Swarms of crowds hurriedly shuffle amidst the bright lights of Times Square. Energetic young children bounce up and down and wave their hands rapidly as if answering an urgent question in class. And, in between it all, a group of 11 college-age, kippa-clad young men in crisp white shirts and matching pink ties belt out a rendition of the Gad Elbaz hit, “Hashem Melech.”
This isn’t any average street performance. It is the setting of the hit music video by the Yeshiva University (YU) acapella group—the 'Ystuds'—that has generated over 90,000 YouTube views in less than a month.
“Our friends and families are really excited about it,” said second-year group member Jonathan Green, who joined after transferring to YU from the University of Toronto. “They sometimes are more on top of the view count than I am.”
Since, 2010, when the Ystuds was first created, the group has thrived and become successful despite unexpected obstacles.
The group's name is a reference to the YU email system.
Namely, in that same year the Maccabeats, a fellow YU-affiliated acapella group, gained worldwide recognition through their hit music video, 'Candlelight', a Channukah-themed parody of the Taio Cruz hit, “Dynamite.”
“We were definitely seen as the underdogs, as the wannabe Maccabeats for many years and I think we’ve really changed it around,” said YU Junior and Ystuds beat boxer, Ilan Swartz Brownstein. “Were not trying to be them, we’re trying to be our own group.”
What ultimately separates the Ystuds from the Maccabeats and similar acapella groups such as Six13 (whose group includes original Ystuds founder, Mordy Weinstein) is their conscious choice to refrain from creating holiday-themed parody content which has become exceedingly popular in the wake of Candlelight's success.
“There was a need for high-quality, Jewish a capella that was not parody,” said member Jonathan Green. “We did not want [the group’s first official video] to be a parody music video… It wasn’t even related to a holiday.”
Furthermore, the Ystuds do not limit their repertoire to Hebrew and Jewish-themed tunes.
Their most recent album, 'Days of New' features secular hits such as a cover of 'The Days' by Swedish DJ Avicii, in addition to covers of Israeli hits like 'Hashem Melech'.
With time the group hopes to use some of the revenue gained from their first hit video to create even more music videos.
But for now the Ystuds are figuring out how to deal with their newfound fame.
“After the video came out and we saw that we had so many views in such a short amount of time, one of the things we discussed was that we can’t let this go to our heads,” said Jason Katz, the group's president.
“We’re so young and we love what we’re doing and that’s because we’re having fun and not letting it get to our heads.”