Anna Kendrick's song "Cups" came on the radio sometime this spring (not just the one-minute version she did in Pitch Perfect and several talk shows to promote the same, a full-length radio edit).
Oh really? think I. I'll have to go look that up.
So I did, and discovered that yes, in fact, Kendrick's version is in fact a remake of Lulu and the Lampshades (now apparently known as Landshapes)' single from 2009, which was adapted a song from earlier last century (c. 1931) by the Carter Family.
Honestly, I suspect that a fair lot of the popularity of the Kendrick version revolves around the fact that she was in the Twilight movies and her career is continuing from that basis.
But, somewhat cynical blogger opinion aside, it’s really rather interesting that the song has come into the mainstream vogue in that way, and that because of that it could end up out of favor in some song circles. Because it’s on the radio, and as a result is now everywhere, it’s no longer one of the things that folkies are looking for in the song circles and such that are more away from the mainstream.
There is this odd sense of “Othering” that I’ve found comes to and from the contra community (and perhaps the folkie community in general), and while sometimes they can reflect various community values (e.g.,: most contra events are alcohol-free; most contra events try to make a point of using local talent as well as getting some touring folks, when they’re available), sometimes they can feel a bit arbitrary (e.g., if one finds it in “mainstream” culture and therefore it is inherently inferior and has nothing to offer the Tradition). Adding a conventionally pretty, known face to an old song and making a radio edit that is then played on pop stations a lot can both make a song relevant to a new audience and doom it in the folkie circles for being, in some ways, “not Other enough” to make it acceptable. (As posited before, to me this seems to be more of an aesthetic issue than anything else, but that’s a tangent here.)
At the same time, part of the reason that contra dancing isn’t more popular is because of this “Otherness.” It is, for good or for ill, associated with other forms of folk dance in the public imagination and as such is not appealing to several potential audiences out there. At the same time, suggestions that contra events could or should be advertised “to the gen pop” is met with a somewhat unfavorable reaction. So there is a tension...how to keep an event “Other” enough that it is appealing to the current folks (who like it as something “Other”) and how to keep an event accessible enough that you get new people in and keep the community sustainable.
In marketing we talk about finding your target audience and getting your information into the streams where they get their information. But, while the community knows it needs to do it, is that something that they really want to stretch themselves to do? Are they willing to sacrifice a little “Otherness” to gain some of the mainstream attention? Whether or not they can or wish to, should they do so, and to what degree?
I don’t have an answer to that, but I’m certainly willing to hear what other folks think.