we sending the message that, in our society, we find our happily ever afters by treating others like they’re worth nothing?
When performing Act Two onstage, the two main characters (“Her” and “Him”) revolve slowly, dancing with each other, observed by the rest of the group, which kneels around them. The moment is intimate, beautiful, scarred; “Will you still love me tomorrow?” the girl sings, burying her face into the boy’s neck. The question is never answered. And we watch.
We have no answer.
Before we went onstage, we stood in a circle right outside the building, pressed together, hands clasped, shoulders touching, staring at our toes. We were shaking, terrified and thrilled, in the sound of each other’s excitement, counting down the seconds. There was some inexplicable feeling inside of us, some connection that went beyond our music-making right down into our bones.
And we thought we were going to win. We really did. It was, in hindsight, a shallow goal, an inevitable disappointment – our vowels weren’t as pure, our voices not as blended, our pitch not as perfect. We had hoped that our idea and our message would be enough. In the holding room after the competition was over, we slumped in chairs, despondent, the exhaustion of nearly 24 hours spent awake, the feeling that it was over, that it had all been for nothing.
Melodramatic, maybe. But the feeling lasted throughout the plane ride back, until the next morning, when the idea of the music video was born, and we realized that we could make a difference beyond a school auditorium in Tampa, beyond the Durham Academy student body.
And more than 30,000 views later, here we are. Recognition from MTV, Seventeen, Huffington Post.
Right at the end of Act Three, we stand in one line across the stage, hands linked, singing up to the stars. Someday, I will be strong enough to lift not one but both of us.
Another question for you: When is that someday?
We don’t have an answer, and I don’t know when we will. Here’s what I do know: that I wouldn’t trade those five-hour dance rehearsals and lunchtimes and snow days and Sunday evenings spent in each other’s company for anything in the world. That in wanting others to build healthier relationships, we have discovered one of the best within ourselves. I love these people with my whole heart.
We don’t have an answer, but I think we’re one step closer to finding it.
After all, we’re just a group of teenagers who want to change the world.
Veronica Kim of Chapel Hill attends Durham Academy. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the video
You can watch the video “Lost In The Game: A Musical Story of Relationships, Sex and Gender Politics” from Durham Academy A Cappella Plus at https://vimeo.com/138636169
The meditation on the unhealthy sexual relationships and gender stereotypes contained in the messages of popular music and culture uses parts of 18 different songs to tell the story.