An opportunity for music, and debate

Tyga arrived at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 6, 2012.
Danny Moloshok/REUTERS
Tyga arrived at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 6, 2012.

Tyga, a 23-year-old rapper from Compton, Calif., has released a few songs about love. But he is best known for “Rack City,” a mega-hit that has been called “a strip club anthem.” Some of his lesser-known tracks are so mindlessly celebratory of the exploitation of women that the lyrics read like a parody of the hip-hop genre. In many ways, Tyga represents the worst of what rap has to offer. It is unfortunate that a committee of Harvard students chose him as headliner of this year’s Yardfest, the campus spring festival. But now that he’s coming, the best choice is to let the show go on, while using the attendant boycotts and protests as a way to raise objections to his sexist lyrics; otherwise, Yardfest revelers are old enough to make their own decisions about popular music.

Students who have been planning the event for a year say they chose Tyga because he was the most famous performer they could afford on their budget of about $40,000. If that’s the case, other universities seem to have made the same calculation. Last month, Tyga performed at the University of California at Riverside’s “Heat” music festival, to thousands of screaming fans. He is due to play at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Spring Fling” a week before his scheduled April 18 performance in Harvard Yard. At Penn, a few students have protested his lyrics. But at Harvard, a widely circulated online petition demands that the invitation be rescinded.

Harvard administrators registered their disapproval by asking — though not forcing — students to reconsider their decision to bring him to campus. The administration’s willingness to let students sort it out is admirable; but in the end, withdrawing the invitation would be making too much of an entertainment event, especially at a university known for protecting free speech. Far better to use the concert to prompt a wider discussion about sexism in popular music. Vigorous debate, and the right to make mistakes, is part of what college is all about.


Still, it is a shame that Yardfest couldn’t have snagged an artist like Macklemore, the Detroit rapper whose witty, more socially aware lyrics recently propelled him to stardom with the hit song “Thift Shop.” Unfortunately for Harvard, Macklemore is already booked: He’s playing later this month at Yale.