The kinda dumb story of “the cup song”

by Me

Those of you older than 14 may not have heard the cup song, or heard of “Pitch Perfect.” The story of the cup song is simultaneously a wonderful allegory for the power of social media and the future of music, and proof that kids are, essentially, dumb.

From old-timey country ballad to tween sensation, the cup song has gone through some odd iterations — and most of the thousands of little girls currently annoying their parents by banging cups on desks and tables have no idea of the song’s origins.

This is the cup song, as performed by Anna Kendrick in the film “Pitch Perfect.”

That’s cool. But, wait — there’s this band from across the pond, Lulu and the Lampshades, who did an even better version of it, way, way back in 2009.

And, as Know Your Meme points out, the two, too-cute girls from Lulu got the cup beat from a different YouTube video, published more than a year earlier.

But, long before that — like 90 years before — Mainer’s Mountaineers recorded a country tune called “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

Knowing the long and tortured history of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” isn’t dumb, and seeing how social media can turn a dusty, half-forgotten country tune into a tween mega-hit is fascinating. Do kids even care that Mainer’s Mountaineers recorded, nearly a century earlier, what would become a bit for Anna Kendrick on David Letterman? Probably not.

UPDATE: As a few commenters (see below) have mentioned, the cup beat portion is far older than we at Dumb Things previously thought.

The classic show “Full House” featured the “cup game” way back in season three, in 1989, as seen in the clip below.

But before that, Christian singer Rich Mullins played the cup game in 1987 to accompany his song, “Screen Door.”

Probably, though, the cup game is older than that. Was Mullins the first? If you know differently, leave a comment.


13 Comments to “The kinda dumb story of “the cup song””

  1. Just want to post that I learned this game to various songs in my Jr high and High school youth groups years ago. As in 1988. While this song is new, the rhythm is very old. My kids were totally surprised when they tried to teach it to me and I already knew it! Ha!

    • Yes it was created by Rich Mullins as posted above for his song “Screen Door” in 1987.
      But the song “You’re gonna miss Me” is from Mainer’s Mountaineers who recorded it way back in the 1920’s.

  2. The cup game itself is much older than Youtube. DJ and Stephanie did it in Season Three of tv’s Full House way back in 1990.

  3. This post on the history of the cup game was written back on Apr 19, 2007:

  4. I’m 23 years old, and the other night I was babysitting a two kids ages 10 and 11. They asked me if I had seen “Pitch Perfect”, to which I responded “No.” They shrieked with delight and got out these cups, saying they were going to show me something. When they faced them down and lifted their hands, I immediately grinned and grabbed one, “performing” the little cup routine. They were stunned, and they thought I was lying when I insisted I hadn’t seen the movie. I think I shattered their view of the world when I told them I had learned it in my school lunchroom back in, gasp, the 90s, and that I was certain the cup game was much older than that!

  5. Actually the song started with the Carter Family in 1929. Parents of June Carter Cash

    • AJ – your statement really would not surprise me… based on the context of how I first learned it. I am thinking that Up With People may have spread it… but I would love to see a link which helps explain why you believe it started with the Carter Family… I am doing a project on Tacit Knowledge and Hybrid Pedagogy for my Education Class… and this topic is my project assignment…

  6. One Russian band from the Moscow State University performed this cup song with on the Edinburgh festival Fringe in 1990. Instead of cups they first used faceted glasses. And continue to show this Siberian Glass Rap at the present time during their concerts with a bottle of vodka.

  7. I remember doing the cup game in the early 1980’s – the friend who taught me learned it in 1977.

  8. I heard from a girlscout, that the girlscouts have a game from it. where one would do it and pass it to the next person, and they sat in a circle.

  9. Like all ideas, it doesn’t matter if it’s first, but the execution. Steve Jobs built the world’s most valuable brand on this philosophy. As sad as it is for you “historians,” Pitch Perfect reintroduced it for a whole new generation, and they did it pretty well.

  10. I first learned the cup rhythm and movements as a circle-time-game circa 1985-1986… and I believe it came from interactions with the traveling group Up With People, as an activity they were taught to use to entertain themselves during travel lulls, and to teach to their host family’s children at the dinner table…

  11. No one know the origins of the cups game or the original rhythm – it mostly like evolved out of any number of music camps or Christian youth camps from the 70’s and 80’s. Rich Mullins is generally acknowledged to be the first musician to use the rhythm to accompany a song, long before Lulu or Anna.

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