Queer icon or sexually explicit provocateur? Attention seeker or talented artist? Chicago-based rapper and singer Cupcakke, who will perform at this year’s Spring Fling, evokes a range of reactions from members of the campus community, many of whom associate the singer with a reputation that her seemingly innocent name belies.
These divergent opinions have come in the wake of the Yale College Council’s decision — announced at Toad’s Place last month — to select Cupcakke, the stage name of Elizabeth Eden Harris, as one of the four artists to perform at this year’s Spring Fling. Her hyper-sexualized songs and explicit lyrics catapulted her into the national spotlight in 2015. At Yale, the recent announcement of her invitation to campus led to a heated campuswide debate and an onslaught of Facebook memes either supporting or criticizing the decision.
“One of the biggest announcements each year is of the Spring Fling lineup, and it’s something that students really look forward to,” YCC Events Director Tyler Bleuel ’19 said. “The lineup has the ability to create conversations and to shape the narrative on campus. The decision to invite Cupcakke provides a valuable lens into these bigger conversations happening at Yale.”
Although Cupcakke gained fame through her sexually explicit content and edgy lyrics, she began performing in a somewhat different environment — church, where, at the age of 10, she began reciting her own poetry. Gradually, she started releasing content on YouTube and other video-sharing websites, and in 2015, two of her songs, “Deep Throat” and “Vagina,” went viral. In 2016, Cupcakke released a song titled “LGBT,” which was publicized as a “love letter” to the LGBTQ community.
“And shout out to the bi’s, you ain’t gotta pick a side,” the rapper chants in the song. “And if you in the closet, shorty, you ain’t gotta hide.”
In 2016 and 2017, Cupcakke’s albums appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 40 best rap albums. After the release of her recent album “Ephorize,” she also received praise from Pitchfork, an online music magazine.
According to YCC Spring Fling Committee Co-Chair Griffin Solot-Kehl ’19, although Cupcakke’s most famous songs may come across as hyper-sexualized to the point that they seem comical, she is a talented rapper and entertainer who has garnered high praise from many in the music industry.
Josh Diaz ’21, a Cupcakke supporter, said that “by being open about her sexuality, she normalizes it in a way that is both unique, refreshing and inspiring.”
Lucas Villalobos ’19, YCC Spring Fling Committee co-chair, said that he expects students to appreciate Cupcakke’s “energy.”
“Though Cupcakke’s lyrics may be shocking and, for some students, uncomfortable, the content of her songs does not negatively target any demographics or groups,” Villalobos told the News.
Still, some students, including Julia Chertkof ’21, voiced concerns that the decision to invite Cupcakke, whose songs include lyrics like “Daddy betta make me choke,” is at odds with efforts to address sexual harassment on campus. Chertkof also questioned how the YCC chose Cupcakke — given that she was not included as an option in the annual YCC survey distributed in October asking students to rank their artist preferences — and why administrators allowed the council to invite her in the first place.
Students had the option to suggest artists in a fill-in-the-blank portion of the survey, and the Spring Fling committee also gauged interest based on informal discussions with students in person and on social media. Villalobos explained that the committee works closely with the Yale College Dean’s Office to manage the logistics of Spring Fling. However, as the YCC is student-led and student-operated, the council ultimately has full control over the lineup, he said.
“The only instance I can imagine that the Yale College Dean’s Office would not approve the Spring Fling [committee’s] choice of performers would be if there were a security issue,” Director of Student Affairs Hannah Peck told the News. “Otherwise, the YCDO’s role is to make sure that the Spring Fling committee has followed all the necessary protocols — permits, contracts, etc. — for the event.”
Members of the committee told the News that the YCC selected Cupcakke, who will open this year’s Spring Fling performance, after the decision to invite the three other acts — A$AP Ferg, Dagny and Madeon — had already been finalized. The YCC first considered inviting Cupcakke to perform at Spring Fling in the fall, but initially held off on making the decision for budgetary reasons. After contract negotiations with the other performers concluded, the committee determined it had sufficient funding to invite Cupcakke as well.
“At the end of the day, we understand that not everyone is going to love every single artist,” Bleuel said. “Many students are excited, specifically for Cupcakke, while others may choose to skip her act. We have four acts this year because we respect people’s choices and hope that everyone will find something to enjoy.”
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org