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A Magazine for Sheffield

Pop Punk & #MeToo

Why the conversation about the genre’s ties to abuse is long overdue.

SWMRS Press Shot


Nerdforhire (Wikimedia Commons)

Content warning: Sexual assault

Last week, the independent label Burger Records closed its doors. The biggest band on its roster, SWMRS, were linked to sexual misconduct after their drummer, Joey Armstrong, was denounced for sexually coercing Lydia Night.

Night, frontwoman of The Regrettes, was 16 at the time and Armstrong was 22. Although the pair were in a relationship, there was a clear power imbalance. The allegation made Night the spokeswoman for pop punk’s overdue #MeToo movement.

The scene has had a problem for a long time, with abuse commonly coming in the form of misogynistic microaggressions, such as All Time Low’s Jack Barakat commenting on underage fans’ bodies. Yet rape allegations have also become more pervasive recently. This year, Austin Carlile, the former Of Mice And Men frontman, was accused of raping multiple women.

The association between pop punk and sexual assault dates back at least to the 1990s, but dialogue about misconduct within the scene has only now been opened. Frustratingly, there are many reasons for this delay, many of them not unique to the genre.

Musicians hold influence over young fans, both inside and outside of pop punk. Fans have gone to great lengths for their idols’ validation. For instance, fans of the South Korean boyband BTS have become notorious for promoting the band on Twitter.

The desperation of fans to prove their loyalty can easily turn into sexual assault. In 2017, Jesse Lacey, the frontman of Brand New, was accused of manipulating a 15 year-old girl into sending him nudes.

But this power imbalance is upheld by more than just a desire for approval.

Musicians have PR teams, lawyers and thousands of doting fans available at their beck and call, and these groups have fiercely defended musicians against allegations. Only last month, 5 Seconds of Summer’s Michael Clifford was accused of groping underage girls. Although the allegations have since been labelled as potentially fictitious, the readiness of his fans to debunk the victim’s story before actually listening to it is symptomatic of the patriarchy. Many fans implied she only voiced her trauma to destroy Clifford’s career, before offering her any kind of support. Even if the victim’s experience is false, this is still the case for so many other allegations within the music scene.

Victims have no such guarantee that people will support them. In the Clifford case, the few people who stood with the victim found their message consumed by the ruling presence of his fans. The support for a musician versus the solidarity with the alleged victim maintains this imbalance.

The exploitation of women in pop punk goes beyond fans. Female artists attempting to break the alternative world have been pressured into sex by male record executives.

In July, an Instagram account chronicled statements from women accusing staff and musicians at Burger Records of sexual assault. Outside the genre, Lily Allen discussed how an EMI staff member coerced her into sex while she was seeking a record deal in her memoir. “He had all the power and I had none. I was young and he wasn’t. I was looking for help and he acted as if he was doing me a favour.”

El Rey Theatre Lily Allen 04 25 2018 22 42092424455 cropped

Lily Allen

Justin Higuchi (Wikimedia Commons)

Men in music have actively used their power to assault women and of course cases of abuse are as old as the industry’s origins. It’s sadly not surprising that it’s taken so long for misconduct to be addressed openly.

To speak about abuse is to hold men accountable. In a patriarchal society which so often overlooks male accountability, this is uncomfortable. Male accountability threatens men’s dominance over pop punk. It leads to a loss of power, jobs and money. The fall of Burger Records symbolises this.

Unfortunately, the longevity of the conversation about pop punk and sexual assault is likely to be limited. Women are underrepresented in the music business, so support for victims from inside of the industry is sparse.

Just 17% of songwriters registered with the PRS, the UK’s leading royalty collection society, are female. Aside from the male feminists within the industry, there are few professionals highlighting the voices of female victims.

When Kesha accused her producer Dr Luke of assault, his all-male team launched legal action against her. Her only support stemmed from other female musicians with experience of abuse, and while Lady Gaga’s assistance was encouraging, it’s still ultimately male executives who have the power to hold abusers liable.

However, undertaking any punitive measures over abuse would involve holding another man accountable - and so abuse is allowed to continue. Ultimately, the industry needs to be reformed to welcome more women at every level. Only then can the voices of female victims be heard and the industry be made a safer place.

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