While you and your biffles lost yourselves, your phones and your self-worth within the mud pit that is Old Campus during Spring Fling, others probably plugged their ears to block out the unwanted noise.
As a matter of fact, it should come as no surprise that the arrival of T-Pain last Tuesday ruffled a few feathers. When someone at Yale gets offended, we all know. We are an emphatic bunch — sometimes irascible, sometimes dogmatic, sometimes in the right. And for each of the past three Spring Flings, at least one artist selection has set our opinionated cogwheels in motion. These musicians share two points in common: they are rappers, and some listeners tend to brand their music as degrading to women.
Two years ago, while MGMT’s apathetic performance took everyone and their mothers aback, the Ying Yang Twins had already caused some members of our campus to shake their heads in disapproval. Despite what was perceived as their misogynistic image, the Spring Fling committee at the time described them as an “unbeatable option” and stressed that their selection did not represent an endorsement of their lyrics’ message. Still, as a challenge to this choice, an alternate concert was held in the Trumbull courtyard on the day of Spring Fling, where student groups performed amid pizza and face painting while the Twins took the stage on Old Campus.
“While we considered a few hip-hop artists who were not offensive, when we evaluated all of the hip-hop artists solely based on entertainment value and cost, the Ying Yang Twins were clearly the best choice,” the Spring Fling committee wrote in a letter published in the News a week before the event.
Even Lupe Fiasco caused some stir last year. “Can you please put your titties closer to the 22s?” he sings in one of his ditties (but at least he asks politely). The outcry was minimal, the show went on and the crowd still sang along to “Superstar.”
Many obstacles seem clear during the artist selection process. It is tough to find a mainstream, affordable rapper who is not somewhat objectionable, and the powers that be obviously place more emphasis on procuring an artist that the majority of Yalies will enjoy.
That said, the assertive words of Kathleen Powers ’12, who has written two opinion pieces opposing two different Spring Fling acts, make a valid point: “Events like the Ying Yang Twins’ performance, DKE’s parade and T-Pain’s impending arrival have a common source,” she wrote last week. “Our culture deems this rhetoric acceptable.”
Now T-Pain has triggered a similar backlash to the one in 2010 in the wake of his appearance. However, no protest events were held as an alternative, and as of Wednesday night, there have been no confirmed accounts of Yale women actually taking their motherfucking shirts off when T-Pain lyrically commanded them to do so.
“With T-Pain, the number of people who were excited to see him far exceeds the handful of people who were upset because they find his music offensive,” said Emily Yin ’13, marketing vice president for last year’s Spring Fling committee.
Yin then points to the Spring Fling survey sent out in a campus-wide email months prior to the concert. As a former member of the committee, she said, what students say they want is very influential. The committee looks through the artists that ranked the highest on the survey, excludes those that would not fit the budget, and then attempts to pick the acts that would indeed perform well live and muster a crowd, she explained. In essence, if students didn’t like T-Pain, the committee wouldn’t have voted in favor of T-Pain.
It’s not as if the committee never considers an artist’s reputation. A year prior to the Ying Yang Twins’ performance, the committee decided against pursuing hip-hop artist Akon in spite of his popularity among students, because of his music’s prurient and chauvinist message (“Smack that till you get sore,” “But you already know, I wanna f— you,” the list continues.)
All in all, most Yalies interviewed don’t necessarily see a trade-off between talent and offensiveness.
“It’s important that we balance our desire for big headliners with our other values as a community,” Jaya Wen ’12 said. “It is true that the very act of paying an artist to visit our campus and perform for our student body is an act of endorsement.”
And while the committee’s main concern is to bring artists that can get students riled up about the event, Ifeanyi Awachie ’14 said Spring Fling does not have to be a showcase of artists who are already popular, but an opportunity for students to discover new music.
For as Powers and Wen suggest, both our excitement and our student activities fees are being proffered to the artists we bring to Spring Fling. If our voice is what truly counts, as the committee has stated time and time again, then perhaps the survey sent out to the student population should include explicit questions about selection criteria and not just an extensive inventory of artists. That’s one of many potential new approaches, according to Matthew Shafer ’13.
“It would allow student opinion about the importance or non-importance of artistic politics and ethics to be reflected, even if they aren’t familiar with the content of the lyrics of every artist on the long list that’s sent out,” Shafer said.
This week, most of us were “On A Boat” with T-Pain in exhilaration and drunken haze. Come next year, unless we can reach a consensus on how to find a follow-up to his act, we will always come across a handful of Yalies jumping off the Spring Fling ship in protest.