While the lyrics of T-Pain can be seen as suggestive, selecting him to perform at Mercyhurst University has not raised any strong opposition on campus.
The choice was made by the Chair of the Student Activities Council (SAC) and the Events Coordinator for Mercyhurst Student Government (MSG), this year Michelle Farley and Megan Lawrence respectively, and then approved by the adviser for MSG, Director of Campus Involvement Sarah Allen.
This year’s selection has received some of the most positive feedback on social media “in a long time,” Allen said, having reached over 10,000 people on Mercyhurst’s Facebook and Twitter accounts alone.
The content of T-Pain’s music did not play a factor in the approval of the decision, according to Allen, as it was reviewed by neither her, nor by the Review Board for the Guidelines for the Affirmation of the Mercyhurst Mission, chaired by Lisa Mary McCartney, RSM, Ph.D. before the announcement.
This is not uncommon, however. Since its implementation in 2005, the Review Board has never been consulted or asked to review an artist selected by MSG and SAC to perform at Mercyhurst for Spring Fest.
The original intent of having the Review Board, according to McCartney, was “to help the students who were bringing in speakers and different groups to understand, respect and not undermine the [Mercyhurst] Mission.”
“Whenever you think about that,” McCartney added, “you think in terms of human dignity, respect and tolerance for others.”
McCartney said she views the Board as being more about consultation, primarily for public events or honors, which does not include Spring Fest, an event held privately for Mercyhurst students.
“Review Board has a kind of authoritarian or a censorship notion, and we don’t want it to be that,” said McCartney. “We want it to be something where, in the best of the Catholic tradition, there is this principle of subsidiarity, and that means you deal with problems at the local level.”
When it comes to the content of T-Pain’s music, McCartney said she was not aware of the artist’s style or music until asked to speak about him with The Merciad.
“I did look him up online, but I couldn’t find anything as far as hip-hop or rap, I couldn’t see anything just online that was vulgar, crude, profane,” said McCartney. “I would be concerned if his music had a lot of vulgarity, crudeness, profanity, racial or sexual slurs, violence, or if he was mean-spirited. And I didn’t find anything. What I found was that he was a really good musician.”
The Review Board is composed the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Vice President of Student Life, the University Chaplain, the Director of the Center for Mercy and Catholic Studies, the President of the Erie Faculty Senate and the President of the Mercyhurst Student Government. While the Board has yet to hold a session, McCartney has been consulted about events in the past, such as a show sponsored by Victoria’s Secret at the North East Campus, and the screening of the film “Easy A” in Erie. She believes it would have the power to prevent a public speaker or artist that it objected to, saying that certain content is non-negotiable.
The non-negotiable would typically consist of “a lot of violence of any kind, anything that would really demean people or a group of people like racial slurs or sexual slurs, misogyny. A lot of vulgarity and profanity, and I guess things that wouldn’t lift the human spirit, or lift human beings,” McCartney said.
While McCartney did find some of T-Pain’s lyrics to be “suggestive,” she said she does not know enough about the particular style to judge it as being against the Mercy Mission.
“I remember when I was a student, we loved “Puff the Magic Dragon” and it never occurred to us that it was about drugs,” said McCartney. “John Denver’s “You Fill Up My Senses” is very sensual and erotic, but who’s going to get upset about that? There is a certain sense in the Catholic tradition, where there is not a puritanical notion toward sex.”
Allen said that when reviewing a list of artists provided by an agent from Babco Entertainment LLC, the focus is on providing a variety each year to provide a wide range of experiences for the student during his or her four years.
“What I do, and what I advise the students to do, is take a look at the experience they are providing the experience and to make sure that we want to bring entertainers in that students enjoy and students listen to, and that we’re also mindful that we are not setting students up to experience something outside their norm or outside of what they feel is their comfortable space.”
Allen does not personally look at the content of artists chosen by students for Spring Fest, but closely consults with Preston Reilly and Petrina Marrero, as well as the Chair of the SAC and Events Coordinator of MSG.
“We keep in mind the core values of the institution but also understand the ability for students to make their own choices,” Allen said.
When given the lyrics to one of T-Pain’s singles entitled “Church” that repeats in its chorus “god d***, you talking s***, better close your lips, you need to hush / Before the end of the night I’m gonna have to take your ass to church,” Allen said that while it is not personally her type of music, it is still the type of art commonly played on radio stations.
“I don’t feel like his music is putting out there anything that our students haven’t heard in other places,” Allen said.
Concerning the lyrics to T-Pain’s “Booty Wurk (One Cheek at a Time),” which states, “I like that booty, you know where to put it / Go ahead, go ahead…Now let me see that booty work,” Allen said the vetting process of an artist does not simply look at one or two songs before making the decision.
“They are not up there for two hours singing each song from their latest album, they’re not willing to do that,” said Allen. “He [T-Pain] is going to perform his popular songs that every student knows… If students came to Michelle [Farley] and Megan [Lawrence] and said, listen, we really don’t want this song played, they can request that. Those are requests that we can make.”
Concerning whether she believes some of T-Pain’s lyrics contain certain amounts of debauchery, violence and misogyny, Allen said that “it is hard to find an artist that doesn’t.”
“These two students, Megan [Lawrence] and Michelle [Farely], really wanted that fun, upbeat atmosphere. That is what they were after,” Allen said.
Neither Michelle Farley nor Megan Lawrence responded to emails from The Merciad requesting an interview concerning their decision for the featured artist at Spring Fest 2015.