In the modern Slope Day’s 16-year history, only two female-fronted bands have headlined the festival. One of them was Misterwives in 2017, and another was the Pussycat Dolls in 2009. Besides those two, every other headliner has been a male soloist, duo or band.
The modern Slope Day did not come into shape as a formalized annual event — or consistently had a musical headliner — until fall 2003, when Cornell administration started getting involved in its organization. However, a spring festival on-campus has occurred on and off since 1901.
In an interview with The Sun, Pravir Samtani ’19, executive director of the Slope Day Programming Board, admitted the difficulty to ensure gender diversity to Cornell’s flagship party.
Samtani said that while the programming board has contacted and pursued female artists to headline the festival in the past, “big-name female artists are way above our price range.”
The student activity fee, $19 per student, funds the Slope Day budget, which amounts to over $250,000 per year.
Incoming Executive Director Alana Udwin ’20 declined to disclose the programming board’s exact budget but said that the committee’s ongoing focus is to at least include female performers as openers.
“We would rather have any female representation than none and are proud of the commitment we have made to supporting female artists. We hope to work with our agents and secure more female headliners in the future,” she said.
Prior to 2003, Slope Day was more of a spontaneous event that happened on and off for decades, occurring largely beyond the purview of the administration.
“It was just a day, the last day of classes, everyone would just hang out on the slope. There was no planned concert. The school wasn’t involved,” Samtani said, adding that Slope Day’s past informal nature could have contributed to the lack of female performers.
Since 2003, Slope Day has always featured one headlining artist and two opening acts. The selection process for these artists begins well before the beginning of the school term in August, when programming board members brainstorm and draw inspiration from summer concerts and festivals, evaluating artists by watching performance videos.
In early November, the programming board sent out their picks of 20 artists to the student body asking for their opinion. The poll is advertised in Denice Cassaro’s email blasts, on all of the Slope Day official social media accounts and sent to all of the executive board member’s friends and acquaintances.
“We spend time and effort making sure that the survey is spread around campus and reaches a variety of Cornell students and organizations,” Udwin said.
The survey received 5,000 to 6,000 responses, according to Samtani. While the survey does not collect any information about a student’s demographics, Samtani said that of those who responded might have contributed to the lack of female artists.
“The majority of the student body wants to see either hip hop, rap, or EDM,” Samtani said, pointing out that many of the most popular artists in these genres are male. According to 2018 data from Spotify, only 37 percent of hip hop and 11 percent of top EDM artists were female.
He said that the board may consider pursuing information on respondents’ gender, race and ethnicity in the future.
Cornell’s relative dearth of female performers is not unique among the Ivies. Columbia’s annual Bacchanal spring concert featured an all-women slate of musicians for the first time this year. Dartmouth College also made history last year, when its Green Key Weekend featured its first female headliner. And in 2015, Yale ended a 17-year run of male headliners when Jessie J led their Spring Fling.
At the same time, more black artists have headlined Slope Day in the last decade than any other race. Six out of the ten headliners — including Ludacris, Kendrick Lamar, Taio Cruz and Chance the Rapper — were black. This year Slope Day will be headlined by Steve Aoki, who is of Japanese descent, and the opening acts will be Ezi, a female indie pop artist and Cousin Stizz, a black rap artist.
“It would be nice to have more diversity in every way,” Samtani told The Sun.