Taylor Swift lip dub creates controversy on campus

by Emily Tanaka / Beacon Correspondent • November 18, 2015

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Participants being filmed in the Bobbi Brown & Steven Pfolker Gym.
Participants being filmed in the Bobbi Brown & Steven Pfolker Gym.

A lip dub that sparked controversy among campus organizations is no longer being used as a promotional video for the college, as of Nov. 10. The performance featured songs by popular artist Taylor Swift, and many multicultural organizations said they chose not to participate in the project due to Swift’s history of racial insensitivity.

The video has been in the works for almost a year now, according to Alex Clark, a senior visual and media arts major and the executive producer of the video. Clark said he first pitched the idea to the administration in October 2014. After that, Clark said Emerson’s legal team advised him on how to obtain the rights to the music in preparation of their proposal.

The legal process to receive the rights to the music began this September, said the video’s director, junior visual and media arts major Jake Schwartz.

“We chose her because she has some of the biggest star power right now,” Schwartz said. “We were more focused on using her music as a platform, when this was a promotional video, to showcase Emerson.”

Clark said he knew there would be criticism. Due to this, he sat down with the leaders of various multicultural organizations to explain why he chose Swift for the video. After the meetings, Clark said the production team decided to take sponsorship out of the video so that students would not have to choose between being the face of their organization and their own personal feelings.

“I think that was the best decision we could’ve made on either side of it because it meant that all the work that an incredible amount of students have put into this didn’t have to go to waste,” Clark said.

Before they knew the opinions of the organizations, the production team’s main focus was getting all the proper rights to use Swift’s music. This became a priority after the school ran into trouble after the 2010 EVVYs Lady Gaga lip dub, which didn’t have help from the administration, said Sharon Duffy, interim dean of students. This led to the video being taken off YouTube after copyright concerns.

The music video for “Wildest Dreams” depicts Swift acting in a film shoot in an African desert, and the romance with her fictional co-star, who is also white.

“[The] video was set in Africa and there weren’t any people of color, especially black people and that was unrealistic, especially given the specific time period that it was supposed to be in,” sophomore Jeremy Liang, treasurer for Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness (ASIA), said.

Becca Chairin, a junior visual and media arts major, said Emerson’s Alliance for Gays Lesbians and Everyone initially saw it as a great way to display the diversity of Emerson, and the multicultural organizations stood together in solidarity on the matter.    

“EAGLE pulled out because [Emerson's Black Organization with Natural Interests] and ASIA pulled out,” Chairin said.

Liang, a visual and media arts major, said he thought that in the end the multicultural organizations made the right choice. He said he wished Clark had met with them earlier.

“[Clark] didn’t ask us our opinion until it was already too late to change anything,” Liang said.

Duffy said that it was difficult for Clark to speak to organizations about the artist choice since he couldn’t talk about it, legally speaking.

The project became individualized once organizations began to retract from the video. Duffy stated that she tried to advise Clark that the best course of action would be to pause production to open up more dialogue among the cultural organization. Clark decided, with the production schedule, artist, and logistics already set, that it would be better to make it an individualized project, said Duffy.

"I honestly believe that if the production paused and there was more open dialogue, then the production could have been made for what it [was] initially intended,” Duffy said.

Deputy news editor Martha Schick, who participated in the lip dub, did not edit this article.