Courtesy of Cornell University

February 28, 2018

SWAN | Slope Day: A Zero-Sum Game

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Slope Day 2018 will be my third experience with the famous Cornellian festival, and so, I feel as though I am now entitled to make a few observations about it. While the artists who play Slope Day change from year to year, most things about it stay the same: a concert will be given,  on the slope during a relatively mild spring day, alcohol will be consumed, free breakfasts will (hopefully) be eaten and merchandise that boasts all of Cornell’s factions and houses will be worn. Yet, the most invariable aspect of Slope Day occurs well before the sun rises on that fateful May day: everyone, every one of you, will complain about the artists chosen to headline it.

Alright, maybe not everyone. It seems as though two groups form in response to the headline announcement. The larger of the groups does indeed complain about the decision and takes issue with the chosen artists. There exists a minority of students who are actually excited about the Slope Day artists.. Now, I would really like to avoid making any judgements on the individuals which form each group. Are those students in the minority more appreciative of a broader range of music? Do they “know” more about music? Perhaps. But are their tastes better than those of the former indignant group? Absolutely not.

Nevertheless, many of the assertions made by indignant students on the merits of the chosen artists are rather problematic and are based upon a number of unchallenged assumptions. I would like to present a categorical refutation to some of these claims.

Last week, the Sun published an editorial entitled “Downward Sloping” that criticized the decision to pick Galantis as the 2018 headliner. I take issue with some of the assertions made in the article. The editorial begins by listing a number of previous, “big name” Slope Day acts, including Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and even Duke Ellington. There is then a big space with an ellipsis and then a line containing merely “Galantis?” Frankly, I think that many (but not all) readers will understand the intended meaning of this juxtaposition: that the former artists are so popular, so ubiquitous, that Galantis’ relative anonymity is shocking.

Of course, I could here reiterate the old point that artists like Kanye and Chance were not as famous as they are now when they played Slope Day, but this is an exhausted point. This initial rhetorical strategy still runs the risk of arguing that the former artists are better than Galantis, which harkens back to my aforementioned problem of messy preference comparisons.

The more egregious comments appear later in the article. It is stated that “artists more suitable for open-air, midday concerts” should be preferred to “[artists] who primarily remix the music of others and do not often perform any live music”

Wow. What could this possibly mean? What does it mean to be “more suitable for open-air, midday concerts,” and when is an artist sufficiently “open-air?” Should we invite Bob Dylan to perform on Slope Day? I saw him in an open-air concert last summer, but unfortunately, I think he would be less than thrilled to perform for hundreds of drunk Cornellians. Should we invite the artists who played Woodstock to return for one more open-air concert in upstate New York? I think those artists are either too expensive or no longer alive. Should we extend an offer to Paul Simon, as CU Nooz so sarcastically posited? And, since when is remixing “the music of others” unacceptable? This comment is incredibly aggressive as it utterly dismisses the creative merits of a number of genres, including sample-based hip-hop, the music into which artists like Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar direct their creativity.

I firmly believe that students have the right to voice complaints about frustrating things. However, instead of complaining only once a year, why do we not channel this discontent into a more focused movement against the marginalization of music at Cornell? In addition to the lack of Slope Day funding, why can we not discuss the lack of funding for the PMA department — or the fact that the music department can not afford to hire enough professors to provide its students with a more rigorous theory sequence? And why do more students not take music courses that teach thoughtful modes of music criticism and commentary?

I know that I’m shouting into a void. Maybe Slope Day is just one of those times when all Cornellians can take part in some collective disdain and feel close to one another. After all, we’ll never be universally pleased with the Slope Day headliner anyway.


Nick Swan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. His Column Swan’s Song runs alternate Thursdays this semester.