Point/Counterpoint: Striking the Right Note

Two Crimson editors defend their favorite Yardfest artists

The Mainstream Choice: ’Cause You Asked for It, ’Cause You Need One

I’ll admit it—before Yardfest 2009 began to materialize, I too was among the many Harvard students who had never heard the name Sara Bareilles. I had, however, subconsciously internalized the lyrics to “Love Song,” as its ubiquity was hard to avoid. By the end of 2008 it had reached the top 10 of the Billboard charts—higher than singles by Rihanna, Coldplay, or Chris Brown. This is not to imply, of course, that popularity necessarily implies quality (“Lollipop” ranked in the top 5), but, in this case, the traits coincide.

As with any Yardfest artist, the choice is bound to be contested. This comes down to the fact that there are two particularly vocal schools of thought when it comes to preferred musical taste on campus—and they don’t overlap.

The first group consists of the casual Harvard listener whose ideal Yardfest artist is very famous, with multiple songs playing on the radio and at parties. They are mainstream American music-listeners and make no apologies for it. Their most likely criticism of a Yardfest artist: “I haven’t heard of them!”

The second contingent is the more dedicated music connoisseur—well trained in navigating the backroads of Pandora and avoiding Kiss FM and iTunes’s top 100. Harvard party music is banal and grating to their ears, and they prefer underground creativity to mainstream chart success. Their most likely criticism of a Yardfest artist: “Other people have heard of them!”

Bareilles has the potential to please both these groups. She has the national notoriety to satisfy those who long for a song they know the words to—“Love Song,” and “Bottle It Up” can be heard on the airwaves, and she’s been nominated for two Grammys. She’s a big name.

Yet she also has the acoustic edginess that hardcore music enthusiasts might overlook at first glance. “Love Song” is a jab at the corporate music industry’s request that she write a “marketable” love song (ironic in hindsight given the song’s popularity—and marketability—but bold nonetheless). She’s an incredibly talented vocalist, and she’s unapologetic about her passion: “I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. Some of them make me happy and some of them are shit, but all of them come because I can’t imagine what else to do with my head and the things that are in it besides write songs.”

Don’t skip Sara; get there early. Her laid-back acoustic crooning is the perfect complement to a chill spring afternoon in the Yard. And, when the sun sets and Ratatat’s light show powers up, you’ll have the best seat in the house for the impeding ragefest.

James A. McFadden ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Lowell House.

I’ve Been Waiting for About Seventeen Years, OK?

I’ve been so patient. When I evacuated suburbia almost four years ago for haven in Cambridge, I figured that my musical internment was finally over, that I was headed into a utopia of playlist swaps and impromptu banjo-and-melodica practice sessions.

The warning signs that I was steering into danger came early and quick: Facebook profiles with “Bach, a cappella, Yellowcard … pretty much everything!” filled in for “Favorite Music” and $30,000 paid by the Harvard Concert Commission for Wyclef Jean to stay home. The compromise pick of Ben Folds ushered in a brief detente, but it was immediately followed by a long nightmare of Third Eye Blind, Gavin DeGraw’s big brother, and some rap group from the ’90s. At the end of it all, as if to blot out the last remaining hope that the kind of music I like might make a fledgling stand on campus, fate intervened and aborted Girl Talk.

So when rumors started flying in February that Eve 6 was slated to be the star attraction at this year’s Yardfest, I didn’t have it left in me to be upset. My hopes had long been extinguished. Even as I watched Animal Collective and the Decemberists climb iTunes’s rankings and MGMT make it onto the radio in the dining hall, I knew that Harvard would remain hopelessly boring.

It wasn’t just dull concerts that broke my faith: it was an entire culture indifferent to my kind of music. That’s not to say that my taste is any better or worse than anyone else’s. It’s just that, woefully, not many people seem to agree with it. Here at multicultural Harvard, no one goes out of their way to avoid parties hosted by African-Americans or homosexuals. But everyone invariably complains about parties thrown by pretentious hipsters—we’re the one identity caucus it’s still ok to hate.

As the old saying goes, though, it’s always darkest before Fleet Foxes plays “Sun It Rises.” And so, to my disbelief, the College Events Board (CEB) deigned to reach down and pull me, Lazarus-like, out from the abyss of despair by inviting Ratatat to this year’s Yardfest. All at once I felt like maybe I wouldn’t have to spend my whole postgraduate life telling girls at concerts that I went to Brown.

I’m not going to attempt an aesthetic apologia of Ratatat; in fact, I think defending any music on rational terms is usually an exercise in pompous futility. But I will stand up and applaud the CEB for finally nodding in the direction of the long-marginalized musical sect to which I unblushingly belong. It’s about time.

Garrett G.D. Nelson ’09, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies and visual and environmental studies concentrator in Cabot House.