RANK EVERYTHING: Versions of “Say Something” on YouTube

This is the first installment of a new features series called RANK EVERYTHING.  In each installment, I will take a topic or category from pop culture and sports, no matter how essential (all-time favorite NBA players, a Lost character fantasy draft), random (best use of the name Walter), or essentially random (the third tracks off every U2 album a.k.a. The “With or Without You/One” Battle to the death), and make a ranking on a given scale or set of criteria.  Some rankings will be of manageable length (10-20), some rankings may be of a slightly unmanageable length (if I ever get around to my Top 100 movies, albums, or TV show lists), and some rankings may feature only one or two items (For example – Best/Strangest Use of “World” when an NBA player changes his name: 2. Metta World Peace [formally Ron Artest]; 1. World B Free [formally Lloyd Free]).  The goal: to rank everything.

One additional note: rankings will always count down: the lower the number, the [insert given adjective/qualifer here] the item.

RANK EVERYTHING: Versions of the song “Say Something” on YouTube

“Say Something” versions will be ranked on a subjective “best of” scale.  Both the musical content and the visuals will be taken into account.

The why: On my way to work this morning, I heard a compelling version of “Say Something” for first time (it ended up ranked first on this list after I concluded my research).  If you have been hibernating or have conscientiously objected to listen to any form of music since the fall, than you might have missed the “Say Something” phenomenon.  Otherwise however overplayed it may be (a fire I am admittedly fueling), it is hard to get this simple, yet so emotionally, melodically, and lyrically gratifying ballad out of your system.  Written by pop duo A Great Big World, “Say Something” reached a tipping point of success when it was featured on the So You Think You Can Dance finale last September.  Christina Aguilera heard the song, reached out to band members Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, and like a girl who gets what a girl wants, recorded it as a duet.  A The Voice performance, a memorable X Factor cover, and a whole lot of radio play later, “Say Something” has been saturated into our collective listening souls.  After this morning’s new version watch and listen, I wanted to determine the definitive (from this subjective commentator) “Best of” list of versions of “Say Something” on YouTube.

11) Trinh and Lily Li – I have included this version primarily for the unintentional comedy – the unnecessary riffing at the beginning, anytime Trinh or Lily touch hair, any time time they force harmony and intonation problems arise, any time Lily closes her eyes, the twitter handles included at the bottom, the potential that they are not actually in the same room – and Trinh and Lily to not disappoint.

10) Boy Epic – Four things I have learned from Boy Epic’s version of “Say Something”: 1) Boy Epic’s voice is more boy than epic; 2) I think that Boy Epic really believes that the visual story he tells in the video is totally epic; 3) I hope the woman in this video was paid; 4) Boy Epic may want to “give up” on the kind of riffing he does from the 3:11 to 3:16 mark.

9) Victoria Justice and Max – This video gets special recognition for going for an Alfonso Cuarón one-take approach (which is well-executed).  Unfortunately, the xylophone guy is a bit of a distraction and does not provide enough underscoring dynamics to justify inclusion.

8) Jackson’s Emotional Reaction – Poor Jackson.  “Say Something” really is a sad song and it was on Daddy’s computer too.  Hang in there, little guy.

7) Kait Weston and Brandon Skeie – Sound advice: buy stock in Kait Weston.  Her YouTube channel is the real deal and continues to impress. Brandon Skeie is a captain of his own reverberation domain and boy band phrasing aspirations.  The visuals are little less than and don’t make a whole lot of sense on this video, but the vocals grow on me with each new listen.

6) Jasmine Thompson – Oh my.  Her accent is everything.  Her “indie rocker chick” phrasing is delicate bliss.  I love when she “conducts” her own dynamics and versing.  This sounds like it could have been the original version of this song that all subsequent versions were based upon.

5) Alex and Sierra from The X Factor – The US X Factor experience had its share of low points (Khloe! Britney! Steve Jones!), but this performance may have been its shining moment.

4) A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera – This is the definitive version of this song (thank you Christina for suggesting your participation) and still holds up after all these months.  The physical chemistry between Ian Axel and Christina does not really work (nor does the director when he asks Christina to “act it out”), but their voices are a most beautiful blend.  Credit to Christina for knowing that less is more for this song.

3) PS22 Chorus – I didn’t know such a melancholic, sad song could produce so much joy.  The PS22 Chorus of Public School 22 in Staten Island takes some talented fifth graders and makes musical magic.  These kids are simply amazing.

2) A Great Big World from the Billboard Sessions – I have to give Ian Axel credit.  In a sea of so many great performances of this airtight, lyrical melodic-melding of a song, it is the songwriter who understands it best.  His piano to voice to lyric connections are the strongest of any iteration I have seen.  I appreciate the Christina duet version, but hearing Ian here gives the clearest voice of how the song was intended to be performed.  Incredible.

1) Pentatonix – …for the win.  I am speechless.

What do you all think?  Are there any versions I missed?  How would your rankings differ?

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