Early this year, The New York Times Magazine did an issue titled “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going,” including Pentantonix’s Grammy-winning collaboration with Dolly Parton on an a cappella cover Parton’s “Jolene.”
Being on a list like that sounds like a compliment, but in this case, it was condescension: “Pentatonix’s music is indeed relentlessly wholesome — just five voices cooing and trilling and humming cheerily along. There is nothing dangerous or dark or threatening in their work [apparently the Times hadn’t seen , which consists mostly of chaste covers of pop hits and Christmas songs. No sex, only kissing. No bad behavior, no cursing and certainly no politics.”
To be fair, that was before Pentatonix got political with the video for their cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” in which the five singers in the quintet flip over cards revealing the cultural, ethnic and religious labels they identify with, beginning with Mitch Grassi writing “LGBTQ+” on his card (and the writer of that Times item does note the diversity of the group). And a couple of their videos have had an edge to them, most notably the post-apocalyptic video for their collaboration with violinist Lindsey Stirling on a cover of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” (maybe “Imagine” is a key word for the group).
But, while the group’s image might not be “relentlessly” wholesome, it is pretty wholesome, and it looks like the first member to make a big solo move is going beyond that.
Kirstin Maldonado, the only woman in the group, announced Friday morning that her debut solo EP, “L O V E,” will be out on July 14. Along with that announcement came the video for her latest single, “All Night,” Maldonado — who, as a solo artist, goes by kirstin™ a — is seen in a bedroom, tattooed gent sleeping by her side as she loses sleep and even levitates over the “it’s complicated” state of a relationship (so complicated, if I’m interpreting the video occasionally, that he occasionally turns into a large wolfish dog, which might be one of Maldonado’s own dogs).
As we have often noted, Pentatonix was founded by Maldonado, Grassi and Scott Hoying, all graduates of Arlington Martin High, to compete on the NBC a cappella competition “The Sing-Off,” which they won in season three. Maldonado, who recently turned 25, is also a Fort Worth native. Two non-Texans, “beat boxer” Kevin Olusola and bass singer Avi Kaplan, were recruited to make the group a quintet, the minimum group size for “The Sing-Off.”
This is the second single off of “L O V E”; the first, “Break a Little,” was released in May. It’s probably safe to say that I’m not in the target demo for these songs, in which kirstin™ sometimes employs a breathiness that’s common in contemporary music but that she has steered clear of in Pentatonix, but I do lean a little more toward “Break a Little,” which is more subtly produced, allowing it to bring forth an appealing melancholy side.
Both videos were directed with big-screen flair by Daniel Carberry, who has worked with Usher, Thirty Second to Mars, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Skylar Grey and others.
With Kaplan’s recent announcement that he will be leaving the group and Maldonado’s solo project, there have been questions about Pentatonix’s future, but all the group members have done side projects — it’s just that kirstin™’s is getting a lot of attention because of it being an actual six-song EP. But she recently told “Entertainment Tonight” that fans needn’t worry about the future of the group. Kaplan has said that he won’t leave until after the current tour, which is about to do three nights at the Hollywood Bowl and will wrap up in September.