Princeton’s Footnotes compete to win over $10,000 for social justice organizations

Anika Agarwal
September 29, 2020 | 8:04pm EDT

The Princeton Footnotes, an all-male a cappella group founded in 1959, was recently selected as a top 32 collegiate a cappella group from over 160 video entries in the first-ever UpStaged National Collegiate Performing Arts (NCPA) A Capella competition. The Footnotes now have the chance to compete against other qualifying college a cappella groups, including groups from Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. The winning group will receive over $10,000 in social justice charity donations and the 2020 NCPA A Capella Champion title.

Now that their submission — an arrangement of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley — has made it into the top 32, the Footnotes find themselves in the middle of their first round of a head-to-head NCAA bracket style competition, with public votes deciding the winners of the 16 matchups by Oct. 2.

This competition is very different from the Footnotes’ regular activities. With most of their time spent going on tour, performing at events, and working on new arrangements, the Footnotes rarely finds themselves competing. They last competed in 2013, when they were invited to NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” another elimination-style contest.

Footnotes President Joshua Babu ’22 told The Daily Princetonian that participating in UpStaged started with a direct message.

“I got [a] DM on Instagram by one of the ladies running it. She had heard of the Footnotes before and really wanted us to join,” he said.

Following this initial outreach, UpStaged decided on the top 32 a cappella groups from over 160 submissions worldwide.

Babu said that soon after the Footnotes submitted their music video, they learned they had entered the top 64. After an interview process, they were notified that they were a top 32 finalist as the number three seed in the Mid-Atlantic region.

While being named a top 32 group has given the Footnotes exposure and competition experience, it also presents the group with the chance to win over $10,000 for both the team and a social justice charity of the group’s choice. The Footnotes have announced that should they win the competition, the full prize, including personal earnings, will go to both the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

The NCTE aims to inspire legal and societal change to improve the lives of transgender people, while the EJI seeks to end legal injustices, such as illegal convictions, unjust sentences, and the mistreatment that many inmates face due to their racial identity or socioeconomic status.

“We really believe in the missions and the actions of both organizations,” said Footnotes Social Media Chair Remy Reya ’21. “To have the opportunity to use our music to get even more support for their organizations through this competition is really wonderful.”

Reya is a contributing columnist for The Daily Princetonian.

Reya found the event’s emphasis on social justice — along with its diverse range of participants — especially meaningful.

“It’s exciting to see the work that other groups have been doing through their music videos and to all come together around a good cause, which is everyone supporting different charities,” he said.

The NCPA A Cappella structure uses a bracket to pit college groups from the same area against each other. With the Footnotes in the Mid-Atlantic region, their first round competitors are the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Masala.

This means that the Footnotes’ submission is directly up against Penn Masala’s arrangement of “Ilahi/Castle on the Hill,” with only one of the two groups making it through to the second round of the five-round competition.

The Footnotes’ music director, Dorian Pousont ’21, explained the group’s reasoning behind picking “Crazy” as their submission.

“It’s sort of an upbeat arrangement and also one of the more current songs to try to just appeal to people who might not know us otherwise,” he said. “[A] more pop song is usually a good way to go. It’s just a really good arrangement.

According to Pousont, groups that compete more often than the Footnotes have “a greater complexity of arrangements, a lot of things that aren’t really viable if you’re trying to [perform] live.”

Given their focus on live performance, the competition has compelled the Footnotes to give more attention to recorded arrangements and video production.

“The bigger issue in this particular competition is video production quality, since it’s such a big part and groups have obviously put a lot of thought and time into [it],” he said.

Although Babu said the group is “definitely out of [their] comfort zone” in entering the competition, they are excited to keep competing.

“We don’t have too much precedent in getting people to come vote for us for competitions, but we’re basically treating this as a way to raise money for two really amazing organizations,” Babu said.

Voting is open at this link until Friday, Oct. 2.