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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, March 5, 2024

TUSC holds first riff-off at Tufts

Jumbo a capella groups faced off in a battle of musical talents.


The Beelzebubs are pictured performing at the riff-off on Nov. 17.

It was the night “Pitch Perfect” (2012) fans had been waiting for.

Considering how lively and diverse the Tufts a capella scene is, it’s a bit of a surprise that the riff-off on Nov. 17 was the school’s first. After all, the Beelzebubs served as the inspiration for the Treblemakers, the all-male a capella group featured in “Pitch Perfect.”

The event, hosted at 51 Winthrop St., was organized by the Tufts University Social Collective and had a similar format to the riff-offs that took place in the movies: A random category is chosen, and the a capella groups are tasked with arranging and performing an excerpt from a song that fits the category.

Unlike the movie, however, groups had no need to worry about interrupting other groups’ songs with another song that started on the same word their rivals ended on (the kind of seamless magic needed to make that work only exists in movies.) Nevertheless, S-factor, Shir Appeal, Ladies of Essence, Jackson Jills, Beelzebubs, sQ!, Amalgamates, Enchanted and Full Sound were up to the challenge and each delivered flawless performances.

The first category was R&B classics. The Ladies of Essence and S-factor took it all the way back to the ’90s with their soulful renditions of  SWV’s “Weak” (1993) and Shai’s “If I Ever Fall in Love” (1992) respectively, while Full Sound jumped into the present with Steve Lacy’s hit “Bad Habit” (2022). Following this was an audience-favorite category: songs from the TV show “Glee” (200915). The Jackson Jills sang an arrangement of the show’s theme song, as well as the TV show’s popular version of the Michael Jackson song, “Smooth Criminal” (1987).  For this category, the Beelzebubs made sure to perform their signature cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” (2010) (as most Tufts ‘Gleeks’ are aware, the Bubs actually performed the backing vocals for the official Glee Cast cover of the song in 2011.)

Other categories were Ugly Lead Singers, Ladies of the ’80s (which was also one of the chosen categories for the Riff-Off in “Pitch Perfect”) and Artists Who Have Worn a Fedora. The Jills sang “This Love” (2002) by Maroon 5 for the first category. This was the subject of some dispute among those in attendance, as Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine is rarely considered ugly and was even voted Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 2013. The second of the aforementioned categories featured strong performances, notably the Ladies of Essence’s version of “I’m Coming Out” (1980) by Diana Ross. And the mention of fedora-wearing artists brought one particular vocalist to mind: Queen Bey herself. Three groups performed Beyoncé songs: the ‘Mates with “Love on Top” (2011), S-Factor with “Halo” (2009) and sQ! with “Bootylicious” (2001).

The final category was also one from the “Pitch Perfect” riff-off: Songs about Sex. This brought forth fierce, jaw-dropping performances, including those of HAIM’s “Little of Your Love” (2017) by Shir Appeal, Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” (2001) by sQ! and Olivia Rodrigo’s “bad idea right?” (2023) by Full Sound. But Enchanted’s humorous PG interpretation of the category with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994) was most memorable for the audience. They even held up a stuffed Jumbo the elephant, recreating the song’s iconic scene in the Disney film.

Those attending the event were invited to vote for the a capella group that they believed should win the competition, a difficult task considering the caliber of talent presented. Ultimately, the Ladies of Essence took home the win. Their victory was extremely well-deserved, as their smooth vocals and powerful harmonies resonated throughout the entire show.

TUSC teased a sequel riff-off at the end of the event. With the high audience turnout both at the venue and on the Instagram livestream, it is clear that Jumbos suffer from an a capella craving. This contest brought some much-needed musical cheer to the Tufts community, and future riff-offs are sure to be even more aca-awesome.