A week ago, queercore duo PWR BTTM appeared on the verge of a major breakthrough, with rave reviews of their second album, Pageant, predicting that the glitter-splashed pairing of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce could be the next big thing in rock. After making a name for themselves with a ragged, urgent garage rock sound that created a safe space for LGBTQ and straight ally fans, Cosequence of Sound wrote on May 9 that Pageant "raised the bar for what it looks like to be original and significant in the contemporary world of the genre, providing anthem after anthem for bright, curious, vibrant young people with hearts 'so queer and alive and so sad from the start' as the shimmering, resonant album opener, 'Silly,' declares."
This from a band that drew widespread praise in November for standing up to anti-gay protesters in Mississippi and making sure their fans had a safe way to enter the club they were playing that night.
Then, with the swiftness of an Internet meme, disturbing accusations of sexual abuse and predatory behavior against Hopkins bubbled up just days before Pageant's release, unleashing a lightning-fast cascade of repercussions that seemingly dropped the duo from potential next-big-thing status to punk persona non grata. In a blink, Bruce and Hopkins lost band members, opening acts, their label deal, management, most (if not all) of their booked tour dates and, quite possibly, their reputation as a group that speaks up for the disenfranchised and marginalized.
At press time, the group had not commented beyond their initial statement that they were taking the allegations seriously and setting up an email address for survivors to discuss the claims.
Here's the timeline of PWR BTTM's rapid descent:
May 3: The Pageant hype machine begins to spin up with a feature on Noisey that declares "PWR BTTM is America's Next Great Rock Band." After a shopping trip to buy cosmetics with the writer, Bruce explained the importance of the band's glammy persona. "We live in an immensely visual culture... For that reason, I think the visual component of this band is part of what gets people to click on it at first. I know a lot of people have said, 'I clicked on your Tiny Desk Concert because I thought, "Oh my god, what the f--k is that? I have to see it,"'" they said. [Editor's note: The members of PWR BTTM's preferred pronouns are they/them.] "That's how I get laid, too, actually," Hopkins added.
May 4: NPR begins streaming Pageant, praising it for avoiding cliché by "grounding itself in bodies and the conflicts they create," and then dignifying those bodies "and their struggles by connecting them to something greater: personal growth, yes, but also a powerful reimagining of what it means to exist within or outside contemporary notions of gender and sexuality."
May 11: Comments on Reddit threads and Twitter raise allegations that Hopkins is a "known sexual predator, perpetrator of multiple assaults, etc." The threads appear to stem from a post on the private DIY Chicago Facebook page by a user who goes by Kitty Cordero-Kolin who claims to have seen Hopkins make sexual advances toward several people without their consent and heard accounts about Hopkins allegedly bullying other queer artists and making advances on minors. Cordero-Kolin's post encourages people to boycott the band's shows.
— kitty (@hentittiez) May 11, 2017
As the story was breaking, Spin spoke with Cordero-Kolin, and she explained that she became an impromptu clearinghouse of sorts for complaints against Hopkins after commenting “I’ll buy your album once you stop harassing queer women” on a Facebook post promoting Pageant. Cordero-Kolin says she was then inundated with messages from strangers, some or all of which she then anonymized and publicized on Twitter.
In a since-deleted tweet, a user wrote a "friendly reminder to stop letting PWR BTTM use their status as 'allies' to do whatever tf they want." Additionally, an old photo of Hopkins kneeling on a beach next to a swastika drawn in the sand also re-emerges; Hopkins had previously addressed that image, saying in a series of tweets in December that they were made when he was a "stupid kid."
The band responds a short time later with a Facebook post in which they say the allegations come as a "surprise," but promising to set up an email for any survivors who wish to discuss the issue with another survivor (email@example.com). "Unfortunately we live in a culture which trivializes and normalizes violations of consent. There are people who have violated others’ consent and do not know," they write. "These allegations are shocking to us and we take them very seriously. Further, the alleged behavior is not representative of who Ben is and the manner in which they try to conduct themselves... Music is everything to us, but we feel strongly that this matter needs to be addressed first."
A woman who claims to have been assaulted by Hopkins after a PWR BTTM show last year speaks to Jezebel about the singer's alleged actions.“I just felt totally powerless in the situation, first due to physicality because they are so much bigger than me in size and also social status,” she tells Jezebel. “I was trying to be okay with whatever was going on.”
May 12: As the allegations pick up steam, a cascade of events take place on the day of the album's release. Following news the previous evening that longtime touring member Cameron West has left the group (followed shortly after by another musician, Nicholas Cummins), PWR BTTM cancel a planned record release party at Brooklyn's Rough Trade. Opening acts Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, T-Rextasy and Tancred pull out of tour dates, as do iji and Ratboys. The band is also dropped by their management firm, Salty Artist Management. Bled Fest and Hopscotch Festival announce they've canceled the group's performances.
May 13: The band is dropped by their label, Polyvinyl Records, which stops selling and promoting Pageant less than 24 hours after its release. “Throughout our 20 years, Polyvinyl has purposefully operated on the core principle that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness and respect,” a representative from the label wrote in a statement. “There is absolutely no place in the world for hate, violence, abuse, discrimination or predatory behavior of any kind. In keeping with this philosophy, we want to let everyone know that we are ceasing to sell and distribute PWR BTTM’s music."
Full refunds are being offered, and the label also announces it will make donations to RAINN and AVP.
May 14: The New York Times runs a story entitled "A Punk Band in the Glare," whose print edition features no reference to the allegations. The online version is later amended to include the information about the fallout from the scandal. "Along the way, they have accrued a passionate fan base, who tattoo their tweets on their bodies and slavishly recreate their stage makeup," the paper wrote of the fervid reaction from the group's hardcore followers. "And Mx. Bruce and Mx. Hopkins do find themselves on the receiving end of messages and photos from fans to whom they represent a lifeline, who travel hours to see them perform, in areas far less gay-friendly than Brooklyn. The responsibility of being counselor and confessor is a high-pressure one, and one that the two hesitate to fully embody."
May 15: Though at press time they had not confirmed the news, reports surface that PWR BTTM's North American tour has been scrapped. St. Louis venue Off Broadway posts a Facebook note that reads: "This just in: PWR BTTM is cancelling all upcoming shows until further notice. The band will be making a formal statement early next week." The band's website listed 39 dates through a Sept. 7 gig at the Hopscotch Music Festival at press time,15 of which were listed as sold out.
The websites and social media feeds of at least 15 of the dates report that the gigs have either been canceled or removed from the clubs' calendars. At press time the group had not commented further on the allegations or their plans for the tour.