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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why Clef?

As many of you Harvard students know, our campus has been inundated with publicity for the upcoming Wyclef Jean concert at the Gordon Track and Tennis Center. From posters all throughout the Yard and Houses to e-flyers on just about every "open" or announcement list to personal imploration from UC (Undergraduate Council) and HCC (Harvard Concert Commission) reps, a valiant attempt has been made to get people to purchase tickets for Sunday's concert. From the start, I never really had an interest in going. I have a blockmate that's a UC Rep (as does another Cambridge Common writer) and he's my boy. Still, there's almost nothing that he could say that would have convinced me to support this concert despite the hard work of Harvard students and the immense embarassment to Blacks at Harvard particularly or Harvard students in general that may come from the concert's cancellation. I won't buy Wyclef tickets because the HCC has failed to bring us an artist that would have the appeal to draw out a large, diverse crowd of Harvard students that is willing to pay ANYTHING to see Wycelf Jean in concert.(more in expanded post)

Wyclef's heyday was from 1996-1998. During this time the Fugees were the biggest music group in the world after putting out their hugely successful album The Score which sold over 18 million copies worldwide and six million copies domestically. This album was largely written, produced, and arranged by Wyclef and made him really rich. Really. Among his many purchases after making millions from this album was a $1.5 million McLaren F-1. It is one of the fastest cars ever made. Wyclef was big pimpin and despite whatever his lyrics proclaimed then or now, he still owned a car that was worth 1000 times as much as the per capita GDP of his nation. Around this time period, the Fugees as a whole and Wyclef specifically may have been able to do a concert just about anywhere in the world and it probably would have been successful. The venues they performed at may have fit tens or even hundreds of thousands of screaming fans from all age groups, but especially the Harvard College demographic. The Gordon Track and Tennis Center has a stated capacity of 1,500 people but once sat 5,600 individuals. Any capacity in between these has proved too much for present-day lackluster Wyclef when Harvard students and spending money are concerned.

People are more interested in seeing the Fugees again as a whole than any of them separately (ESPECIALLY us Jersey heads). When Dave Chappelle did the unthinkable in 2004 and reunited the Fugees on one stage for a performance in Brooklyn, the thought on everyone's mind was "When's the album coming out?" People didn't really care that Wyclef's new album was coming out about a month later. In the case of the Fugees (as is the case with other rap supergroups such as Wu Tang Clan), people want all or nothing after a long hiatus. Come back as a unit or remain in obscurity rehearsing for Behind the Music. I'm not saying that the HCC should have gone after getting the Fugees to come (that would have been remarkably ridiculous and great, however). Getting a group whose last album sold 18 million copies to perform takes the star power and personal relationships that Dave Chappelle provides. Anyway, getting Wyclef seems like a weak consolation prize when the idea of a Fugee reunion is so close and over the horizon (their album's dropping December 27th...steal it).

Today Wyclef is on the commerical periphery of musical signifcance. After the Fugees' landmark success with The Score he came out with his solo album entitled Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival Featuring the Refugee All-Stars. This album was more than a little popular going double-platinum (two million copies) and spawned the hit singles "We Trying to Stay Alive" and "Gone Til November". Since then he has released four more albums but only one (The Ecleftic:2 Sides II a Book) has even gone platinum. His last two albums, The Preacher's Son and Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101, have probably never been listened to in whole or in part by 90% of Harvard's students. Judging from his last album's sales, they probably haven't been listened to by 90% of the fans that bought The Score or The Carnival either. I say all of this to say the he does not sell a tenth of the amount of records he did a decade or so ago and this reflects his present-day unpopularity.

Nevertheless, record sales aren't everything and there are some pretty un-commercially successful (or at least not HUGELY commercially successful) acts that would probably be able to get a few thousand attendees to their concert if it were at Harvard. One such group would be Weezer; a group that many people enjoy but whose last two albums have failed to go platinum. Another such individual may be Talib Kweli who's conscious lyrics resonate with many and would surely meet the approval of many of Harvard's progressive groups (whereas Snoop Dogg's lyrics didn't last Spring). In comparison, Wyclef just doesn't have the sort of cult or underground following of a band like Weezer or an artist like Talib Kweli and thus will not be able to draw in those size crowds. Weezer and Talib have (almost) consistenly toured extensively and could sell out a venue such as Gordon despite not being commercial superstars. Despite the message in some of his lyrics or the playfulness in other lyrics, people just aren't feeling Wyclef these days. Sorry, HCC.

