"We're not here to make friends, we're here to win,"
reads the about section of the official Facebook page for queer punk duo PWR BTTM
, composed of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce. It's probably for the best that they aren't in the business of making friends, because in light of recent events they don't have many left. Over the span of less than three weeks, the world was able to witness the take off and crash landing of PWR BTTM's career.
For a while it seemed as though PWR BTTM could become the next big thing in the rock community. Their 2015 album Ugly Cherries
did fairly well, and fans were highly anticipating the release of their follow-up album Pageant,
which was set to be released on May 12th of this year. During the lead up to the release their following steadily grew, and being that they identify as queer individuals, the two artists were granted an enormous platform that could be used to speak on issues within the queer community -which only helped spark people's interest in them even more. All was going well until approximately one week ago when allegations of sexual assault began to emerge against guitarist Ben Hopkins.
One Facebook user, who goes by the name of Kitty Cordero-Kolin, was brave enough to speak out about having witnessed Hopkins make numerous sexual advances towards non-consenting individuals, some being minors, as well as hearing of allegations of him harassing other queer artists. Now, I know what you're thinking: How could one allegation, that hasn't even been confirmed to be true, tank the duo's entire career? And, the truth is, it didn't. It wasn't this one allegation that was detrimental to their branding - it was this allegation along with the numerous claims that followed. Cordero-Kolin's brave words inspired both victims and witnesses to bring their own experiences with Hopkins to light, thus corroborating her initial claim. And, as if the sexual abuse reports were not bad enough, in the midst of all that was happening, a 2011 image of Hopkins posing with a swastika made its way back into the public view. The duo believed they had swept this under the rug after they addressed it through Twitter late last year - but you can't pull one skeleton out of the closet without expecting the rest to fall.
On the day of the record release, the scandal reached a point of no return. News emerged that tour mates Nicholas Cummins and Cameron West would no longer be associated with PWR BTTM, and Salty Artist Management, the duo's management agency, followed suit. All remaining organizations connected to the group began to drop like flies. They were pulled from the line up of two festivals they were set to play in the US in upcoming weeks and also suffered through the cancellation of their own record release party at Brooklyn music hotspot Rough Trade. Less than 24 hours after the official release of the record, PWR BTTM was dropped by their label Polyvinyl Records, and subsequently their music was pulled from the site. In a statement regarding the recent happenings, a Polyvinyl representative states, "There is absolutely no place in the world for hate, violence, abuse, discrimination or predatory behavior of any kind." The label is also orchestrating full refunds for all purchases of PWR BTTM merchandise as well as making donations to RAINN and AVP, two organizations focused on eliminating violence and sexual assault. As of now, the duo's music has been stripped from iTunes and nearly all music streaming platforms, except for Spotify who is expected to do so very soon.
At this point, Bruce and Hopkins have lost essentially all of their support structures -causing them to have to cancel their 39 date tour indefinitely, which was nearly half of the way to being sold out. This decision had to have been an obvious one to make, as they no longer had opening acts to kick off their shows nor fans to be there to watch them. All they really have left are each other - and even that is a slippery slope. All signs of wrongdoing associated with PWR BTTM point back to Ben Hopkins, and none to Liv Bruce; however, are we really to believe that Bruce knew nothing of Hopkins' actions? In their personal statement released on Facebook
last Thursday, the team states that, "the allegations come as a surprise," but how could that be when even their opening acts knew of Ben's behavior? In a Twitter statement
, the group's former opening act T-Rextasy informed their audience that upon agreeing to join the Pageant
tour, they were confronted privately and informed of Hopkins' past behaviors, but agreed to keep quiet about it in order to preserve their professional integrity. So, if opening acts had to be kept up to date with information like this, there is no possible way Liv was unaware of what was happening. Rather than deciding to part ways with Ben in order to at least have a chance at making it on their own, Liv remained loyal to Ben - which in turn damaged them beyond repair.
The duo has definitely found themselves between a rock and a hard place, the rock being the sexual assault allegations and the hard place being them lying about their knowledge of said assault. It's hard to feel any sympathy towards the two individuals, because at the end of the day they brought this upon themselves. The group could have saved themselves all of this hardship had they spoken on the matter months, or even years ago, rather than sitting on this information and hoping no one would ask them to get up. This would have certainly still damaged their image, but it would have done so before their following increased so drastically. It makes it even harder to stand by them when they offer to address the claims with "openness and accountability," without being open, nor accountable for their actions. They go on to say that, "the alleged behavior is not representative of who Ben is and the manner in which they try to conduct themselves." But, how could their behavior not be representative of them, if the way you develop a representation of someone is through observing their actions? Actions have always spoken louder than words, and in Ben's instance, there were no words spoken to begin with - and that's the worst part. He stayed silent and did nothing.
As Ben continues to be silent, the public's perception of them continues to become increasingly negative. According to the personal statement Ben will not have access to any of the correspondence received through the victim-hotline email account that has been set up in order to give a voice to those affected. It isn't clear how anyone expects Ben to be able to take responsibility for the actions he claims to have had no knowledge of when they aren't even allowed to hear from those they have damaged. PWR BTTM seems more concerned with protecting Ben from "malicious party attempts" than with creating a genuine apology to those who were directly affected by their behavior. Their statement did nothing more than create a portal for them to attempt to cover their tracks legally, and is more insincere than anything else. I doubt that anyone who read the post received any form of closure, and even a member of the band Adult Mom questioned the group directly, inquiring, "Why are people harmed supposed to go out of their way to contact you?"
It's interesting to think of what will unfold next from this scandal, as so much has happened in such a short amount of time. As for PWR BTTM's attempt at coming back from this, if they make one at all, it will be an extremely difficult process. This was once the band that queers could confide in - now it's the band that gave them trust issues. They would have to regain the trust of thousands of fans who barely had time to develop feelings of loyalty towards them in the first place. This isn't to say that it isn't possible for them to redeem themselves - cough cough Chris Brown's mindbogglingly successful career - but PWR BTTM are wrong to think that the public will allow their mistakes to fade into darkness without dragging them through the mud a few more times first. Any attempts to remedy the situation would take quite a while, and in the end might not be successful - so is it even worth a shot? It might be, if their end goal is still to win, but from the looks of it they've already lost.