You may have first heard the quirky ‘Cups’ in ‘Pitch Perfect’ nearly a year ago. Just this week, the song hits the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10. Let’s recap its lengthy journey.
As reported yesterday, Anna Kendrick reaches the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 at last with “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone),” which rises 13-10 in its 28th week on the chart.
Since it’s been almost a year since her song was released via the box office hit “Pitch Perfect,” and since the track is still finding new audiences thanks to its continued inroads at radio, let’s look back at the pop culture and chart odyssey that “Cups” has taken on its way to reaching the Hot 100’s top tier this week.
Aug. 9, 1985
Kendrick is born in Portland, Maine. (Why not start at the beginning?)
Kendrick catches a bus from Portland to New York to attend auditions, ultimately with her sights set on performing on Broadway. By 1998, at 12, she scores her first acting role, as Dinah, in the Broadway musical “High Society.” Her performance nets her a Tony Award nomination, making her the third-youngest Tony Award nominee ever.
(And now we fast-forward …)
Sept. 28, 2012
“Pitch Perfect” premieres in U.S. theaters. It ranks at No. 3 in its first weekend, grossing $14.8 million. It trails “Taken 2″ and “Hotel Transylvania” (neither of which, obviously, boast a song keeping them in public consciousness long after like “Cups” has done for “Pitch Perfect,” reinforcing the staying power that a soundtrack hit can engender for a film).
Kendrick appears on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” and shows off her dexterity at performing “Cups” as she does in “Pitch Perfect.”
Actually, let’s go way back to 1931 for a moment: In 2009, British act Lulu and the Lampshades unveiled its version, and unique cup-assisted performance style, of “When I’m Gone” as a reworking of the Carter Family’s 1931 recording of the Appalachian folk song “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” (also later popularized by J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers). Anna Burden’s viral performance subsequently garnered attention on YouTube (3.7 million views to date), which led to front page placement on Reddit, while myriad other online covers followed.
“‘Cause I’m a huge loser, I thought the best way to spend an entire afternoon would be watching (Burden’s) video 50 times and teaching myself how to do it,” Kendrick told Letterman. When the film’s creative powers “found out I could, they wanted me to (perform) it in the movie.”
The “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack debuts on the Billboard 200 at No. 43 with 9,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Jan. 12, 2013
In its 1-minute-16-second-long soundtrack version, “Cups” enters the Hot 100 at No. 93. At the time, 69% of its chart points are due to digital sales, 31% to streaming and 0% to radio.
With the film having achieved continued box office success, the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack spends its first of three weeks at its No. 3 Billboard 200 peak. It’s sold 772,000 to date (and jumps 20-13 on the current chart).
With the song in a new form (see next item), the official “Cups” video premieres. To date, it’s up to 29 million YouTube views.
“Cups” debuts on the Pop Songs radio airplay chart at No. 40 after Republic Records released a new, longer edit featuring much more instrumentation than on the almost all-a capella (a-“cup”-ella?) soundtrack version. “Anyone that has a preteen knows (‘Cups’),” Republic senior VP/radio and video promotion David Nathan beams to Billboard as the label begins promoting the song to radio. “‘Pitch Perfect’ is a cultural phenomenon and we’re very happy to be a part of it.”
JR Ammons, program director of Pop Songs reporter WZPL Indianapolis, says that despite initial apathy, he believes in the track’s potential as a radio hit. “I saw the movie when it came out and, honestly, the song didn’t stick out to me as something that I would be playing months later.
“I wouldn’t have thought about that song again after the movie … until my daughter learned the cup thing off YouTube and was singing it over and over and over in the house. Then, I come to work and see the single sales climb week after week in Indianapolis with zero radio airplay …
“Once you get away from the source of the song, it being from a movie about college freshmen, there’s nothing really that youthful-exclusive about it,” Ammon adds.
“No matter how I try to fight it, the hook is in my head every time it comes on our station.”
With radio playing the new edit, “Cups” reaches the Hot 100’s top 40 (rising 44-36) in its 21st week. (In addition to its digital single release, the new version appears on the EP “Pitch Perfect: More From Pitch Perfect,” which charges 139-119 on the Billboard 200 this week.)
“Pitch perfect” makes its premium cable premiere on HBO. With the film having grossed $113 million worldwide to date, according to Box Office Mojo, the TV exposure can only help build the familiarity of “Cups,” especially among those who may not have seen the film in theaters.
The always Twitter-witty Kendrick marvels at the song’s new levels of airplay: “Holy s*** it’s happening. I’m hearing my song on the radio. Every music biopic ever has taught me this will lead to drugs and madness … #sweet”
Climbing 13-10 in its 28th week, “Cups” completes the fourth-longest ascent to the top 10 for a woman in the Hot 100’s nearly 55-year history, bested only by Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the steadiest riser among all acts (38 weeks; 2007), and Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” (30; 1998) and “The Way You Love Me” (29; 2000).
While Underwood and Hill reached the top 10 by seeing their songs start at country before scoring pop and adult radio airplay, the pure-pop “Cups” has made its journey via measured increasing sales and pop and adult radio’s interest following its instrument-infused edit.
“Cups” also claims its first top 10 placement on an airplay chart, as it bumps 11-9 on Adult Pop Songs. On Pop Songs, it jumps 18-15. In its second week on Adult Contemporary, it lifts 25-22. In contrast to its debut week on the Hot 100 (see Jan. 12, above), radio is now a major driver of its success: 27% of its chart points stem from airplay, with 47% from sales and 26% from streaming.
In all, and given that its growth at radio is still continuing solidly, it appears that, to paraphrase the song, it’ll be a long time before “Cups” is gone.