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Anyone who frequents gay blogs, music blogs or both has probably read about PWR BTTM, the queer punk duo that this week experienced its greatest spotlight ever — and for the worst possible reasons. In short, one half of the duo stands accused of sexual assault, and the allegations have made fans and journalists alike focus on a story far different from the one that PWR BTTM thought it would be telling.
In case you’re feeling old or unhip or just out of the loop and maybe only heard about PWR BTTM this past week, we’ve assembled a simple FAQ on the matter to get you up to speed.
So wait, what happened now?
PWR BTTM’s second studio album, Pageant, dropped May 12, but good luck finding it. Just two days beforehand, Kitty Kolin-Cordero, a member of the Chicago DIY music scene, posted in a private Facebook group that they had witnessed Ben Hopkins, half of the duo, “initiate inappropriate sexual contact with people despite several ‘nos’ and without warning or consent.” Kolin-Cordero also said Hopkins had made “unwanted advances on minors despite knowing their age.” The post featured a photo of Hopkins standing above a swastika drawn in sand. Screenshots of the allegations quickly spread across the internet.
PWR BTTM responded to the allegations on May 11, calling them “a surprise” and offering an email that victims could write to in order to speak with a mediator. (This aspect of the response has been met with criticism.) “Music is everything to us, but we feel strongly that this matter needs to be addressed first,” read the statement. On Friday, Jezebel ran an interview with a woman who alleged she was one of Hopkins’ victims.
So I shouldn’t go buy the new album then?
Though it remains to be seen what the fallout from these allegations will be, the impact has already been felt commercially. Polyvinyl Records has not only dropped PWR BTTM but also removed the band’s page from its website. According to a statement, anyone who already bought Pageant can request a refund, and the label will be donating to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the LGBTQ-focused Anti-Violence Project.
As far as buying PWR BTTM’s music, you can’t currently do it on iTunes or Amazon. And Pageant is not available on those services, Tidal, Apple Music or Google Play. You can listen to the band’s new and old music on Spotify and on Bandcamp, at least for the moment.
I’m one of the people who hadn’t heard of the band before. What do they sound like?
Pretty much what you’d expect from glammy, campy punk rock performed by two people who identify as queer. (Both Hopkins and Liv Bruce use gender-neutral pronouns; Bruce identifies as non-binary and presents as transfeminine.) The band’s YouTube account has pretty much been stripped, it seems, except for “I Wanna Boi,” from the band’s 2015 debut album, Ugly Cherries.
Here’s another one.
You get it. If you’re hearing them for the first time and your reaction is something like “Oh, bummer. They’re kinda catchy,” you’re not wrong. But you’re also missing the point.
How was the band being discussed before the allegations?
Glowingly, for the most part. You’d think they were the musical avatar of the gender revolution, not just for making music with major queer themes and a progressive sense of gender identity, but also for seeming to walk the walk. NPR’s lengthy profile of the band — which notes that in February 2016 the band added a clause to its tour rider mandating gender-neutral restrooms — ends with a description that seems all the more cringeworthy now: “PWR BTTM is an idyllic vision made real, where queerness is both everything and nothing about the band.” The band also stood up to anti-gay protestors back in November.
So it was all rainbow-colored roses before May 10?
Actually, no. More than one person has pointed out that the band’s claim of being surprised by the assault allegations would seem to be false, because either Hopkins, Bruce or both had been presented with the allegations previously. Of course, we don’t know for sure if that’s true. At the very least, the band seems to have engaged with fans in the past about concerns over inappropriate behavior. In this exchange, it’s about cultural appropriation, and that’s a different conversation than assault, but it’s worth noting at least to understand what kind of character the band presented online.
Holding the band up as being so progressive must have made the allegations sting all the harder, huh?
Yep. Sexual assault is despicable in any context, but in this case it has pointed out that it’s especially difficult. The Atlantic called the accusations part of “a depressingly familiar story.” An excerpt:
The situation is particularly charged given what the band has stood for. If identity politics were part of PWR BTTM’s art, they were also part of their marketing: One video of theirs even came emblazoned with the tag “rated Q for Queer.” This defiance of traditional gender — as well as the band’s association with DIY rock scenes — was wrapped up in a progressive stance on sexual consent. Hopkins, who identifies as queer and prefers to be referred to with gender-neutral plural pronouns, often took time out during concerts to talk about creating a safe space against predation. Scroll through Twitter and Tumblr chatter about the band and you’ll see queer fans heartbroken given that the band had helped them embrace their own identities. The word “betrayal” has come up a lot.
The Village Voice has a great piece on how the band’s largely queer fanbase has reacted to the news. It hasn’t been easy. A lot of them considered their fandom a safe space of sorts, and they’re therefore crushed to learn that this perceived safety has been taken away by the notion that Hopkins could be less than he purported to be. Pitchfork, meanwhile, ran a piece whose headline sums it all up: “Queer Kids Deserve Better Than PWR BTTM.”
So, what happens next?
There has not yet been discussion of Hopkins being charged with any crimes. And there’s been no statement from the band about the cancellation of a proposed 39-stop tour, though it’s rumored that will happen next week.
Is there a takeaway from the story so far?
This writer is struggling to recall an instance of an up-and-coming band or other such entity getting so quickly and thoroughly stopped in its tracks by allegations of wrongdoing, sexual or otherwise. Perhaps the progressive nature of the band’s fanbase accounts for how profound the reaction has been. Regardless, it’s staggering to think that less than a week ago, PWR BTTM was poised for major success. As of the posting of this article, it remains unclear what future the band could have.