teen things

A Comprehensive History of the ‘Cups’ Phenomenon

Photo: Linsey Fields

Currently, the No. 6 song on the Billboard “Hot 100” is “Cups,” a radio-friendly remix of the song that Anna Kendrick performs in Pitch Perfect. The title takes its name from Kendrick’s percussion instrument: a plastic cup, which she shuffles around like a person playing the Cup Game. Strangely (even to Kendrick), the year-old song has taken on a life of its own, even though Kendrick did not invent the Cup Game, nor did she write the song that goes with it. So who did? A brief history of the Cups phenomenon, below.

1928: The Original Carter Family records “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”
The first generation of Carters — A.P., his wife Sara, and Maybelle — wrote the song that would originally become “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” Most of the lyrics are different (as in, it is about dying).

1937: J.E. Mainers Mountaineers record “Miss Me When I’m Gone”
J.E. Mainer, a fiddler from North Carolina, reworked the Carter original into the strummy version with a chorus that you’ll recognize from Pitch Perfect. Charlie Monroe, a Kentucky bluegrass musician, also performed a similar version on the radio.

1987: Rich Mullins uses the Cup Game in his “Screen Door” music video.
Mullins is a Christian singer best known for the song “Awesome God,” which plays in heavy rotation at Bible camps. It’s pretty unlikely that Mullins himself invented the Cups game — it probably came from youth group — but this is one of the earliest Cups performances on the cultural record.

1989: The Tanner sisters perform the Cups routine on season three of Full House.
See, it is just a thing that kids do. Even kids on major network sitcoms.

1999: The Zoom kids teach Cups to a new generation of PBS viewers.
Zoom was a Boston-area PBS show that first aired in 1972; this clip is from the second generation, which ran from 1999 through 2005.

2009: Lulu and the Lampshades pair “When I’m Gone” with the Cups game.
And here’s where it all comes together. Lulu and the Lampshades, a British band, remade the original folk song and paired with the Cups rhythm in their video. The video hung around on the Internet for almost two years without attracting too much attention, until …

2011: Anna Burden’s Cups video gets featured on the front page of Reddit.
Know Your Meme has the full breakdown, but short version: A woman named Anna Burden made her own version of the Lulu and the Lamspshades video and was discovered by Reddit. A large portion of the Internet — including Anna Kendrick — then watched her video.

May 2012: The Stella Sisters do the Cups routine to “Call Your Girlfriend.”
Internet stars — and Nashville actresses — Lennon and Maisy Stella use Cups as the percussion for their cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” The video instantly goes viral, because how could it not? It’s wonderful.

September 2012: Anna Kendrick performs Cups in Pitch Perfect.
Kendrick taught herself to do the routine after watching the Anna Burden video, and when the Pitch Perfect writers discovered her skill, they put it into the movie. Then Kendrick performed it on Letterman and charmed a nation.

Early 2013: America’s teens put hundreds of Cups videos on YouTube.
Just Google “how to do cups.” I picked this video because the teens use a Taylor Swift intro, but there are so many.

June 2013: Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” remix hits the Billboard “Top 10.”
Billboard has a helpful timeline, which explains that the remix was released in April, after the original one-minute version (from the Pitch Perfect soundtrack) gained popularity on the Internet. The remix is now all over the radio.

August 2013: You learn how to do the Cups routine.
We made you a GIF! Impress the children in your life.

A Comprehensive History of the ‘Cups’ Phenomenon