Eight days ago, the indie world was theirs. The hype machine was running hard leading up to the launch of buzzy queer punk duo Pwr Bttm’s sophomore album, Pageant. Early reviews were glowing.
In a four-star writeup last week, Rolling Stone hailed the promising band’s song “Big Beautiful Day” as “an anthem for oppressed queer kids that bursts with rage and empathy.”
In recent years, mainstream audiences (and awards committees) have increasingly embraced art tackling LGBT experiences as Transparent and Moonlight did. It seemed the time was right for Pwr Bttm, named for a slang term with sexual empowerment connotations, and its message to reach greater exposure, even if its scruffy sound likely would have kept them off a Grammy stage.
But all the love from tastemakers and industry players came to a screeching halt last week when sexual assault allegations surfaced against singer Ben Hopkins. Posting in a private Facebook group, the accuser claims to have seen Hopkins “initiate inappropriate sexual contact with people despite several ‘nos’ and without warning or consent.” The claims quickly spread on other social media channels and the band issued a statement saying they “come as a surprise,” but didn’t flat-out deny them.
In a Jezebel interview published Friday (the day Pageant was released) an unnamed woman said Hopkins sexually assaulted her after one of the band’s shows and a second time about a month later.
The fallout was swift and fierce. The once-anticipated album was abruptly yanked from iTunes and streaming services. The band’s management company dropped them and its label quit selling Pageant the day after its release. Tour dates were canceled, including a July 19 stop at Neumos.
This isn’t the first PR nightmare for Hopkins and the former band-on-the-rise. In December, a photo going around social media showed Hopkins posing on a beach next to a swastika drawn in the sand. Hopkins, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, apologized profusely, claiming the 2011 photo was from “a time in my life where I thought being ‘politically incorrect’ was really funny and had literally no concept of my actions.”
It’s unclear if charges stemming from the sexual assault claims could be filed against Hopkins, but at the very least, Pwr Bttm’s indie-rock ascent has crashed during takeoff.
Neumos plans to issue refunds to those who purchased tickets to the July show.