“The Andover Song”

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 4 2011 6:08 PM

“The Andover Song”

Painful musical recruitment videos: They’re not just for college students anymore!

In the grand tradition of “That’s Why I Chose Yale,” the hokey music video that tried to lure impressionable 18-year-olds to New Haven, the venerable prep school Phillips Academy now has “The Andover Song.” It is, as they say, a real piece of work:

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The eight-minute video was made by a 17-year-old Andover alum who also wrote the music and lyrics. (Sample: “The school molds to everybody, like a mattress pad.”) It features loving shots of preppy teenagers gamboling across Andover’s lush grounds while rapping about vector analysis and extolling the virtues of the school’s recently-installed need-blind admissions policy. “You can’t tell who’s rich or poor, that’s just how it’s designed!” one Phillipian assures us.

It’s unclear whether this is an official admissions office-commissioned video; it’s not on the department’s website, but several faculty members—and outgoing headmaster Barbara Landis Chase—put in appearances, so the school is certainly aware of its existence. (An email to the press office about whether the school oversaw the video’s production hasn’t been returned yet.) [Update, 11 p.m.: The filmmaker emailed to clarify that he worked on the video on his own, without official school sanction.]

The tone of “The Andover Song” is, to say the least, curious. It takes a surprisingly aggressive stance against the unnamed “masses” who rag on prep school kids for being pampered, elitist snobs. (“Academically, we’re at the top of the pack / so automatically, we receive a lot of flak / but emphatically, we replace the myth with fact, / systematically reacting to the false attacks.”) But surely the point of attending prep school is to learn how to ignore one’s detractors—real or imagined—and move through life with the unruffled grace of one to the manor born?

“The Andover Song” may be intended as a rebuttal to the haters, but it ends up reinforcing a lot of people’s worst stereotypes about prep school kids—namely, that they’re self-pleased, braggadocious dorks who enjoy a game of Frisbee. Even the attempts at modesty ring false: “My old peers somewhat resented me / because intelligent was something that I strived to be.”

Going from the Whiffenpoofish harmonizing of “That’s Why I Chose Yale” to the Auto-tuned rap of “The Andover Song” isn’t exactly a forward step in the genre, either. The Yale video may have been risible (and, at nearly 17 minutes, interminable), but the goofy Broadway-style music wasn’t really trying to make a social statement. The rapping in “The Andover Song” feels like an attempt to say, “Hey, we’re populist!” Instead, it comes across as vaguely condescending. It doesn’t help that the video makes the student body look somewhat less than diverse—though not, of course, at the moment when the song assures us that “Youth from every quarter’s representing all of mankind / If you don’t have the bank to back you then we’ve got your behind.”

Then again, what do I know. Comments on the video so far have been largely positive (“I sooooooo need to go to this school lol. Hopefully next year, taking the SSAT soon<3333”), so perhaps the prep schoolers of tomorrow, raised as they were on Rebecca Black, like this sort of thing. The one naysayer in the comments so far appears to be from Andover’s arch rival, Phillips Exeter Academy. “If they work so hard how come they have time to make this video? PEA all the way.”

Update, Aug. 5:  The creator of the video, Michael Kontaxis, wrote in to offer some context:

"Andover ... had nothing to do with the making of this video. In fact, the school (most likely) is not even going to use it as one of their official video[s]. It started when my college counselor approached me during my Senior Spring, telling me that he needed a video for college scouts who didn't know much about Andover and were prone to dismissing it as a dime-a-dozen prep school for rich kids. He also told me that if I accepted the project, I could do whatever I pleased with it creatively, as long as it answered the question "What is Andover?" ...

["The Andover Song"] is not an attempt by the administration or admissions to attract more people by acting "hip", but merely a graduate's attempt to reflect on his overwhelmingly positive high school experience in a loving manner while simultaneously addressing common misconceptions people have about the school."

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