A poet is born, and it’s a bit T-Painful

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Before you read this article, be forewarned: prior to my admission to Yale, the only concerts I regularly attended occurred not in stadiums, but in opera houses and symphony halls. You might call mine a different (read: bizarre) childhood. Nonetheless, I have managed to enjoy myself thoroughly in the sweaty throngs of the last three Spring Flings.

This year’s festivities, as I’m sure you’ll agree, were quite something. That the weather cooperated was nothing short of a miracle. Better still, no Yalie could ignore the sheer joy that captured the crowd as Passion Pit finally launched into “Little Secrets” (but actually, who doesn’t like that song?).

But the true spectacle of the day belonged to none other than the king of Auto-Tune himself. Though I can’t fathom what exactly my classmates might have expected of T-Pain, I must confess that seeing the man in the flesh was rather disorienting. You see, ever since I first heard his 2007 hit “Buy U a Drank,” I have thought of T-Pain not as Faheem Rasheed Najm (yes, that’s his real name), but rather as a grill-sporting robot voice clad in some seriously dope shades. You can imagine my surprise when he swaggered onto the stage wearing a Yale zip-up and T-shirt ensemble. For all my musical narrow-mindedness, I caught myself delighting in the computerized waves of sound that churned through Old Campus. This was especially surprising given that I still don’t know all the lyrics to “Get Low”; I almost felt guilty.

But as the set wore on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being duped. As far as I could tell, much of the singing — perhaps shouting is a better term — came not from T-Pain, but from his sidekick, DJ Lil Boy. At points, I caught myself staring at the on-stage dancers, unaware of the particular song blasting in my ears. Yet more dubious was the possibility that T-Pain was merely lip-syncing while his entourage did the real work. While turning these thoughts over in my head, it hit me that I was thinking much too hard. I had missed the point: with T-Pain, what you see (or hear?) is what you get. After all, I couldn’t very well expect an artist who has essentially built his career on clever applications of tuning software to deliver a knockout live performance. He gave us not just what we wanted, but what we expected; Lord knows we Yalies love being right. I doubt anyone turned up sincerely hoping that T-Pain might, God forbid, reinvent his musical style on the spot.

But let’s be serious, even an impromptu Celine Dion cover would have proved less bizarre than what happened near the end of the set. Apparently seized by his creative muse, T-Pain delivered unto us his very own Sermon on the Mount, which I have taken the liberty of titling “Me Time.” Fortunately, thanks to a little voice in my head, I caught the whole thing on my iPhone. You see, contrary to popular belief, T-Pain is not some talentless lyric-writing sidekick. In fact, he has penned numerous successful hits, securing several Grammys along the way. In his own eyes, though, T-Pain is tired of playing pinch hitter for your favorite rappers. No, “this year, it’s all about T-Pain.”

Now that I’ve watched the video over again, what tumbled out of his mouth amounts to not just a self-congratulating monologue, but an outright challenge to his haters. Believe me, I’d love to relate here some of the things he said last night, but I fear T-Pain’s words might not jive quite the same way in print (that is, offend most everyone in some way). Just take my word for it that some of the tamer lines would have made even Charlie Sheen wince. But what puzzled me more than the vulgarity and randomness of T-Pain’s aside was the reaction of the crowd, myself included. Come to think of it, the tone of his lengthy freestyle was not much different than that of the bulk of his work (most of which features certain words starting with “p” and “n,” if you get my drift). Essentially, T-Pain surprised us by doing what no one was really expecting: he talked. Did we suddenly become better listeners, or perhaps more sensitive, when he stepped down from his pedestal of Auto-Tune? I can’t really say. At any rate, it was clear that about four minutes into his spiel, T-Pain had thoroughly confused his audience. What with the uncomfortably silent transitions between songs and the deadliest microphone to grace the Spring Fling stage, T-Pain managed to put on quite a show, if you can call it that.

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