As the 50th anniversary of Spring Fling approaches, The Daily Pennsylvanian analyzed every artist who has performed at the concert since its inception.
According to the DP's analysis, rock artists dominated the annual Penn tradition for decades until the 2000s, with prominent acts such as Hall and Oates and The B-52s performing in the early 1980s and well-known bands like Sonic Youth and Third Eye Blind performing in the following decades. However, the proportion of rock artists has shrunk in recent years, with 2014 and 2018 marking the only times the genre appeared in the lineups of the 2010s.
Beginning as a carnival-style gathering in the Quad in 1973, the Spring Fling concert lineup has grown in scale, from recruiting local bands to prominent artists known worldwide, totaling over 120 acts enlisted by the Social Planning and Events Committee.
Rock, rap, and electronic genres are the most popular sounds of Spring Fling
In the 1990s, rap and hip hop became popular Spring Fling performer genres and remain a prominent part of concerts since then. Alternative hip-hop acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde were favorites in the '90s, and the genre overtook rock as the most common sound of Spring Fling concerts in the following decade. More recently, rappers who have performed at Penn include Snoop Dogg and Chance the Rapper, with American rapper Lil Tjay set to take the stage this Friday.
Electronic music saw the swiftest growth over time. While the genre made up only 8% of the Spring Fling lineups from 2003 to 2012, its prevalence surpassed rap in the period from 2013 to 2023, occupying 33% of the concerts in this time span. DJs, including well-known artists like David Guetta, Zedd, and last year’s headliner, Cheat Codes, have contributed to a consistent electronic music presence throughout Spring Fling concerts in this past decade.
Over 120 acts have performed at Spring Fling
The most recent decade also included an increase in pop and R&B, with pop seeing a resurgence in popularity paralleling the genre’s prevalence at Spring Fling throughout the 1970s. This year’s headliner, American Pop Singer Lauv, will be the most recent pop performer to take the Spring Fling stage. In contrast, genres such as folk and funk were selected primarily before the 2000s, with the most recent funk Fling performers being George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic in 2002.
Other trends observed during those periods include comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright headlining in lieu of or alongside musicians during the 1980s, and the wave of Ska and its related genres in the 1990s, with The Skatalites taking the stage in 1996.
The DP’s analysis also found that women-only acts make up just 9% of all Spring Fling performers.
Notably, American singer Bonnie Raitt and The B-52s — a new wave co-ed band — were the only women to perform at the concert in the 1970s and 1980s. There were also no female performers or women-only performing groups in the period from 1993 to 2002.
Although male performers and male-only performing groups still make up two-thirds of acts featured at Spring Fling since its inception, significantly more women — such as Kesha, Flo Milli, and Cupcakke — have been performing in the last decade.
The past decade has seen the highest increase of women performing at Spring Fling
According to Penn Associate Professor of Music Jairo Moreno, the gender disparities seen in Spring Fling performers may be due to both larger industry trends and other planning and logistical factors.
Moreno said that while the music industry is largely managed by men, some of the greatest and most visible popular artists are women. As a result of these trends, he said that the extent of the gap was “a little surprising.” However, Moreno believes that this gap may be caused by logistical complications such as artist availability and decisions by management.
While the gender makeup of Spring Fling performers has changed significantly in recent years, the racial composition of Spring Fling performers saw its most noticeable shifts before the 2000s. Though Black performers made up 21% of the artists at the concerts between 1976 and 1992, that proportion doubled in the 1990s and has waned slightly since the 2000s.
The most significant gain in racial diversity at Spring Fling occurred in the 1990s
In earlier years, audiences were often split between the Spring Fling concert and the concert organized by Social Planning and Events Committee to Represent Undergraduate Minorities, which more consistently brought in hip-hop headliners. However, 2004 was the last year in which SPEC-TRUM’s show was hosted over Penn Relays weekend, marking a shift in Spring Fling's audience demographics.
Moreno said that evolving listening habits could be another potential driving force for the changes of Spring Fling and its audience.
“There’s so much more music at your fingertips,” he said. “It’s hard to say that there’s a ‘college audience’ now because college audiences listen to so much.”
To collect the data on performers, The Daily Pennsylvanian used information from The Daily Pennsylvanian digital archives provided by Penn Libraries and categorized artists by genre, gender, and race.