“1989:” Not Just a Taylor Swift Album
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Junior SING! returns viewers to one of the most memorable decades in US history: the ‘80s. Coordinated by Alec Shafran and produced by Phoebe Chan, Elizabeth Stansberry, Avni Garg, and Ella Krechmer, the production follows five college students: Gia (Michelle Zhang), Jesse (Michael Borzcuk), Lucas (Daniel Jeon), Kimberly (Christine Lin), and Diana (Sophie Poget). The group navigates the tense political climate of 1989 by planning protests and exercising their voices on campus while at risk of expulsion for doing so.
The show begins with the five in a record store, gossiping about the latest music and school drama. After a few obligatory ‘80s-band references, the video cuts to a sitcom style intro to the tune of “Walking on Sunshine,” ironically replacing the title lyrics with “the ‘80s are so grim” while introducing the cast. Though the editing and transitions are impressive, the lackluster vocals, paired with the enthusiastic instrumentals, make for an audibly confusing segment. The backdrop switches to Gia’s dorm room, where the group discusses a protest that Lucas is planning as a part of the HIV/AIDS activism movement of the ‘80s. Not only is their timeline a few years late as the peak of the movement was in the earlier ‘80s, but this storyline is never fleshed out and abandoned halfway through the show.
After Gia, Kimberly, and Diana send Lucas and Jesse to get food, the scene transitions to Lucas confronting Jesse’s reluctance to participate in the protest. In accordance with the rest of the show, the background is a photo of trees and grass rather than art, which neglects a major component of SING!. Though the photo backgrounds lend themselves to a more professional look, having custom backgrounds (like Soph-Frosh and Senior SING!) would have allowed for more individualism of the show. Additionally, with the omission of several crews from the performance, it becomes unclear how—or even, if—the art crew played a significant role in Junior SING!. Furthermore, the viewers are expected to understand the dynamic between Jesse and Lucas, despite this relationship not being established beforehand. The scene includes an unclear backstory about Jesse’s brother and a prolonged rap battle to the beat of “Another One Bites the Dust,” featuring incomprehensible lyrics due to the sheer volume of the band.
The battle is followed by a Jane Fonda-inspired aerobics advertisement performed by English teacher Lauren Stuzin. The segment is a relieving break from the show and also serves to bring some humor to the dense narrative. Right after the advertisement, the first of the show’s three dance breaks is shown, in which the modern dance crew performs over the band’s rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl.” While dance is traditionally central to the SING! performance, the juniors only featured three out of seven dance crews—far fewer than the other SING! teams. Taking into account their 40-minute runtime, the juniors had ample space to incorporate more crews into their performance.
Following the dance, the act abruptly cuts to Gia’s expulsion from university—a new and confusing plotline with little relevance to the original story. The cast’s rendering of Blondie's “Call Me” following the scene, however, has impressive vocals, and the band plays strong.
The segment in which the characters read Gia’s expulsion letter is well-edited, with the letter passed around smoothly despite being recorded separately. The scene transitions to Diana comforting Jesse in another harmonious vocal performance, though drowned out by the band.
The audience then sees a split-screen phone call sequence between Lucas and Kimberly planning the protest, skillfully employing the editing aspect of virtual SING! to create an effect that would be infeasible in a regular performance. It then cuts to protest footage that leaves audiences confused as to what they were protesting: Gia’s issue, AIDS, or the end of the Cold War. Afterward, characters protest using a rendition of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” with lyrics changed to convey the energy of the movement. The swift lyricism, strong vocals, pleasing harmonies, and enthusiastic instrumentation make for a powerful anthem.
The robust show then cuts to the dean rescinding Gia’s expulsion. A mere 15 minutes after receiving the news, a seemingly major conflict is resolved through a severely underdeveloped storyline. To their credit, Junior SING! makes the most of the virtual environment in this scene by utilizing a Minecraft background, where Gia meets with the dean (Cynthia Tan), adding a creative and dramatic flair to the scene.
The five return to Gia’s dorm, where Kimberly, Gia, and Diana leave the room to allow for Lucas and Jesse’s reconciliation. After a short exchange between the two, referencing the unclear story of Jesse’s brother, the conflict that underscores the entire show is resolved in just a minute.
As the audience expects the show to come to a close, there is an unforeseen reference to the falling of the Berlin Wall, despite this event never being relevant to the story. The succeeding dance sequence features the step crew, imitating the fall of the wall.
The story concludes with a New Year’s party celebrating the end of the ‘80s. In a segment straight out of a high school movie, they reminisce on the positives of the decade. A fireworks-themed performance by the flow dance crew follows. All of the plotlines are resolved quickly yet decently, with a satisfying enough conclusion to Junior SING! 2021.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on pop culture references left the plot lacking. Rather than focusing on a single storyline with a main character, central conflict, and character development, Junior SING! attempted to combine many different stories in one show, leaving the plot underdeveloped and confusing. With 20 minutes left, they had opportunities to address the character’s backstories and personality, as well as add humorous elements and emotional payoff. Additionally, the show lacks a certain spark that defines SING!, likely due to the challenges to the art department, dance crews, plot coherence, and blocking from virtual work. It feels more like an attempted emulation of “The Breakfast Club” than an ‘80s themed SING! performance.
Keeping in mind the challenge of having to construct the whole show online, however, Junior SING!’s efforts are commendable. Some of the characteristics of the ‘80s are clearly observable, such as the costumes, music choices, and events mentioned. The editing and band performances are admirable as well, adding to the well-produced atmosphere of the show. While more could have been done with the theme, the final product is a generally enjoyable watch plagued by some inevitable flaws.