Cups (song)

"Cups" is a song by the American actress Anna Kendrick that was adapted from the 1931 folk pop song "When I'm Gone" but uses a cup game for its percussion. It became a US chart hit after Kendrick's performance during her character's performance in the musical comedy Pitch Perfect (2012). Republic Records released a remix sub-titled "Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone" in March 2013.

"Cups (Pitch Perfect's 'When I'm Gone')"
A woman is seen with headphones around her neck looking to the corner. Above her, the words Anna Kendrick and Cups (Pitch Perfects "When I'm Gone") are in bold.
Single by Anna Kendrick
from the EP More from Pitch Perfect
Released
  • March 26, 2013 (US single)
  • October 28, 2013 (UK single)
Genre
Length2:07
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
Music video
"Cups (When I'm Gone)" on YouTube

The song received positive reviews on release. It reached number six on the US Billboard Hot 100, giving Kendrick her first US top-10 hit and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It reached the top 20 on charts in Canada and the Netherlands. Its music video was directed by Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore and released in April 2013. The video depicts Kendrick working in a diner and imagining staff and customers drumming their cups with her. Kendrick performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Background and compositionEdit

 
British group Lulu and the Lampshades (pictured in 2010), were the first to use the cup game as percussion when performing the song.

"Cups" incorporates lyrics from the 1931 song "When I'm Gone" by the Carter Family.[1][2][3] J. E. Mainer's Mountaineer reworked "When I'm Gone" into an Appalachian folk song in 1937 and retitled it to "Miss Me When I'm Gone".[3][4] Lulu and the Lampshades was the first musical act to use the cup game as the song's percussion.[3][a] Their version of the song was uploaded to YouTube in 2009 with the title "You're Gonna Miss Me".[3] In 2011, Anna Burden covered Lulu and the Lampshades' rendition of "Cups" and uploaded it to YouTube;[3] her video went viral after it was uploaded to Reddit, leading other musicians to record cover versions using the cup clap technique.[3][4]

Anna Kendrick first performed her version in the 2012 American musical comedy film Pitch Perfect.[3][6] In the movie, Kendrick plays the main character Beca Mitchell who uses the song as her audition for a college a cappella singing group, the Barden Bellas.[6][7] Kendrick's character uses a plastic cup to play the song and claps the rhythm.[8] While being interviewed on the Late Show with David Letterman in October 2012, Kendrick said she taught herself to play the cup song after watching someone perform it on Reddit.[9] When she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Kendrick said that she came up with her character's "Cups" audition scene.[10] Pitch Perfect's original script called for Kendrick's character to perform the nursery rhyme "I'm a Little Teacup" (1939) for her audition.[8][11] When Kendrick was asked to show her singing ability before filming, she performed "Cups"; the film's producers decided to write it into the movie's script in place of "I'm a Little Teacup".[10]

The song was originally written by A. P. Carter and British musician Luisa Gerstein.[12] The remix version has a new bridge section and a folk pop string arrangement.[13] It also includes additional instrumentation added by music producer Ali Dee Theodore, Jordan Yaeger, and Harvey Mason Jr, and it was extended by an additional minute.[14][15][16] Music critics described "Cups" as a folk pop and pop track.[13][17][18][19]

ReleaseEdit

Kendrick recorded a 76-second cover version titled "Cups (Movie Version)" for the Pitch Perfect soundtrack.[20] Republic Records sought to capitalize on the song's popularity and teamed up with Universal Pictures president of film music and publishing Mike Knobloch to produce a new, longer version with new instrumentation.[21] Republic Records and Universal Music Enterprises released a remix of Kendrick's version of "Cups", titled "Cups (Pitch Perfect's 'When I'm Gone')", for digital download and streaming as More from Pitch Perfect's lead single on March 26, 2013, on mainstream radio.[13][22][23][24][25][26] The remix was released as a single in the United Kingdom on October 28, 2013.[27][28] Republic Records founder, VP and head of radio and video promotion David Nathan said that "Anyone that has a preteen knows 'Cups'. Pitch Perfect is a cultural phenomenon and we're very happy to be a part of it."[21]

