WILD headliner draws concern, calls for selection process reform
While there are always students disappointed with the artist chosen to headline WILD, this semester’s choice of Lil Dicky has come under greater scrutiny than past selections.
Students called upon Social Programming Board to reconsider the decision to bring in the artist in an open Student Union Senate session held Tuesday, citing racially insensitive and misogynistic comments made by Lil Dicky.
In particular, students referenced a 2014 Vice article, titled “Lil Dicky Isn’t a White Supremacist, He’s Just an A——,” pointing to comments in which the rapper said that he would be able to use more profanity if he were black and that he had more to lose from going into the music industry than the average rapper, who he defined as an “extremely stupid person that began life as a poor, violent man, only to see [their] fortunes turn once [they] started rapping.”
“Given the current political climate, I find SPB’s choice of [Lil Dicky] to be both racist and insensitive to many members of the student body, including myself,” sophomore Kirk Brown said. “These racist statements [made by Lil Dicky] appeal to upper-class white people who were born into privilege…To ignore any of the myriad of problems Lil Dicky presents would be both ignorant and foolish on the part of SPB.”
“How hard is it to go into Google and type in ‘is Lil Dicky racist?’” sophomore Hiba Yousif added. “These people are celebrities; this information isn’t that hard to find.”
Junior and SPB WILD Director Zach Alter noted that no students voiced opposition to Lil Dicky in the comments section on the WILD artist survey, distributed online to undergraduates in the spring, which garnered well over 2,000 responses. As a result, SPB executives said they had no reason to believe that Lil Dicky’s selection would elicit a response of this nature from the student body.
Despite current concerns, SPB cannot replace Lil Dicky, as the contract has already been formalized and the artist is still scheduled to appear at Washington University in less than a month. SPB is required to pay Lil Dicky regardless of whether he performs or not.
To counteract the blowback, SPB president and junior Noah Truwit told Student Life that Lil Dicky will be informed of student concern, as well as of the racial climate in St. Louis—particularly following the “not guilty” verdict in Jason Stockley’s trial for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith and subsequent protests in the St. Louis area.
“[SPB has] scheduled a call with the selected artists’ agents to make sure they are aware of the current landscape both on campus and in our city,” Truwit said. “We hope that this will lead to a show that is sensitive to our current environment.”
Both Alter and Josh Gruenke, assistant director for student involvement and programming and an advisor to SU, commented that the openers—hip-hop artist Lizzo, a black woman and LGBTQIA* advocate, and indie band A R I Z O N A, whose members are racially diverse—offer students an option to see performers that might better express their points of view. Students attending the Senate meeting, however, felt differently.
“Lizzo, at this point, as an opener, just feels like [SPB] throwing us a bone,” Brown said.
In addition to protesting the artist choice, students are questioning the processes by which SPB selects performers and its executive board.
The artist selection process kicks off when the WILD director receives a list of around 100 artists from an intermediary agent. The director then reduces the list to around 50 artists—based on perceived on-campus relevance—and asks for pricing and availability.
After this, only around 15-20 artists remain. SPB’s exec board approves a survey with the remaining artists and sends it out to the student body. Then, the WILD director negotiates with the highest-ranked artist from the survey, moving down the list until an available and affordable artist is found.
The procedures employed to select Lil Dicky differed in no way from those used in previous years.
But this artist selection process was called into question by students at the meeting, who wondered why the WILD director had near autonomy on the initial phase of the process, working alone to reduce a list of 100 artists to 50. In response, SPB exec members said the body should consider expanding the number of members involved in the procedures.
“Adding additional screening by all members of our executive board to review our initial survey artist options would help relieve the pressure on one director and allow us to be more thoughtful in our decision making,” Truwit told Student Life.
Students also questioned why SPB does not release the results of the WILD survey. While Alter initially said this was because of SPB’s constitution, he later noted that it is not prohibited but rather a precedent set by previous WILD directors. Gruenke said the survey results are kept under wraps because performers will, in many cases, decline to sign contracts if they rank past No. 1 or No. 2 on the list.
“Artists want to come where they’re wanted,” he said. “Also, in terms of student body, everybody wants the first pick…If we don’t get the first pick, students might be less excited about the concert.”
Freshman Mia Hamernik, who came to the open Senate session, said she had also attended Sunday’s session to discuss Senate’s lack of action on the Stockley verdict and was inspired to attend this one as well. Hamernik felt that the session was a galvanizing moment for attendees but noted that the SPB exec board—which is primarily white—could seem inaccessible to some nonwhite students, particularly because members are chosen not through an election process, but by appointment, a sentiment other students shared.
“One thing that should be looked into [is] diversifying their executive board,” Hamernik told Student Life. “[Their selection process] is more of an internalized thing, and while there can be some logic to it, it can be very isolating in some ways because it’s more about who you know and who is well-liked.”
“I’ve talked to specific people at this University, specifically black women, who have been discouraged from joining SPB by members currently on the board,” junior Clayton Covington said in the Senate session.
In defense of their selection system, Alter noted that SPB exec positions necessitate some past expertise, noting that his role requires experience with planning concerts. Truwit added that elected officials are not immune from criticism of this nature, citing student dissatisfaction with how SU handled its response to the Stockley verdict.
“All student leaders are accountable to the students we serve,” Truwit said. “The past week has shown elected leaders are not immune to the backlash.”
Both Alter and Truwit apologized for the harm caused by the decision to bring Lil Dicky for the semesterly concert and expressed a desire to hear out student concerns on the matter and make necessary reforms.
“I was just trying to get people to come to this concert and be happy. I nowhere tried to go out of my way to marginalize people, and I’m really sorry,” Alter said in the Senate session. “There isn’t anything we can do regarding removing him—I’m sorry.”