Like so many American Jews this weekend, I flocked to the movie theater to see one of the greatest films of the year: “Pitch Perfect 3.” Yes, watching the grand finale of the a capella film franchise was the most fun I have ever had in my entire life. I strongly recommend it to you as an antidote to the year 2017, if not the entire decade.
Despite the proliferation of Jewish tastemakers in media, most of us accept that gazing at church-going Aryan faces at the movies is part of the American experience. Little did I expect to be so personally represented by the third “Pitch Perfect” movie, which besides being a commercial comedy lacks the contributions of Jewish performers Ben Platt and Skylar Astin, who appeared in the series’s earlier movies.
But lo! In addition to the presence of Hailee Steinfeld and Elizabeth Banks (two of our favorite Jews, both in top form), the jewel in the crown of the “Pitch Perfect” franchise shone a not-inconsiderable spotlight on the tension between cultural expression and assimilation for American Jews. Believe it or not, to prove their superiority to the other musical groups on their USO tour, the Barden Bella a capella group bursts into a “riff-off” competition featuring only “songs by artists you didn’t know were Jewish!”
Just how Jewish are these songs? They range from twice-a-year-Jew to person-who-just-really-likes-bagels, in my professional opinion. Here’s the full list:
“Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz’s father was Jewish. Lenny Kravitz’s ex-wife Lisa Bonet is Jewish. Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet’s daughter Zoë Kravitz is Jewish. Lenny Kravitz’s cousin once removed, Al Roker, is not Jewish. But Lenny Kravitz is Jewish.
“One More Night” by Maroon 5
The lead singer of “Maroon 5,” who also co-wrote “One More Night,” is named Adam Levine, and he has the rakish charm of a Jewish youth group regional president. Jewish!
“Call Me” by Blondie
Now we’re on shaky terrain. Debbie Harry, the lead singer of “Blondie,” is not Jewish. Chris Stein, the band’s guitarist, is. But Stein didn’t write this song — Harry wrote it with Giorgio Moroder, who does not seem to be Jewish.
“Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande and The Weeknd
I could find zero connection between this song and Judaism. Neither of its singers are Jewish. The six people who wrote the song are Swedish, Gujarati Hindu, Swedish again, Iranian-Swedish, Ethiopian-Orthodox, and Palestinian-Canadian. There is no reason to believe that any of them have ever practiced Judaism.
“If I Were A Boy” by Beyonce
“Beyonce’s not Jewish!” a desperate a cappell-er (?) screamed fruitlessly at the group of male soldiers singing Beyonce’s hit ballad. We agree. BC Jean and Toby Gad, who wrote the song, do not appear to be Jewish.
But do you know who is Jewish? Tom Kitt, the Broadway composer who is responsible for all of the musical arrangements in the movie, and hence, every song in the riff-off.
Here’s the full riff-off. You’ll find the Jews and sort-of-Jews betwee :57 and 2:32. A ca-enjoy!
‘Pitch Perfect 3:’ Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick Riff-Off