Kendrick performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live in 2012, 2014 and 2017, respectively.[8][9][29] It was included in the 2015 sequel film Pitch Perfect 2,[30] in which the Barden Bellas perform the song as a ballad.[30] The ballad version was included on Pitch Perfect 2's soundtrack with the title "Cups (When I'm Gone) [Campfire Version]".[31] A mash-up with George Michael's song "Freedom! '90" was released on November 21, 2017, with the title "Freedom! '90 x Cups".[32] A full-length video collaboration was made for the mash-up and was released on the same day.[32] It includes the Barden Bellas and the top 12 contestants of the 13th season of The Voice.[32][33] The mash-up was later released on the soundtrack Pitch Perfect 3 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).[32]

Critical receptionEdit

"Cups" was positively reviewed by music critics. Heather Phares of AllMusic described "Cups" as charming.[34] Writing for the Chicago Reader, Mile Raymer said that it made the Hot 100 "a much more interesting place for the past year".[35] Writing for Digital Spy, Ben Lee gave the single a positive review, admitting that they had her music video on repeat for an evening to practice the song.[36] Jeff Benjamin from the television channel Fuse called the track "undeniably catchy" and praised Kendrick's audition scene, which he thought of as an "awesome musical movie moment".[13] Kelly Lawler of USA Today stated Kendrick's performance of "Cups" in Pitch Perfect is "cute and all" but that "it's really not all that special".[37] She commended Kendrick's "spontaneous performance" of the song on the Late Show with David Letterman.[37]

Some critics preferred the film version to the remix. Stacy Lambe of Entertainment Tonight noted how the track only became a hit after Kendrick performed it for Beca Mitchell's audition to be a Barden Bella.[38] Chris Molanphy of Slate magazine said the 2013 remix "neutered" the original version of "Cups" and said he would rather listen to Kendrick's "weird-America ditty" version.[39] Writing for Billboard magazine, Andrew Unterberger praised the original track, describing it as "totally charming", but labeled the remix as "mumfordized" and "needlessly extended", saying it "still hits one hell of a flat note".[40]

Douglas Wolk of Time magazine placed the song at number nine on his end-of-year list, describing Kendrick's version as a "terrific arrangement."[41] Marcus Jones of Entertainment Weekly put "Cups" at number nine on his The best songs from movies of the 2010s list, which she believed would help Kendrick as a singer and set the foundation for Pitch Perfect to become a profitable film franchise.[42] Nicholas Howe of Screen Rant ranked the song at number one on his Pitch Perfect: Top 10 Covers In The Movie Series list, noting its near-universal popularity.[43]

Commercial performanceEdit

"Cups" debuted at number 93 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart dated January 12, 2013.[4] It climbed to number 36 after the remixed version received airplay.[4] The single reached number 10 in its 28th charting week, giving Kendrick her first top-10 chart hit.[4][44] "Cups" peaked at number six on the chart dated August 16, 2013.[45][46] It was Kendrick's first Hot 100 top-10 entry[47] and one of the shortest songs by length to reach the top 10 during the 2010s.[48] The song spent 44 weeks on the Hot 100.[49] Kendrick is the second artist (after Barbra Streisand) to have a Hot 100 top-10 single and be nominated for both a Tony Award and an Academy Award.[50]

"Cups" performed well on Billboard's airplay charts. It debuted at number 40 on the US Mainstream Top 40, a chart focusing on mainstream radio airplay.[4] The track later peaked at number eight.[51] "Cups" peaked at number two on the Adult Top 40 chart.[52] It was a number-one hit on the Adult Contemporary chart, becoming Kendrick's first song to top any Billboard chart.[53][54] By October 2013, "Cups" had sold 2.5 million downloads in the US.[53] The single was certified 3× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting track-equivalent sales and streams of three million units in the US.[54][55][56] It was the 21st-biggest single of 2013.[57]

