Why I Broke Up With My Favourite Band
After a raft of accusations and admissions of sexual misconduct across the music industry, one writer reevaluates her relationship with her former favourite band, Brand New
Can you separate the song from the singer? Do you overlook the questionable behaviour of your problematic fave? I think I’ve been doing this, subconsciously, for a long time. Not anymore.
In the last month there’s been a landslide of sexual assault accusations and unsatisfactory apologies. This new, post-Weinstein era has revealed that gross abuses of power are widespread and seemingly unstoppable. You’d think that watching powerful, horrendous abusers finally tumbling from grace might feel… good? At least like progress? But with every high-profile betrayal there’s a legion of fans left behind, and I’ve developed a weird fixation with reading the comments beneath a public statement. Do these people hold this famous person to the same scrutiny that I think they should? How quickly do they forgive? It’s easy to criticise this reluctance to let go of something precious, and I know I’ve condemned those fans loudly and often.
Then it was my turn. My favourite musician was accused of persistent sexual abuse, and embarrassingly I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. This band was the band I turned to when I needed reassurance or inspiration, or to reconnect with the obsessive need for music that I felt so strongly as a teenager. Surgically removing those memories felt impossible. Then the anger came, gently at first, then in surging waves of fury.
I was 14 when I went to my first ‘proper’ rock show. My best friends bought me the ticket for my birthday, and we got the train straight after school to queue up outside the Brighton Centre, desperate to be the first inside, to stand right at the front. I was totally and utterly transfixed by the glamour of it all – soundchecks, merch tables, setlists stuck by mic stands. It seemed unbelievable, genuinely unbelievable, that these bands – the ones on my t-shirt, and on the posters in my bedroom – had travelled all the way here, to play for me. It’s hard to explain how surreal it first felt to be in a room of strangers who also knew every single word, every single hook, to my most important songs, but I’m sure you’ve felt that too. I lived in a sleepy, isolated village and I had longed for this: a whole scene, a musical family, standing alongside me.
At the barrier, in a break between bands, a huge, bearded man looked down at me and said, kindly, “You’re a bit small to be here.” He probably was concerned for my safety, given the surging pits and persistent crowd surfers, but I took it as an insult and a provocation. I was small but I felt capable. I’d done my homework. I knew these bands. That night was the first of many, many shows I’d spend daring men to tell me I didn’t belong.
I grew to kind of expect these challenges: a targeted, pointed elbow trying to dissuade me from joining a circle pit, perhaps. Maybe a passive-aggressive demand to know just how many rare B-sides you can name. Worse – an anonymous hand sneaking where it shouldn’t, using the movement of the crowd to excuse sliding under your top, or into your jeans.
But I didn’t want to stay at home. And I never correlated it with the artists themselves. The music I loved most in my teen years has since been dubbed 'third wave emo' – a specifically 90s-to-noughties brand of popular, melancholy rock that includes bands like The Get Up Kids or Taking Back Sunday. It’s a genre that hasn’t aged particularly well: you might hate these bands, and I’ll grant you that they also had a very slim following in rural Sussex. However, I don’t think I noticed that this scene was predominantly male – I think I thought it was normal. Knowing what I do now, that there’s a diverse world of powerful, eloquent, talented musicians with differing gender identities and backgrounds, I wonder what it taught me to stand in rooms of mostly men, watching mostly all-male bands play songs that focused mostly on very male experiences.
Just like reading an old diary, revisiting the lyrics of a once precious song can provide a few painful squirms. Noughties emo was all about break-ups, but with such a one-sided perspective it’s little surprise that women got a pretty rough deal. Jessica Hopper, in a 2003 essay called Where the Girls Aren’t, that I consider to be canonical reading, wrote: “We’re vessels redeemed in the light of boy-love. On a pedestal, on our backs. Muses at best. Cum rags or invisible at worst.”
In hindsight, I feel particularly bad about these lyrics: "If you let me have my way I swear I’ll tear you apart / ‘Cause it’s all you can be / You’re drunk and you’re scared / It’s ladies night, all the girls drink for free.”
That’s my favourite band. Or, my ex-favourite band. I used to think this song – Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis, by Brand New – was a smart but painful deconstruction of malicious male power. Then my worst fears were granted, and frontman Jesse Lacy was accused of soliciting explicit photos from underage girls, instances of physical assault, and of using his status, age and power to manipulate and groom young women for years at a time. In Pitchfork's report, updated one week later, it came to light that two of these girls (aged 15 and 16 at the time) were music photographers, attending his shows in a professional capacity. Emily Driskill told the reporter: "He was the first person to ever tell me that I was hot. In hindsight as an adult woman, I know I was preyed on."
Part of my grief stems from realising that, actually, I’m not shocked at all. I know this all by heart. Those lyrics aren't deep-rooted poetics, but practically an admission of gendered power imbalance – and I've sung them back to him, loudly.
A young girl’s enthusiasm for music is routinely undervalued. Fangirling is an openly derogatory term. Apple Music boss Jimmy Iovine suggested, just two years ago, that women need help finding music for “when they’re heartbroken, or whatever”. Instead, my heart breaks for these women who had their enthusiasm and professionalism preyed upon and undermined by a man who knew exactly what he was doing. I am sad, too, for all the young fans that recognise how easily it could have been them instead. The fans who realise how deeply they invested in a scene that clearly never wanted them, or cared enough to protect them.
As an adult I’ve had bouncers suggest that I’m a “groupie” while I’ve waited backstage to interview a band, and I’ve had musicians invite themselves back to my house, only to be forcibly intercepted by a clearly long-suffering tour manager. These incidents do little other than remind me that my expertise is often erased by my gender. I’ve had it easy: I grew up as a straight cis-woman in a white middle-class family and could afford access to the material trappings of fan communities. I have rarely felt intimidated or in genuine danger, rather frustrated and insulted.
I’ll never again have a favourite band – the kind that takes root at a formative age, and feels like a secret layer of insulation. This is a small price to pay. There are still many other bands I love, but now it’s a cautious kind of love and I know it always will be.