Lipdub doesn't deserve our lip service

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • November 19, 2015

At issue: T-Swift lipdub will no longer be used as a promotional video for the school. 

Our take: The song choice made the project amiss in the first place.

The Taylor Swift medley lipdub crumbled, and rightly so: the artist’s problematic pop platform fails to support and represent Emerson students. The EVVYs promotional video, which according to its executive producer Alex Clark, was in the works for over a year—Emerson’s legal team was involved, working to obtain the rights to Swift’s song, and a film crew was assembled. But despite this headway in preproduction, the producers and director never sought input from the student population. When the time came to roll the cameras, campus organizations like Emerson’s Black Organizations with Natural Interests; Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone; and Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness dropped out. The lack of communication between the dub’s producers and students resulted in dissonance between peers and exclusion of people of color on campus. It was a wild dream to think Swift’s problematic style suited Emerson, and especially since the former lipdub was posed as a unifying tradition.

At nearly every juncture, Swift has made headlines that highlight her music’s reductive and limited view of feminism and racial politics. Her music video for the song “Wildest Dreams” was deemed an “African colonial fantasy” by The Guardian, and seen by others as purely racist. After Nicki Minaj tweeted a message about MTV’s exclusion of powerful, curvaceous women of color from this year’s list of VMA nominees, Swift responded to it as if it were a slight to herself instead, without addressing the larger racial and cultural politics at play in Minaj’s critique. Considering that Emerson is aiming to make diversity and inclusion a more distinctive pillar of this institution, choosing an artist with such a controversial reputation seems antithetical.

Efforts to move forward with the lipdub video in light of student concerns seem callous in light of a move to address issues of multicultural exclusion and discrimination on campus. Since an impassioned walkout and protest last April, motions to create a more educated and welcoming community for people of color on campus have taken greater precedent. The Ad Hoc Cultural Competency Committee was created in response to address the grievances voiced by students. It is clear lack of inclusivity and cultural sensitivity that are problems at this institution—as is the case across the country—so the deliberate decision to move forward with a project that appears inconsiderate of this reality is troublesome. At the very least, the song choice could have been discussed far earlier. 

The real loss in all of this isn’t that the video’s producers chose an artist so widely criticized for slut-shaming and cultural appropriation, but that this was such a missed opportunity for authentic collaboration. This lipdub ought to have showcased the talents and interests of Emerson’s community. Instead it only showed our divisions, the ways in which students of color and cultural orgs can feel silenced on this campus without effective redress. When the producers were reminded that Swift wasn’t an inclusive artist that was representative of all that Emerson had to offer, they proceeded anyway, with only the most minor of adjustments. Perhaps if the producers were of more diverse backgrounds this would have gone differently. Still, the fact remains that the larger issue—that a community of students felt alienated by a lipdub that was supposed to include us all—wasn’t even rectified. There’s a value judgement behind keeping Swift as the artist that the video had students mouth along to, and it’s one that isn’t in the interest of diversity or inclusion.

So now we’ve got a blank space, baby—it’s of less concern who’ll take the blame. In a laudable example of allyship, many student organizations (including the Student Government Administration) withdrew support for the video in solidarity with the concerns of the school’s cultural orgs. The purpose of the lipdub—to showcase our school’s students—remains unfulfilled.