The single also charted on singles charts of other countries. It reached number 12 on the Canadian Hot 100.[58] and number 71 on the UK Singles Chart.[59] It was certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipments of over 70,000 copies.[60]

Music videoEdit

BackgroundEdit

The music video was directed by Pitch Perfect's director Jason Moore and choreographed by Aakomon Jones.[28][61] Because of the track's success, record company executives asked Kendrick to make its music video.[62] Development began in March 2013.[21] Kendrick hinted at its direction in an Instagram post that showed a photograph of an overturned cup in the midst of flour and dough.[61] It was released on April 12, 2013, via Kendrick's YouTube channel.[17] During an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she said she was not playing Beca Mitchell.[63] Kendrick said she was not keen to make a solo album but wanted to film the music video for "Cups".[63] She also said that she had "agreed to the music video mostly 'cause I wanted to work with Jason again 'cause I'm totally obsessed with him, and because this idea of an entire diner full of people doing the 'cup thing' really satisfied the Busby Berkeley lover in me"[63]

Synopsis and receptionEdit

 
The music video depicts Kendrick working in a diner while drumming a plastic cup.

In the opening scene, Kendrick is shown in a restaurant kitchen, cutting dough with a plastic cup while looking at postcards on a refrigerator. She places the biscuits in the oven and dusts her hands. She stares at the cup,[64] takes it and lightly taps it on the table. She starts to tap the cup on the table and clap the song's rhythm.[65] She puts the cup down and washes her hands while taking a plate of food from the chef and walking out into the dining area, where the customers start drumming their cups in various ways on their tables.[66]

The camera follows her as she collects dishes and cleans tables, before zooming around her and tracking to a wide shot showing the diner's staff and customers performing the cup tapping routine during the song's bridge section.[67] The camera returns to Kendrick, who walks back to the kitchen and passes the chef, who is now drumming with a cup instead of wooden utensils, and follows her back to the table where she made the biscuits.[68] She drums on the cup and sings again before the timer rings. Once "Cups" ends, Kendrick looks back towards the dining area, where the customers are eating and talking normally. She realizes she had imagined the incident and looks at the chef. Kendrick smiles and leaves through the diner's back door.[64][68]

John Boone of E! Online praised the music video, saying; "Anna Kendrick remains amazing and we would not want to challenge anyone from that diner in flip cup".[68] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Grady Smith called the video a "beautifully shot clip".[66] For The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Cheney lauded Kendrick's performance, said that Kendrick gave a "whole new meaning to flip cup", and described the flip-cup scene as an "epic proportion".[64]

CoversEdit

Kendrick's version has been widely covered. In July 2013, the South Korean girl group Spica rapped and harmonized the song in English and Korean a cappella, while using the cup technique.[69] In September 2014, the Miss New York winner Kira Kazantsev performed Pharrell's 2014 single "Happy" using Kendrick's cup routine during the talent portion of the pageant.[70][71]

Mithila Palkar published a cover version in March 2016, in which she sang the Marathi song "Hi Chaal Turu Turu" to the track's rhythm.[72] During an October 2016 interview with MTV, American actor Ben Affleck sang "Cups" for Kendrick.[73] In May 2020, Pakistani film and television actor Hania Amir covered the song; according to a staff writer of The Express Tribune, Amir played a golden cup, "effortlessly" as a percussion instrument. The writer also called it a "calm and decent version" of the song.[74]

Track listingsEdit

ChartsEdit

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[60] Platinum 70,000^
United States (RIAA)[99] 3× Platinum 3,000,000 

^shipments figures based on certification alone
 sales+streaming figures based on certification alone

NotesEdit

  1. ^ The cup game is a children's clapping game that involves tapping and hitting a cup using a defined rhythm.[5]

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit