A Promising Band Has The Worst Album Release Day Ever

As an independent musician and life-time music fan, I have begun to mark my Google calendar weeks in advance to remind myself to check out the newest album releases every Friday. It feels like lately there has been more highly buzzed about albums flooding Spotify than I can even keep up with. This past Friday (May 12th) was an especially crowded field for my calendar, which included the debut release from Harry Styles, the re-emergence of Paramore and the latest from the under appreciated Machine Gun Kelly. Despite these marquee titles, the album that I was most looking forward to hearing was from the Brooklyn punk/indie rock duo PWR BTTM.

PWR BTTM is a band that came on my radar pretty recently after I saw the lyric video for their song “Answer My Text” on Youtube and subsequently their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. I found them to be really creative, funny and unapologetically self-aware both in their lyrics and performance in the above. In researching more, it seemed that they were poised to have a break out with this release. The band’s wiki categorizes them as “queer punk” which I mention here just to say that the support for them amongst the LGBTQ community seemed fervent and sizable*. It felt like people wanted them to win and that their new album Pageant could be that breakout.

Then May 11 came. Allegations of abuse emerged online against PWR BTTM lead singer Ben Hopkins. It’s been well written about by publications across the web such as Spin (below), Jezebel, Brooklyn Vegan and many more.

Watching this unfold as a fan of the band was quite terrifying and disappointing. The band released a statement on the allegations which you can read here if you feel so inclined. The fallout from these allegations has been incredibly swift and comprehensive. I really didn’t want to spend that much time speaking on the allegations itself because 1. I think its important to believe victims when they come forward and 2. the actions and statements of the team and touring crew around them in the last 48 hours will probably say more than I ever could.

So since the allegations of abuse surfaced:

  1. Every opening act on the PWR BTTM tour has dropped off
  2. The band’s management has dropped them as a client
  3. The band’s label has released them and offered refunds to fans who pre-ordered
  4. Their record release show was cancelled, as well as 2 upcoming festival appearances
  5. Members of the touring band (not in the duo) have quit.
  6. The band’s album currently sits at #102 on the album chart just a day after release (note: my own projections sans-allegations would have been for them to have a Top 20 release with Pageant)

Total Implosion. Everybody around the band has distanced themselves with remarkable speed. The band hasn’t tweeted or promoted the album, instead their last use of social media seems to be the official statement in response to the allegations.

I have to admit I was really surprised to see all of this happen so quickly. I don’t know whether that should be a huge applause to the individuals in this situation or a huge red flag to what I’ve seen online in the past but there is certainly a difference in the professional response in the PWR BTTM situation as compared to a few notable instances I can think of like Front Porch Step and Kodak Black. And that’s what I’d like to talk about.

Front Porch Step is a solo acoustic project from Ohio emo artist Jake McElfresh. In 2015, he was accused by several young people of sexual harassment through mobile phones, including sending nude pictures of himself to underaged girls. There was a preponderance of evidence online to support these claims and the disgust from fans in the Warped Tour scene, where McElfresh had primarily made his name, was sweeping. We often look to artists as idols, embracing their music as a part of our identity, and here we have a clear abuse of that power where an artist took that admiration and turned it into an opportunity to engage sexually with underaged fans. As a musician with a lot of friends in the Warped scene, I remember following the news closely and feeling like there was no way that this person should be allowed to continue touring and being in situations where any of these abuses could continue. His label Pure Noise Records removed him from their website but his management (to my knowledge) continued on. It wasn’t until nearly 3 months later that McElFresh made an official statement on the allegations, telling “his side of the story”. If Facebook comments are any indication, this statement was met with a mix of disgust from now former fans and supportive messages from remaining fans defending his actions. On July 1, McElFresh played one show at Warped Tour in Nashville, TN as according to the organizer’s involved: “if he was a legitimate danger to anyone, he simply wouldn’t be here”. Fast forwarding to present day, Front Porch Step released his latest album this year and a cursory look at his social media shows positive fan comments from “those who stuck with him”. He is getting thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, and there is very little mention of the abuse.

Let’s unpack this for a second and contrast it to PWR BTTM. Front Porch Step basically disappeared from social media when his allegations emerged. His team did not crumble around him. He found support in pockets of his music community both professionally and with fans. He failed to make any sort of substantive statement for months and upon doing so, claimed to have “learned a terrible lesson” (however his statement doesn’t really equate to that of one taking true responsibility for their actions, more so to that of one who would like to do damage control and continue their career)

More closely in hip hop recently, we have seen the emergence of two bright stars in Kodak Black and Xxxtentacion, who have both been accused of assault / sexual assault coinciding with having their biggest break out records to date. DJ Booth, a favorite blog of mine, speaks to the rap’s embrace of these artists despite their allegations more in depth below.

So what are we to make of this all? I think there must be a large correlation between the swift deconstruction of PWR BTTM and the self-policing nature of the LGBTQ community. By that I mean (from my outsider’s view), the community is very tight knit, organized and has done an impressive job of holding it’s members accountable for its actions. Especially those of influence (see: Milo Y)

Is this something unique to the LGBTQ community? Why is PWR BTTM done and Front Porch Step busy promoting his latest release? There is a very clear disconnect and it’s troublesome. Painting an even broader stroke outside of music, there are plenty of examples of those in Film and TV who continue to be rewarded despite having similar and serious allegations levied upon them. Although I probably should spend 2000 more words on it if I’m going to name drop him into this article, Casey Affleck enjoyed one of his most critically successful years at the same time as he publicly faced allegations of workplace harassment. He continues to be repped by a major talent agency.

I don’t mean to make any false equivalencies here. Every situation is unique to itself and lumping them all together is a disservice to the individual victims in these matters. However, I can’t ignore some of the commonalities: high profile, in the public artists, who are then treated differently by their communities following allegations of abuse. It makes me wonder if the values inherent inside these communities are different or if there’s something else at play. Throughout history, there are many times where fans and the general public by large has been able to separate an artist personally from the art they create. We have enjoyed the music and supported the commerce of many people whose actions by today’s standard would be reprehensible. In examining PWR BTTM and the whirlwind 48 hours that have transpired since the release of their album, it seems apparent that the LGBTQ community has exhibited a strong display of morals and values that many of us outside that community should look to as brave and responsible: holding one of their brightest star’s fully accountable for their actions, sending a clear message of what is right and wrong. Young kids need to know that there are consequences to one’s actions and that often comes from the top down. If we tolerate the illegal actions of our peers, what message does that send to the next generation?

Note: This is my first time using Medium. Would love to continue writing here and looking forward to interacting with those of you who took the time to read this. Thank you for taking the time and I’m eager to learn if there’s anything about these stories that I’m missing or anything that can be contributed to the overall discourse, albeit a heavy one for my first writing here.

* made a slight edit here. previously i had mentioned not feeling comfortable to use the term ‘queer punk’ as a straight white male. after a discussion with an individual online they educated me that since this is the band’s self identifying term that is okay to use, and it is more divisive of me to create a distinction about my unfamiliarity on usage. thank you :)