Beyond musicality and name recognition, the Spring Fling Talent Search Committee used at least one more criterion to pick this year’s acts: Their potential to cause controversy.
The issue came to a head over rap artist Akon, whose popular singles “Smack That” and “Right Now (Na Na Na)” made him a top choice on the second Spring Fling survey that the committee submitted to the student body. But opposition arose the moment Akon’s name hit e-mail inboxes across campus, and students and administrators alike pushed the Yale College Council to nix the rapper from its shortlist.
Akon made headlines two years ago when a video of him showed him imitating sex acts with a 15-year-old girl on stage. The artist often receives criticism from those who deem his lyrics misogynistic.
Two letters printed in the News (“Please, Yale, don’t endorse Akon” by Elizabeth Kim GRD ’10, March 5, and “A bad survey with a bad option” by Michael Chao ’11, March 6) chastised the YCC for even considering Akon.
“Let’s boycott Akon’s message,” Kim wrote, “have a good time at Spring Fling and free ourselves from assuming guilt over supporting a prolific pedophilic misogynist.”
Those concerns caught the attention of the Yale College Dean’s Office. Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry wrote an e-mail following the letters’ publication asking the committee to reconsider Akon.
“This is divisive. This not pulling people together,” Gentry said in an interview Monday. “Given his divisiveness, perhaps this is someone the committee doesn’t want to waste time on.”
The issue divided the committee over whether to write off a popular artist based on his controversial background. Avinash Gandhi ’10 said some on the committee argued that Akon should be judged on his admittedly wide appeal to the Yale community.
Spring Fling co-Chair Natasha Sarin ’11 fought for the rapper, arguing that the committee’s job was only to produce a high-quality show. The committee’s job, she added, “isn’t to judge the morality of the artist we bring.”
Bryan Woods GRD ’11, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said graduate students on the committee threatened to pull $10,000 of funding if the committee picked the rap artist.
The graduate students sent out a poll to graduate and professional students nearly identical to that sent to undergraduates. While Akon and the Decemberists were both very popular among undergraduates, Woods said Akon was much less popular with his constituency. In addition, he said, graduate students did not want to commit their funds to a controversial artist like Akon.
More importantly, some committee members said, the committee believed Akon would not deliver as quality a performance as the Decemberists.
“Akon sucks,” said committee member Zack Fuhrer ’11, a staff reporter for the News. “He’s misogynistic, but on top of that he’s not talented.”
Akon is scheduled to play the University of Pennsylvania’s Spring Fling on April 17.