The Maccabeats, an a cappella group from Yeshiva University, hit it big time this week when CNN packaged their video in a story about the increasing hipness of Hanukkah. If you haven’t see it – 2m views and still counting – the video is a goofy, disarming, and joyful look at the Festival of Lights.
It’s based on a whimsical a cappella viral video by Mike Tompkins (Dynamite) which is itself a takeoff on the hip hop song of the same title. But what the Maccabeats have done is more than release a cute video at the right time of year, they’ve re-interpreted the message and mechanism of both the original song, Dynamite, and the video song mashup, Dynamite.
The original – which we’ll call O.D. for short – is especially catchy, “in the club” standard fare. The message? Taio Cruz is a great entertainer and is the man to have at a party.
Mike Tompkins’ viral video remix came from re-recording the song using only the human voice – we’ll call it New Dynamite or N.D. In doing so, he took a calculatedly produced piece of music and re-humanized it by singing each component himself. N.D. is, at once, subversive and celebratory: Mike shows *he* really does make the party because he can produce every note himself.
Where the Maccabeats went right is that they took the visual look of N.D. and further sabotaged the sentiment of O.D. The song, instead of being about how great *I* am, is about how great this *community* is. It’s at once the apotheosis and antithesis of a club song: holy tradition celebrated in a radically worldly form.
What’s worth noting is the Maccabeats did not create a parody – they are not making fun of O.D. or N.D. – but a mashup. While borrowing the visual language and musical script of both, they maintain an earnestness that does not spring forth from parody.
As my wife says, their mothers must be so proud.
So what can you learn from this viral video? Unlike the Pink Glove dance spin-offs, the Maccabeats did not reuse a novel concept. They had something new to say: Hanukkah might seem uncool from the outside but it’s really fun and fulfilling.
Will they have another hit? Who knows, but for now they’ve tapped into a quirky stream of American novelty interest. It’s worth reflecting that such novelty contains more substance than O.D. or N.D and will propel them to hopefully further success.
I might suggest a re-purposing from the Jewish-Buddhist super group, The Beastie Boys: No Sleep Till… Purim!