I’ll admit it. Until the Harvard College Events Board announced that Janelle Monáe would headline Yardfest, I had never heard of her. But I wasn’t the only one—the most liked comment on the Facebook announcement asked the question many of us wanted answered. ‘Who is she?’
While Boston University and MIT announced Robin Thicke and Capital Cities would perform for their respective concerts, my fingers were crossed for Daft Punk or Passion Pit to perform at Harvard. After all, previous Yardfests featured celebrity artists like Kid Cudi, Sara Bareilles, and Wu-Tang Clan. So I—and many others—were caught off guard by the announcement that a solo artist you may vaguely recall as the backup vocals from “We Are Young” would take the stage in Tercentenary Theater this April. But now I’m feverish in anticipation of what will be an incredible show.
What many eager and naive Harvard students, myself included, experienced as they confusedly read the CEB announcement resembled Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. But after these five stages came the five stages of Monáe. Understanding succeeded uneasiness.
The first stage was denial. ‘Janelle who? I must be missing something here. Is this a Satire V stunt? Or a production from the semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine?’ But after a moment of disbelief, I swallowed the truth.
A solo artist whom I had never heard of was going to perform at Yardfest. The second stage, irritation, had kicked in. ‘Not Macklemore, who rocked Columbia’s Bacchanal? Not Kendrick Lamar, who rapped for Cornell and Brown? And what about Penn? They get David Guetta?!’
Then came bargaining. ‘If only our spring concert budget weren’t the lowest of the Ivies. If only I had voiced my opinion to the CEB.’ Although I didn’t make deals with a higher power, save Yeezus, I thought that Harvard had been cheated of a brag-worthy headliner.
‘Who needs to go to Yardfest at all? I don’t. It’s on a Sunday anyway. The day of rest.’ Sadness, the longest of the stages, lasted until new information slowly revealed that Janelle Monáe is exactly the artist Harvard needs.
Amidst recent rumblings concerning identity and belonging at Harvard, there may be no better candidate for a Yardfest headliner than Ms. Monáe. As “I, Too, Am Harvard” asks us to consider the place of Harvard’s students of color, the choice of Monáe affirms that all people, regardless of color or gender, belong here.
Janelle Monáe brings with her a repertoire that all Harvard College students can enjoy as a unified community, unlike the music of artists invited to Yardfest previously. According to The Tech, the Boston City Council acknowledged Monáe’s “tireless efforts to inspire confidence, self-worth and equality in women all over the world, and her courage in speaking against the marginalization of historically oppressed groups” by proclaiming October 16, 2013 as “Janelle Monáe Day.”
Monáe has exercised her commitment to gender equality, whether it means performing fully dressed, unlike many other female artists she criticizes, or partnering with Cover Girl for a “Girls Can” campaign. Beyond feminism, Monáe’s lyrics speak to all those who were ever “ostracized and marginalized,” demonstrating a greater commitment to equality. As far as Monáe’s message, it doesn’t get much clearer—celebrate everybody.
That’s what Yardfest is all about, isn’t it? Coming together as one huge Harvard community, celebrating everybody? To think that if we had invited a chart-topper like Kendrick—if we had done it my way—we would be stuck with an event that once again marginalizes a portion of our community. That’s why I’ll be welcoming Janelle Monáe’s performance ungrudgingly. That’s why I’m thankful the CEB went for the lesser-known, more fitting artist.
Why I hadn’t heard of Janelle Monáe, I don’t know. But who Janelle Monáe is, I know now. She’s a star. She’s the Electric Lady.
Samir H. Durrani ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer in Straus Hall.