(Note: I'd love to hear from people who HAVE bought tickets to the concert and who are displeased with the fact that it has now been cancelled.)

6 Comments:

At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not being the biggest Wyclef fan, I still bought a couple tix, figuring that the 18 or so bucks was a pretty good deal considering the quality of show he would probably have put on.

i agree with you that ideally the UC should be bringing in artists like Talib (who Brown recently got) who have more of a cult following, but i think we have to give them credit for trying to get a decent artist like Wyclef and i think its too bad that even with the discounted tickets/huge publicity push, etc that we as a student body didn't show enough interest to make this happen.

i don't know. the whole episode is kind of a sad symbol of the whole social scene at harvard and the disconnect between the community/student government/etc. thoughts?...

 
At 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, it was informative and had good points. Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie) came to Harvard a few years ago and sold out! Wycleff just isn't that fresh anymore, he's dated. Expiration past.

 
At 4:03 AM, Blogger andrew stillman said...

the concert commission keeps choosing the wrong artists, under the wholly flawed impression that they can simply create demand for an event with enough publicity. i really don't understand how it was readily apparent to everyone EXCEPT the hcc members that there was very little interest in wyclef.

colleges obviously can't afford artists who are at their peak popularity, so they have two options: do their research and find a budding artist before they become huge, or bid on a fading star-- a has-been like wyclef, or busta, or dylan. (true, that last one is debatable-- love and theft was an amazing album, but he can't perform well live like he used to).

when i was on the council in spring of 2004, one of the artists on the shortlist for that semester's concert was kanye west. at the time it was well known that kanye was about to explode, but instead hcc chose a has-been: busta rhymes. had we chosen kanye, students today would be bragging about how they got to see him before he was big, rather than the less-than-fond memories that most students have towards busta rhymes (a concert that would have been a complete failure had it not been free).

basically the hcc has a pretty poor track record in choosing artists that students are actually interested in. there are plenty of artists in our price range that could bring in students (many of which are on the concert commission's shortlist)-- the hcc just isn't choosing them, seemingly thinking that the artist is irrelevant so long as the publicity efforts are large enough.

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous paloma said...

Yeah-- a survey would be a great idea, and a way more efficient use of the resources that the HCC has proven they can't effectively administer. I'm more than a little steamed that even cancelling the concert will still cost 25K... what if they had made the miniscule capital outlay of 5K towards a survey? Data will rarely do you wrong, and can often prevent (yet another) costly mistake.

 
At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think they should bring Hammer. He would perform for 10 dollars and some dining hall food. That way Matt Glazer could just pay for it out of his allowance money.

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Black Eyed Peas once came to Harvard before Fergie? Interesting. Where'd they perform, Anonymous at 1:24 (btw, wrong post!)?

Stillman, I DO think that the HCC can get an artist at the peak of their popularity. However, it may involve corporate sponsorship (and I don't mean Harvard Managment Company corporate...I mean like Gilette, Adidas, or another corporation in the area corporate). As faithful readers can tell from posts past, I'm no fan of capitalism, corporations, or their exploitative work but HCC probably is and certain campus organizations just LOVE being corporate pawns. Why not HCC be one too? Also, splitting (or better splitting) the cost with other student groups, HoCos, or offices on campus (like Summers') to make this truly a campus-wide, joint effort would go lengths to pay for the artist. I'm not saying HoCos have to fork over $5K each (I'm not even sure what their budgets typically look like) but even if each just gave a communally agreeable amount THAT would be multiplied by the 12 upperclassmen houses it would probably make a sizable contribution that would benefit all students. The FDO could even chip in for freshmen. Non-monetary means for getting a big artist could really just be better negotiating or the offer of more perks (like a free stay at the Inn at Harvard and Harvard insignia clothing signed by famous profs or administrators...isn't that cool).

Maybe your timing is off but by Spring of '04 Kanye was already huge. He had a #1 album (The College Dropout) AND single (Slow Jamz) and was fast aprroaching double platinum (which, in rap, will make you one of the biggest people in the genre).

Anonymous at 6:21, don't volunteer others for stuff you're not willing to do yourself. You make the calls, you swipe Hammer in, and YOU fork over $10. I'll be in the front row, however, so let me know how that develops (GO HAMMER, GO HAMMER, GO!).

 

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