Last Friday was supposed to be a big day for Paige Jordan. One of her favorite bands, PWR BTTM, was releasing its second album, the critically acclaimed Pageant, and was celebrating with a concert at Rough Trade Records in Williamsburg. And Paige had tickets. She was stoked. Then she checked her phone.
“I know you love them,” read a message from a friend, “but you need to know about them.” The text contained links to a vague statement released by the band on Thursday. Then Jordan found Facebook posts from fans and other punk bands condemning allegations, which had just become public, that accused PWR BTTM musician Ben Hopkins of sexual assault and other predatory behavior. By the time Jezebel published an interview with one of the alleged victims, in which she claimed Hopkins sexually assaulted her without protection and then sent her unsolicited nude photos, it was all too much bear.
“For someone you loved so much and admire so much…” Jordan started, before pausing to wipe her eyes. We were meeting at a Crown Heights bar on Sunday night, and the 24-year-old queer drummer was still trying to come to grips with the allegations. “I love their music the way you love music in junior high,” she said. “When it means the world to you and it’s just changed you on a basic level. To know that they weren’t who they pretended to be, and for all their pretense of creating a safe space, they were actually the unsafe space — it’s so shitty.”
Jordan, like many fans, was shocked when the allegations came to light. What many assumed would be a celebratory week for the queer music duo (the other half of PWR BTTM is Liv Bruce) instead became a whirlwind weekend during which the band was dropped by its management and label and saw its touring musicians and opening acts pull out of its upcoming tour, its festival appearances canceled, and refunds offered on preorders of its album.
PWR BTTM fans, many of whom are queer, have rallied around Hopkins’s alleged victims because — as the ones I spoke to made clear — they would want the same support from the community if the roles were reversed. PWR BTTM’s ethos was about creating a space for their fans where queerness and otherness were safe and could thrive, so the allegations against Hopkins felt like a betrayal. As such, the backlash built much more quickly than did the responses to similarly problematic behavior from the likes of R. Kelly or, more recently, Johnny Depp. It’s a testament to the queer and punk music fans who say there’s zero tolerance for abuse in the community that the fallout has been so swift and so comprehensive.
Molly Woodstock, a queer and genderqueer 25-year-old in Portland, Oregon, has seen PWR BTTM in concert three times, the first time last June. They’d even purchased tickets for PWR BTTM’s sold-out show at Webster Hall in June. (“I spent, like, $800,” says Woodstock.) As the allegations mounted — along with the questions of who knew what and when — Woodstock wondered if maybe it “was a bad dream. But unfortunately, it was super real.”
“I think it’s incredible and inspiring how quickly the LGBTQ, punk, DIY community has moved to hold them accountable and show a zero-tolerance policy for abusers,” said Woodstock. “But I worry that this same strong response will not be shown the next time a cishet artist is outed as an abuser.”
Woodstock is especially pained because of the positive impact the band made on their life. “It’s so funny because I don’t think I would be brave enough to tell you I’m genderqueer and use ‘they’ pronouns if I never listened to PWR BTTM,” Woodstock told me. They still feel betrayed.
A number of fans I spoke with felt that same betrayal. One queer fan said he felt disgusted after reading about the allegations, in a closed Facebook group for music in New York. (He requested to remain anonymous because he’s not yet out to the wider world.) “It doesn’t help that I bought a ticket two months ago to see them play at Webster Hall. Once shit started circulating I just felt incredibly gross, both for having been a fan and for giving them my money,” he said. He’s hoping he’ll get a refund for his concert ticket.
He also brought up a photo of Hopkins posing on the beach next to a swastika drawn in the sand, an image PWR BTTM claim is from 2011 that leaked last December before re-emerging last week along with the assault allegations. “I’d heard about the swastika thing and chalked it up to them just not understanding the pain that Nazi imagery evokes, and figured that they had learned better after five or six years.” But the new allegations against Hopkins “felt completely irredeemable,” he said. “And it wasn’t just an issue of not knowing better, but an issue of abusing leverage.”
Noah Sacks, a now-former fan from Phoenix, originally discovered PWR BTTM after being “tickled by the troll of the band name.” Like many other gay fans, Sacks was hit hard by last week’s allegations. “I felt so supremely disappointed,” he said. Sacks won’t be supporting any further ventures by Hopkins, or by Bruce.
“I was pissed but ready to listen to PWR BTTM’s side. I went on their Facebook and saw their post, inviting those who suffered from abuse to come forward. I thought that was beyond weird,” said Sacks. “I don’t want to talk to friends I’ve had fallings-out with — [I] can’t imagine how a rape victim feels speaking with their abuser.” (The band has been criticized for this approach, perhaps most eloquently by music journalist Jes Skolnik.)
Asking the survivors to contact the band also bothered Jordan, the drummer I met up with on Sunday. She’s a rape survivor, so the assault allegations cut her on an even deeper level. “I know your safe space can’t be an actual band, and your safe space can’t be people,” she said, “but everything they were supposed to stand for was safety, of their fans, of having a queer family.”
Jordan, who has multiple tattoos, was planning on getting a PWR BTTM piece on Friday. That plan is off. “I’m glad that’s not on my skin,” she said. “Their actions don’t invalidate the good things that have happened in my life because of their music,” she noted, but she’s unable to support them moving forward.
“I think it’s important to remember that queer punk didn’t start with PWR BTTM, and it doesn’t end with PWR BTTM,” said Jordan. “There’s a lot of other bands whose music I really enjoy who are doing valid, important things that their actions aren’t canceling out, people who are sincerely creating queer community that’s safe.”
In the coming weeks, Jordan says she’ll be mourning the importance of PWR BTTM in her life but will be steadfast in not supporting them in the future.
“You can’t just shut off all the ways you felt about them, and all the ways you cared about them when they meant so much to you as a fan,” Jordan said. “I’ve never believed in separating the art from the artist when they’re an abuser. You can’t contribute to their livelihood, even if what they’re doing looks cool.”
As someone who came out last December, Jordan is grateful to see the queer community and (former) PWR BTTM fans rally around this issue. “It says a lot about our community. What we value is the safety of our friends and our queer family. Maybe this was something that PWR BTTM were capitalizing on, this sense of queer family, but it is a thing that’s real, which is what the fan reaction to this has shown.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 15, 2017