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Janelle Monáe’s headlining performance at Yardfest, the College’s annual spring concert, on Sunday addressed diversity at Harvard and elicited praise from students, particularly in the wake of last year’s controversial artist selection.
Concertgoers characterized Monáe as a significantly less polarizing choice than last year’s selection of the rap artist Tyga, whose lyrics were slammed by some students as misogynistic and whose performance sparked an alternative concert option for students.
Yardfest attendee Elizabeth K. Leimkuhler ’15 called the Grammy-nominated American R&B and soul musician “the hottest woman in the game right now,” adding that she believes Monáe was “the greatest choice for Yardfest because she’s completely uncontroversial, and her music inspires dancing and great feelings.”
The student bands Semi-Serious and Hot Breakfast took the stage to open for Monáe, playing a medley of original songs and popular covers. Michael J. Senter-Zapata ’14, a member of Hot Breakfast, said his group’s performance was “everything we could have hoped for,” and multiple members of the band noted that the crowd appeared more energized and more engaged in the performances than last year’s attendees did.
Lowell House Co-Master Diana L. Eck, who attended the concert with Co-Master Dorothy A. Austin, also commented on the large size of the crowd and described the atmosphere as “fabulous.”
“Everybody’s having a great time,” Eck said.
Monáe first entered the stage dressed as “Patient 57821,” wearing a strait-jacket that she danced out of during the beginning of her performance. After several songs, she addressed the crowd to acknowledge that some students may have been wondering, “Who is Janelle Monáe?”
“I am here to answer your question,” she said, stating that she considers herself an advocate for equality for all, regardless of one’s gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
In an interview after the show, Monáe said that she feels she can relate to the recent “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement and supports the type of dialogue it encourages.
“When I got into the music industry, there were not a lot of African-American girls wearing tuxedos [and] rocking natural hair on a mainstream level,” Monáe said. “I was not status quo, and I can relate to the students here who come, and they may be the minority.”
She also described Sunday’s show as “electric” and “memorable,” adding that she appreciated the opportunity to present herself as a unique artist.
“I know you guys have other artists who come that may not be in the same vein as me,” she said. “I took that as an opportunity to share my story and to get people familiar with my message and what I’m about as a human being and as a woman, and as a daughter, and as a sister, and as a black woman, and as an artist who’s redefining what it means to be an artist,” she said.
Alexandra S. Grimm ’17 said that she enjoyed seeing both the student bands and Monáe, and said that Monáe was a “great dancer and entertainer.”
“This is my first [Yardfest], and it’s been a really good experience,” she said.
Students already familiar with Monáe’s work said that they have enjoyed following her success.
“It’s really amazing to see her rise to fame,” concert attendee Omolade O. Sogade ’16 said. “I think I first heard about her with Fun., but seeing her have her own album is really inspiring and awesome.”
—Staff writer Nikki D. Erlick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nikkierlick.
—Staff writer Brianna D. MacGregor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bdmacgregor.
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