When Duke University Union announced last week that rapper Sage the Gemini would headline this year’s Heatwave concert, I was miffed. The annoyance arose partly because I had no idea who he was before a cursory Spotify search revealed that Gemini was the mastermind behind such songs as “Gas Pedal” and “Red Nose.” Mostly, though, I was frustrated that Duke’s long-standing tradition of bringing has-been, one-hit wonders to campus for a raucous concert on West Campus would remain intact.
I couldn’t expect much more, especially given that previous Campus Concerts headliners have included the likes of Sean Kingston (his one hit being “Beautiful Girls”), Vanessa Carlton (“A Thousand Miles,” anyone?) and Lil Jon (who, admittedly, has a bit more notoriety). But still—was anyone that excited about Heatwave? Or Sage the Gemini, for that matter? I stopped a freshman named Steven Herrera as he exited Marketplace, and I began my line of inquiry.
I asked him point-blank: “Do you know who Sage the Gemini is?”
“No,” Herrera responded.
I prodded a bit more. Was he excited, at least, for the Heatwave concert?
“I’m not excited,” Herrera admitted. “I don’t really like that kind of music—it’s really bad. I don’t plan on going.”
Later that day, on a bus to West Campus, I chatted with freshmen, sophomores and juniors on a whim. The overwhelming consensus among my peers, it turns out, is that no one is really that enthusiastic about Sage the Gemini or Heatwave in general. A few individuals divulged that the concert is, in essence, a great backdrop for binge drinking the night away, reliving the years of adolescence when the words “slow down, grab the wall” would thump through a pair of speakers, inciting everyone in the immediate area to wiggle like… well, you know.
The discussion surrounding Campus Concerts—which includes Heatwave, Old Duke (specifically designed to bring forgotten artists into recent memory) and LDOC—begins to broaden when looked at through a more critical lens. Certainly, Duke is not alone in its efforts to create a campus-wide environment reminiscent of large music festivals. A quick Google search reveals articles entitled “The 10 Best College Music Events in the Country” and “Best Upcoming Spring Concerts at Colleges Around the Nation,” lauding schools such as Cornell, the University of Southern California and, of course, Duke for throwing concerts that allow students to “celebrate the end of their semesters of hard work by attending a concert with major names in music.”
If anything, the transformation of college campuses from academic hearths into Coachella-wannabes each semester is both perplexing and alarming. It’s perplexing because, although college is a place to be social and have fun with friends, it’s not a playground. Does Duke need to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to plan extravagant concerts for the student body? Of course not—many of the functions orchestrated at Duke can be classified as excessive, but perhaps that’s one of the perks of going to a school with our so-called “quality of life.” However, just because Duke can put so many resources toward these events doesn’t mean it should.
Undeniable are the more concerning aspects of events like Heatwave and Old Duke. Our university has a responsibility to ensure that students’ partying is safe and monitored, that the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure the responsible consumption of alcohol (because, let’s face it, underage drinking will occur whether Duke knows about it or not). What troubles me, however, is that this isn’t simply Duke requiring SLGs to have educated party monitors or tweaking the alcohol policy to be less punitive. These concerts have essentially become facilitated excuses for binge drinking, set to lyrics like “I’ma forget your age soon” and “If she don’t go crazy then she walkin’ on the highway.” It’s not as if Sage the Gemini ever claimed to be an eloquent feminist, but his brazen way of referring to women and their bodies probably isn’t ideal for such a setting.
That’s not to say Duke should abolish concerts on campus altogether—for many, Campus Concerts may be the only way of engaging with live music or more inaccessible (read: overpriced) artists. Rather, there should be a more concerted effort to create an enjoyable environment at these concerts. Maybe that means turning away students if they’re visibly intoxicated or searching for musicians that students are more liable to enjoy (without the aid of alcohol). Regardless, I think every Duke student can agree with me on this: “Red Nose” is a truly terrible song.
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