Vampire Weekend performing at Merriweather Post Pavilion, August 2019Instagram/ @vampireweekend

If you were looking for an equivalent to Oxbridge in the US, the Ivy League schools would certainly be your best bet. They pride themselves with being among the oldest higher-education institutions in the country, they consistently produce world-class scholars, and they are endowed and prestigious to no end. Among these, Harvard aside, few have stood out as much as Columbia University. Situated in Morningside Heights, right in the north of Manhattan, no other Ivy comes across as cosmopolitan and progressive as this bulwark of 20th century academia.

But it’s not only academics that flourished during their time there: artists such as Alicia Keys and Art Garfunkel also enrolled at Columbia for some time before pursuing a full-time music career eventually. Then of course, there’s Vampire Weekend, undoubtedly the most “Columbia” group of them all. Formed in 2006 during their studies, the quartet continued their joint music project after graduating and managed to release their self-titled debut album in January 2008 while working full-time jobs.


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Three months prior, they had released their first single titled ‘Mansard Roof’. The song is about exactly that: mansard roofs, “hot garbage” and the Argentinian admiralty. The B-side of Mansard Roof is an upbeat little two-minute track called ‘Ladies of Cambridge’ – Cambridge, Massachusetts of course, not Cambridge, England. The buzz they created prior to actually debuting managed to make them one of the most anticipated new acts of the time, and helped launch four more singles from the album: first ‘A-Punk’, their most famous song to that day, and shortly after ‘Oxford Comma’, because what could be more elitist than writing a song about a literary device, right?

Aside from somehow name-dropping both Oxbridge universities in song titles in their debut album, Vampire Weekend carefully cultivates the kind of image you would expect of four Columbia alumni: carefully crafted, conceptual, and endlessly detached from the struggles of the real world. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? But that’s certainly not the end of the line. Upon being called “the whitest band of all time” by a critic in 2009, singer Ezra Koenig set the record straight by pointing out that his bandmate Rostam Batmanglij is of Iranian origin, and that each of the four attended Columbia on scholarships and through student loans, with Koenig still paying them off at that point. Vampire Weekend might be singing about things such as the Falklands War (‘Mansard Roof’), public transportation (‘M79’) and escaping from a vampire attack at Cape Cod (‘Walcott’, which might ring a bell at that other university) – hell, their entire second album ​Contra​ is based on the eponymous Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary group – but they certainly do not do so without irony. By seemingly embracing their image as preppy well-offs, they manage to subvert it from within, criticising the very thing that people mistake them for: being pretentious pricks who couldn’t care less.

So what makes Vampire Weekend so Oxbridgean at the end of the day? Two things. First of all, they name drop themselves through the English literary canon, from Blake over Walcott to Cummings, as suavely as any Classics student. Secondly, while doing so, they actually realise the cliché in it all, but manage to twist it around so as to attack the kind of elitism that gave rise to their school and ultimately their band in the first place. That is often times at the expense of the English. In ‘One (Blake’s Got a New Face)’, Koenig starts off by quipping about the tea he’s being served because English Breakfast tastes like Darjeeling, which certainly is more of a jab at the grand English tradition of naming colonial conquests and acquisitions after themselves, rather than a true taste comparison.

Perhaps it is exactly this kind of sophisticatedly veiled critique that the two lone pinnacles of the English bourgeoisie need, as it might just be the only one their peers would readily absorb, unwitting or not. And to top off the irony, it is none other than a group of four Americans that is deconstructing the Brits at their very own display, prompting flashbacks to the 1950 World Cup or just history in general: the colonised beating the coloniser. Talk about a salty message written in the eaves.

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