Despite what our resident a cappella expert Ellie Shechet will have you believe, I am not a unilateral hater of a cappellas—only the corny ones. A song I listen to at least three to eight times a year, for instance, is the a cappella version of Monica’s “Sideline Ho,” which uses gospel harmonies to elevate a seething missive to a sidepiece into heavenly territory. “Get your shit together, you’re making a fool of yourself,” she sings, destroying the poor woman, and yet it’s purposefully delivered in the tenor of praise—it’s a hymnal for main chicks:
And yet today, I have learned that the ultimate travesty of a cappella has been committed, and I am of the belief that some people need to be held accountable. Did you know that in 2015, Pentatonix, the homicidally perky a cappella quintet sent by Lucifer to smite us, covered one of the best R&B a cappellas of all time, and with Beelzebubbling JASON DERULO of all people. Well, no one told me until now, thanks to the whistleblowers over at Idolator alerted us to an illuminati conspiracy between Pentatonix and Conan O’Brien to infect America’s ears with this heathen fuckery.
The song in question is 1992's “If I Ever Fall in Love Again,” by R&B quartet Shai, and it’s one of the most effective, sensual and mournful tracks of the New Jack Swing era. The original version featured the group administering smooth doo-wops over a light synth oomph, and it was a smash hit, but the superior version is this a cappella, which was official enough that I remember it being played on MTV at the time.
The thing is, I can’t say that Pentatonix’s version is bad, because it’s not—the arrangement is masterful, the layers of harmony complex, and the baritone adds a level of richness that I appreciate—and as ever, most of my revulsion comes from the general aura. (Is this guy really wearing a trench coat with elbow-length sleeves?)
But listen to the original and what’s missing from the cover is painfully evident. The song is the truly affecting lament of a man (or men) amid deep regret at how he dogged his last lover out; as he sings “I was caught up in physical attraction,” we’re catching him in the act of growing, at the nexus of the moment he realized he behaved poorly and shouldn’t have. And yet, there’s a twist—they’re together now; she took him back, maybe for his sweet talk, but he’s promising her that he’s learned from it all. She took the fall so his next lover could live.
It’s a multitudinous song in a wrenching minor key that demands more than savvy arranging; it demands verity to its subject. The song was written by Shai’s Carl “Groove” Martin when he was just 21 and still a student at Howard University, and when he presumably knew something about the sinewy and inextricable connection between heartbreak and becoming an adult. In ‘93, he told People Magazine he wrote it after a breakup:
Early last year, with $100 borrowed from Martin’s brother, the four cut a demo tape featuring a song that Martin had written after breaking up with his girlfriend in Houston. He was driving back to Washington after the split when, he says, “I swear, that song came to me. Here’s verse one; here’s the chorus; here’s verse two; the chorus; here’s the bridge. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t write it down. I didn’t do anything. I think God sent it, I really do.”
Shai felt it, and Pentatonix spat it out with their demonic professional tongues. May Carl Martin reap the royalties for eternity, at the least.
Image via screenshot