It’s Okay to Be Conflicted About PWR BTTM

First of all, let me apologize for being almost two months late on this topic. It’s been beaten to death, but this piece has been steeping in my mind for a while. I think it’s best I waited till the raw emotion thoroughly subsided.

With that out of the way, let’s get started

A quick recap: Allegations of sexual assault against one-half of PWR BTTM, Ben Bruce arose in a Chicago DIY Facebook group. The day after the accusations surfaced, the band posted a statement on Facebook addressing the issue (more on that later). In the following couple of days, all of the supporting acts dropped off of PWR BTTM’s upcoming tour, the band was dropped by their management and their record label—who pulled their music from pretty much everywhere and offered to refund people who had bought any of the band’s albums or merch. PWR BTTM released one more statement about the whole fiasco a week later and weren’t heard from until earlier this month, when they announced they’d be re-releasing their debut album Ugly Cherries under new management.

Wow. You could write a telenovela out of that.

I’ve been a fan of PWR BTTM for a while now, so I was mad hyped about their sophomore album Pageant and had preordered it. I had just picked up my copy of the album from my mailbox when I opened up Facebook and saw PWR BTTM’s initial statement as the first thing on my feed. I felt my heart fall to the floor as I read the statement. I proceeded to read every article I could about the issue. The band’s statement did not sit well with me. It felt wishy-washy and the way they asked victims to reach out via email seemed ill-conceived at best (crude at worst). Needless to say, I didn’t even open the album that day.

Now, I am a scientist at heart, so I don’t like making any sort of assumptions without having accurate and sufficient facts. A bunch of accusations delivered through social media just a couple of days before PWR BTTM’s album was to be released? Not sufficient for me, and, frankly, a little sketchy. I was not surprised by the amount of hate that PWR BTTM was getting on social media, because people love to jump on ‘the hate bandwagon.’ But I was truly shocked when they were so easily dropped by their management and their label. Perhaps it was because they wanted to avoid the issue altogether. Perhaps it was because they knew more than the general public (read: me) knew. The whole thing seemed extremely rash to me.

As far as the accusations of sexual assault go, there was a sizeable number of them. Other artists attested to knowing/thinking that it was happening. Hell, even PWR BTTM didn’t do a good job of making it seem that they weren’t guilty. But the lack of concrete proof still didn’t sit well with me. This—of course—is not to say that PWR BTTM should continue to receive support if they are abusers, but I’m not so quick to accuse.

I am an activist, and as a member of the LGBT+ community, I know it’s hugely important for there to be queer icons and safe-spaces—both things that PWR BTTM embodied, so I understand the importance of doing away with dangerous people. In fact, the perceived abuse of that image and their marginalized, niche audience were probably both factors in their expedited demise (but that’s another blog post). On the other hand, I am also a musician and a lover of music, so giving up on a band that I absolutely love is almost unthinkable. Even if I did give up on listening to PWR BTTM, the songs, their lyrics are going to stay in my head. Those neurons are not going to be rewired (at least not for a very long time).

I lay this opinion out for those who may be stuck in the middle of this issue, as I am. For weeks I argued with myself, trying to decide whether I should give up on PWR BTTM completely, contradicting my desire for cold-hard proof and raising my proud activist flag, or decide to separate the artist from the art for the sheer love of music. Finally, I decided to simply proceed with caution. I will not give up on the band completely, but I will not ride for them with the vigor I once had (and will never have again). I will watch them out of the corner of my eye, perhaps listen, and wait until I know more to truly make up my mind.

Once I’d settled my inner turmoil about PWR BTTM, I decided it was finally time to listen to Pageant. I put the CD on, and laid down on my bed to listen to it, trying to be as objective as I could with the whirlwind of conflicting thoughts swirling around in my head. And you know what?

It was pretty damn good.

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