HBO’s The Wire stood out as one of the great television shows of the 2000s. The show stood in stark contrast to other HBO success stories. It lacked the Mafioso chic or familial core of The Sopranos. It didn’t have the escapist quality of a show like Entourage. It didn’t indulge a particular gender audience like Sex & the City.
What The Wire did deliver was grim, frank reality. The show cast a critical lens on organized crime, law enforcement, the drug trade, the education system, the media and more. All the while it balanced social consciousness with a perspicacious eye for painting unique, individual, and profoundly flawed characters.
Zeroing in on season four, which highlighted an important, evolutionary year in the lives of a group of eighth graders, the show did not pull punches, nor make easy decisions. Some of the children show progress, but by the end of the season, it’s clear they’re all fighting an uphill battle against schools that are set up to fail them, cultural norms that insist on pigeon-holing them, and a world that’s going to make each and every one of them grow up before they’re truly ready.
The Wire developed a deeply devoted fan base and earned a bevy of award nominations because the show faced hard truths and told its stories honestly. So how might your a cappella group do the same?
Think about your song choices. Are you riding the waves of top 40 hits and a cappella standards, or are you plumbing less conventional sources like the indie rock scene or at least underexploited album tracks from well-known artists? Are you selecting songs with only surface level meaning and without social messages, or are you singing with purpose, choosing message songs, or songs calling for change, or songs that identify injustice?
Think about the way in which you perform. Are all of your group members standing in that old fashioned a cappella arc and snapping their fingers? Are you executing cutesy step-touches? Are you breaking into block chords and simple four-part harmonies? Or are you mixing up your formations; making hard, solid and confident movements; and adding layers of harmonization and instrumentation the a cappella world has never heard before?
Your group can emulate a success story like The Wire by choosing unconventional paths and telling difficult stories. Even if you don’t succeed in any every effort, if you deliver your messages with earnest passion, it will go a long way toward cultivating a committed audience and helping your group stand out from all the others.