By the time you read this column, the pastel-colored destruction wrought by Lawnparties will have been cleaned up, and the throbbing pulse of the bands will have already faded away. Amidst the fun of the concerts, it can be easy to overlook the actual lyrical content or the background of any of the performers, however, I argue that Lawnparties this year was particularly significant for its selection of CHVRCHES as its headliner, especially in light of Big Sean’s selection last spring.
It highlights the ability for all of us to make a difference in society by choosing to listen to and support socially conscious performers. There is a long tradition of musicians speaking out against societal injustice — take much of Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue, for example. CHVRCHES stands out among that crowd of musicians because of their lead singer’s prolific stand against online misogyny in independent music. They truly represent progress on a musical front and show that is possible to balance a celebrity’s need for artistic creativity with social responsibility.
A huge controversy erupted this same time last year over the selection of Big Sean as the Lawnparties headliner. A petition was started in an effort to pressure the Undergraduate Student Government to rescind Big Sean’s invitation, and dueling columns in the Daily Princetonian argued over the rapper’s selection as the headliner.
A year after the disputes over Big Sean, the message of those disputes remains the same. Music plays an incredibly important role in our social lives. It shapes discourse and is itself a product of wider attitudes and popular culture. Yet, the issue remains of the so-called “crisis of representation,” which refers to the potential inconsistency between groups that speak out against societal injustice and groups that actually face the injustice firsthand. It would be one thing for a man to write a song about misogyny, but someone who has actually undergone that experience would convey the message far more effectively.
CHVRCHES factor prominently in this issue because they have been subjected to sexist threats and insults online that would be unprintable in this paper. Their frontwoman Lauren Mayberry has even been catcalled at concerts. Rather than shrink away from that treatment, Mayberry took the lead in criticizing those who would treat her that way, and this is reflected in the band’s music. “Recover” and “Clearest Blue,” for instance, describe relationship difficulties from a feminist perspective, something that is rare in a lot of contemporary music.
Musicians are situated in a unique position to address issues of societal injustice because of their ability to spread a message to a wide audience. Indeed, an earworm can have the effect of spreading a powerful message through its repetition. Fans will then pick up that message and parrot it to the world. CHRVRCHES is a good example of that. In their review of CHVRCHES’ latest album “Every Open Eye,” Pitchfork referred to one of the songs as a “middle finger mic-drop.”
As a cisgender male I’ll admit that I am probably not the best person to advocate for these issues. However, as a consumer of music, I believe that I and everyone else has the ability to voice their discontent about societal issues in music through economic pressures. I did not attend Big Sean’s show last year, nor did I buy any of his music. The only economic benefit that Big Sean gained from me was the approximately $0.006 per play (at most) on Spotify from his few songs that I listened to. We make conscious decisions to support or ignore artists, and consequently a tacit endorsement or rejection of their views is contained in that decision.
When it comes time for the Undergraduate Student Government to find the main act for the next Lawnparties, I urge them to keep these considerations in mind. Of course, the artist at Lawnparties does not necessarily represent the views of USG or the administration, but we should strive to support artists that are aware of their place in society.
Nicholas Wu is a sophomore from Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.