Fool me once.
I previously wrote about PWR BTTM’s enjoyable music video for “Answer My Text,” but now it turns out you can no longer watch that video, nor can you hear any of their music on streaming services. After some pretty widely corroborated sexual assault allegations, this is pretty much the end of the road for the genderqueer duo. They’ve been dropped by their management and their label, and they appear to have canceled their tour, with venues and opening artists dropping out after hearing the news.
There is something deeply unsettling about a band whose whole shtick is a glittery performance of gender fluidity and sexual acceptance being at the center of a controversy like this one. After their first album came out, PWR BTTM felt like a beacon, appealing to a set of younger queer people who didn’t really hear their own voices reflected in more current mainstream music (except for maybe Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer” which is 100% about going lez for the summer, and frankly I would hit that, but I wouldn’t really call that queer). There was queercore, but there was not yet dragcore.
I spoke to The Awl’s classical music columnist and previously enthusiastic PWR BTTM fan, Fran Hoepfner, about the feeling of whiplash some fans are currently feeling:
the whole thing feels like a betrayal of trust in a message — “you are safe, you are valued” — and one of the rare times it seems literally impossible to separate the art from the artist. there’s also this feeling of getting so close — the rave NY Times review, the inching towards mainstream — and having all of that snatched away so quickly and so suddenly that the emotional whiplash of it is very overwhelming.
I suppose the greatest solace in this whole debacle is that this all happened as swiftly as it did. And as long as artists keep being humans in the world, the artist–art struggle will remain. In a freakishly well-timed interview by the New York Times, Ben Hopkins told Matthew Schneier about the feeling of empowerment they got from being part of the queer punk duo:
“What is empowering for me in PWR BTTM is, I am going to take up this space — very effeminate and very insecure, ridiculous in a $2 thrift store dress on with stars glued to my face — and go do that thing I wanted to do. For me, it always makes sense that there’s power in the name — I feel powerful.”
Perhaps too powerful? Among other damning evidence, a picture of Hopkins that circulated last year resurfaced—they were kneeling on the beach next to a swastika in the sand. Hopkins tweeted an apology for the image essentially copping to being a “stupid kid.” It’s rather a spectacular fall from a grace perhaps too easily given. I’m hopeful about how positively received the group was — we were ready for them; they just weren’t ready for this.