Columns, Opinions

Johnson ’19: A more diverse Spring Weekend

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Last Spring Weekend, the entire Main Green grumbled of lip syncing and poor vocals. Fetty Wap disappointed students who needed a solid chorus to stabilize their swaying mass. This year, we can hope for stronger performances. But our student body, even in its spring stupor, craves more than just musical capability. We care about the artist behind the voice and what she represents. We care about who we see elevated on stage. Spring Weekend is not only a chance to relax to the soundtrack of great artists but also an opportunity to celebrate diversity, one of music’s many gifts.

In the music industry, diversity is still a major concern. The corporate distributing world faces the same social barriers that run through almost every other industry. A 2016 U.K. study found that women make up only 30 percent of top music industry executives.  Likewise, black, Asian and ethnic minority groups make up around 20 percent of entry-level jobs in the industry. That number drops by half when looking up the executive ladder. The music world is also not an exception to gender and racial pay gaps. At the performance level, the 2015 Billboard Hot 100 list hit a record low in diversity the same year artists boycotted the Grammys for the overwhelmingly white list of nominees. And in 2013, not a single black artist earned a No. 1 Hot 100 single.

In our microcosm here on campus, we can hold the industry to a higher standard. The Brown Concert Agency has the ability to conscientiously feature diverse voices. Of course, there is no lack of talent in any demographic, so the BCA can prioritize diversity and inclusion in their choices without compromising musical integrity. Each spring carries the potential for challenging our whitewashed pop culture. Spring Weekend lineups have progressively become more diverse, leading to the fantastic lineup this year. This year’s program features three solo-act women of color — Princess Nokia, Empress Of and Erykah Badu. Princess Nokia is a vocal advocate for the queer community, and her song “Young Girls” was called a “feminist paradise” with its female Utopian music video. Cherry Glazerr are self-proclaimed feminists who do not follow gender norms, and with their description of female friendships as “beautiful and intense,” they complement Princess Nokia’s music. And Young Thug defies the hypermasculinity often perpetuated by male rappers — in his 2016 Calvin Klein campaign, he said “there’s no such thing as gender.”

This year’s lineup demonstrates an increased attention to diversity in music. Ten years ago, the Saturday concert featured four bands, none of which reflected the diversity of our student body and nation. The Saturday set list five years ago was more diverse, but still fell short of showcasing a range of different voices and perspectives. This improvement is not just true of Brown: Across the Ivy League, spring concerts have grown more inclusive. While this year’s Slope Day at Cornell is overwhelmingly white, Princeton Lawnparties exclusively features black hip hop artists and rappers and Columbia’s Bacchanal features Mykki Blanco, an artist who identifies as transfeminine. Our student bodies are pushing for inclusion, and spring concerts are making progress.

In a period when the University is investing millions to support diversity and inclusion, the lineup for this year’s Spring Weekend offers a timely signal of the campus commitment to these ideals. The BCA’s choices shows that student action can catalyze progress in all spheres of campus life. The lineup exposes more students to diverse artists, providing a space for students to make memories with musical styles they might not listen to themselves. Moreover, the BCA is bringing more attention to these deserving performers.

Not only does this year’s lineup feature more artists of color and gender non-conforming artists, it features more genre-bending artists. Erykah Badu is a rapper, singer and dancer, crossing borders between performance types. Aluna Francis and George Reid quite literally fused names and styles to become AlunaGeorge. Princess Nokia fuses hip hop and rap while incorporating her Puerto Rican and Taino heritage. The lineup all together is an innovative melange of artists who defy simple categorization in identity and genre. We are guaranteed two entire days free of labels and boxes.

And on Spring Weekend later this month, we will be immersed in that liberating environment. Even without understanding hip hop history or particularly liking rap as a genre, a diverse and inclusive space lets us learn. Exposure to different musical styles is one more way to expand our understanding of different perspectives. Thank you in advance, BCA, for this celebration.

Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at grace_johnson@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.