‘Determination Runs Through Every Single Shade Of Blue’: Penn State A Cappella Group Talks TikTok Success & Friendship
Shades of Blue prides itself on being one of Penn State’s premier co-ed a cappella groups. Founded in 2003 by Mark Lehnowsky and his group of friends, Shades of Blue has been bringing together students of all backgrounds and interests for two decades.
“We’re a fun-loving, energetic group of friends who enjoy coming together and creating and performing a cappella music,” Shades of Blue President Adam Evans said.
Recently, Shades has performed at various university events, including those for the College of Engineering, alumni, and even THON. A number of these events were attended by President Neeli Bendapudi and President Eric Barron, which Evans noted as a highlight of the group’s performance experiences.
“[THON] was the biggest audience we’ve ever performed for,” Shades of Blue alum Loren Iannucci said. “There were thousands and thousands of people there, so it was nerve-wracking. We’re always able to hype each other up, though, so when we got on stage, we just had so much fun together.”
In addition to THON, the group has been invited to perform at nursing homes, tailgates, and even weddings.
Shades of Blue has fostered a “found-family” dynamic that goes beyond banding together to ace important performances. Much like the makeup of the 2003 class, Shades is comprised of genuine best friends.
“When I came to Penn State, everyone just kept telling me, ‘You can’t make a small school big but you can make a big school small,’ and I didn’t really believe them,” Perry Drugan, director of a cappella relations, said. “Now, I just feel so lucky that not only do I go to a university that has the opportunities for a cappella, but that has this group in particular because they seriously are the best friends I think I will find in my life. It’s so much fun to just be dorky little a cappella nerds with them.”
Between pop-up performances downtown before football games and their own concerts, the group is no stranger to a live audience. However, Shades of Blue performs on and off the stage, and its largest audience doesn’t applaud, it likes and comments. Over the past year, the group has amassed 150,000 TikTok followers from across the country and worldwide.
The group’s online success was the result of both TikTok’s clever algorithm and their own talent and passion. Iannucci saved a Snapchat video she had taken of the group rehearsing Labyrinth’s “All For Us” and posted it on her personal TikTok, expecting only her followers to see it. Before she knew it, the video had reached two million views and over 100,000 likes. Realizing this TikTok thing might just be something bigger than they could have ever expected, the Shades of Blue account was born.
“It is kind of odd that it’s reaching such a large audience because, you know, it’s cool to see a million people saw our video, but it’s hard to wrap your head around,” Evans said.
Since then, the group’s following has only grown.
“I remember we were all on FaceTime the minute that we hit 100,000 followers,” said Iannucci. “We kept refreshing the page until we hit it, and it was just such a unique thing that we got to experience with each other.”
Viral video after viral video pushed the musicians to put more time and work into their posts. With the encouragement of their newfound audience, who began to request covers of an abundance of songs, TikTok became a core part of rehearsals. Iannucci even remembered staying up with the group until 2 a.m. rehearsing and recording to get a TikTok just right.
Seeking out good video ideas, mastering the filming process, and arranging music for the first time was all part of the journey that got Shades of Blue the 150,000 supporters it has today. While their arrangements and vocal talent have earned them an array of opportunities, the vocalists believe that their passion is what really garnered all the attention.
“We’ve tried to analyze our trends, you know, but those never seem to really blow up. It’s the videos with a big group that show we’re not just people that like to make music, we’re a group of friends and, we always say, a big family,” Drugan said. “I mean, you’ll hear some flat notes, you’ll hear some sharp notes, but we really do it for fun and that’s what people seem to love to see.”
Elite performances and viral videos are exciting endeavors for Shades of Blue, but not its priority deep down.
“Some groups do work towards things like the ICCA [International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella], but we’re here most of all to have fun. We’re not so serious, we all just love music,” Evans said.
Looking ahead, Shades of Blue is in preparations for Penn State’s first official A Cappella Competition (ACC), which will feature all nine a cappella groups on campus. In past years, the groups have hosted a sampler to showcase the a cappella talents at Penn State. This year, however, they’ve decided to spice things up with some fun and friendly competition.
“Last year I was like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s literally a movie based off of this,'” Drugan said. “Luckily the vice president of production for the Performing Arts Council brought up the idea of doing an a cappella competition, and now it’s in the works.”
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