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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

T-Pain Brings Happy Hour to Midd

Though the announcement did not come as a surprise to many, the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) sent out an all-student email on Tuesday, Feb. 24 confirming that rapper and auto-tune extraordinaire T-Pain will headline this year’s spring concert on Saturday, April 18 in the Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena. Known for his mastery of auto-tune as a musical instrument, T-Pain has won two Grammy Awards for collaborations with Jamie Foxx and Kanye West in addition to enjoying multiple top-ten hits like “I’m in Love (With a Stripper),” Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” and Flo Rida’s “Low,” which often competed for the top spot on the charts at the same time. Tickets for the event are on sale to students starting Monday, March 30 at 6 p.m. for $15 through the online box office.

MCAB’s 13-member Concert Committee, which is comprised of students from all grade levels under the leadership of co-chairs Matt Butler ’15 and Katherine Kucharczyk ’16, begins each large concert selection process with a brainstorm to generate about 30 possible artists - some clearly within reach and others less so - to bring to their concert agent, who returns with information about date and price availability for the requested performers and suggests names that fit the College’s specifications. It usually takes three to four meetings for the Committee to come to a consensus about venue, genre and artist.

“We generally try to include diversity in the type of genre to keep the concerts fresh, and we try to get some name recognition to appeal to as many students as possible, but our full mission is to bring high-quality musical acts,” Kucharczyk said.

Despite the Committee’s initial division between a short list of contenders, T-Pain quickly emerged as the best fit. The singer’s tracks, most popular in the late 2000’s, are filled with his now trademark use of auto-tune and references to the club, women and, most prominently, drinking. Though his first album was just released in 2007, the artist’s latest 2014 album is the aptly titled T-Pain Presents Happy Hour: The Greatest Hits, featuring hits like “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” and “Blame It (On the Alcohol).”

“Our selection committee is an extremely diverse group of students from all facets of campus who represent a variety of ages, religions, races and sexual orientations, so I feel like we have a good group who is picking the concerts,” Butler said.

T-Pain’s late 2014 appearance on NPR’s popular online feature “Tiny Desk Concerts” exposed an entirely different demographic to the artist, not only without his trademark sunglasses, top hat, or dreadlocks, but, perhaps most significantly, without the help of any vocal modulation device. He has always maintained that his use of auto-tune as an instrument – which, though often attributed to him, can be traced to earlier dance club remixes – stems more from a desire to sound different than from an effort to mask mediocre vocals. Indeed, the artist’s stripped performance in the carefully constructed, now recognizable corner of NPR’s offices proves that underneath many of the bass and auto-tune laden hits permeating middle school dances of a decade ago existed a competent, even soulful R&B voice.

“He was just one of those names that we threw into the list and when we learned that he was available and the pricing was appropriate, we looked at his videos and he’s really high energy,” Kucharczyk said. “He almost has a new sound where he isn’t using auto-tune as much and he’s actually a really talented singer, so we decided that he was the one we wanted.”

Though T-Pain’s recognizable look and musical style quickly garnered him popular success and influenced other rap artists like Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, in recent years, the self-proclaimed “Hard & B” singer has taken strides to evolve in a new direction. In 2013, he cut his iconic dreadlocks and began working on the yet to be released record Stoicville: The Phoenix, representing a rising from the ashes and new musical chapter. The first single, “Coming Home,” contains just enough auto-tune to identify the voice as that of T-Pain, but the track maintains the integrity of his natural vocals to a much higher degree than any previous release, producing a smoother, less rap-influenced sound still committed to the catchy hooks that propelled T-Pain to fame.

After the Concert Committee reaches a consensus, the chosen artist must garner a 2/3 approval rating from the MCAB Executive Board, which includes the president, vice president, treasurer and the co-chairs of each of the five committees.

The concert budget is allocated from the student activities fee, which is divided between each committee within MCAB at the start of the year. The majority of the Concert Committee’s budget is used for the large concerts, with the rest helping to fund the new Small Concert Initiative, a program granting students the resources necessary to bring small concerts of their choosing to campus.

In the past, MCAB has sent email surveys to the student body hoping to gain useful feedback for their concert selection process. This year, the Concert Committee considered crafting a different kind of survey that allowed students to directly vote for one of the artists on the shortlist instead of responding to more general questions about their favorite kinds of music and preferred venue. Ultimately, worries that students might be divided in their choice, making the Concert Committee’s job even harder, contributed to the decision not to send a survey.

“We decided against it for logistical reasons,” Kucharczyk said. “We try to book our spring artist before December break, and this year we booked T-Pain in very early December. In the time it takes to send a survey, collect data and analyze results, prices are going up with every week, so it’s beneficial to book as early as possible.”

Since MCAB opted for a nontraditional, two-day Start of School (S.O.S.) Festival during the first weekend of the fall semester, and last spring’s Matt & Kim concert took place outside, the T-Pain performance is the organization’s first large indoor concert since the Chance the Rapper debacle of fall 2013. The event raised major concerns about the limited capacity of the concert due to a poorly chosen venue, as well as questions about MCAB’s lack of marketing, which contributed to many students claiming after tickets had sold out that they had never known they were on sale.

In addition to backlash from students who wanted to attend the concert, the potentially offensive nature of some of Chance the Rapper’s homophobic and violent lyrics caused many to question the message sent by choosing such an artist to visit the College.  The use of an all-student email to relay ticket information is just one indication that the fallout from the Chance concert proved a valuable learning experience for MCAB. Butler’s first major event as co-chair of the Concert Committee was the Chance concert.

“[Chance the Rapper] definitely changed the way we both announce and address issues surrounding events,” Butler said. “We’ve had a much stronger vetting process this time looking at individual lyrics and thinking about who we want to bring. To address the whole lack of marketing when tickets went on sale, it was as simple as adding when tickets are going on sale in the all school email, which is just an easy fix second time around.”

With his short hair, clear plastic glasses and heavier reliance on natural vocals, T-Pain is taking a bold leap by evolving away from the styles that landed him at the top of the charts. His most recent Instagram photos reveal T-Pain performing for troops on a Navy entertainment tour, and in early 2014 the artist spoke out against homophobia in the rap and R&B industries, citing his frustration that producers refuse to work with the openly gay R&B singer Frank Ocean.

“We are also trying to take a more proactive standpoint in anticipating controversy, so instead of being blindsided by any complaints in terms of content we try to anticipate what may arise, and if we believe it will be an issue we can set up a forum beforehand,” Kucharczyk said.

“WRMC did a great job of setting up a forum for Big Freedia when she came,” Butler said. “We are open to hearing all student opinions and will discuss if there is a sense that the campus community desires a forum before the event. I’ve definitely learned a lot since the Chance the Rapper concert. There’s a lot that went wrong but it was also a fantastic learning experience for me, and I think we are doing a much better job this year.”

T-Pain’s performance at the College should give students the opportunity to enjoy the high-energy, auto-tune rich hits synonymous with the artist’s name while also allowing a live glimpse into T-Pain’s musical and stylistic evolution.

T-Pain will perform in the Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena on Saturday, April 18. Doors will open at 9 p.m. Tickets go on sale for $15 at go/obo on March 30 at 6 p.m.