Losing Meaning to Rockstar: Male Musicians

Warning: This article talks about themes and brief examples of sexual assault.

There are few bands that have stuck with me through all of the seasons of my life. One of these acts, until recently, was indie-rock trailblazers Arcade Fire. 

Discovering their debut “Funeral” at 14 was the kickstart to my coming of age arc; before that album, I don’t think I was truly moved by an entire piece of musical work so strongly in my life. I read every online review, watched every interview, researched every side project and even saw them live in 2017 at Madison Square Garden, which was, at the time, the best night of my 16-year-old life. I completely and undoubtedly idolized them and saw all of the members as these heroes, parental figures, even that were there for me through their songs after all of my rough days in high school and early college. Unfortunately, that blind trust was broken into tiny, sharp shards around a month ago.

In September of 2022, Pitchfork interviewed a series of female and non-binary Arcade Fire fans that came forward with claims of sexual misconduct regarding their lead singer, Win Butler. All of the testimonies had a sickeningly similar setup — Butler, in his late 30s at the time, would meet with these younger people, between the ages of 18-23, after a show, exchange emails or socials with them and proceed to flirt with and pursue them romantically, all while being married to the band’s singer and multi-instrumentalist, Régine Chassange. 

Chassange, as well as Butler himself, have since spoken out to defend these actions, claiming that he was between “a period of drinking and depression,” and maintained that all of the relationships were “consensual.” Chassange wrote in a statement that “He has lost his way, and he has found his way back.” The victims’ recounts deflect these claims, citing examples of dates where Butler would take them back to their homes and make moves that they weren’t comfortable with, or send them explicit messages without warning. 

Reading about the entire ordeal made me dizzyingly nauseous and upset, but the most heartbreaking factor was that all of these victims were die-hard fans, starstruck by Butler approaching them in his celebrity. He was well aware that these were all young and impressionable fans, and, in these situations, he was at the top end of the power dynamic. I couldn’t help but think about the elephant in the room: one of the many reasons why my heart ached so horribly for the victims is that this could have been me. I was a female-identifying Arcade Fire fan in that age range, and if Butler would have approached me after a show, promising an interview or a connection, of course I would have seen him up on the offer. He was aware of the love and trust his fans had for him, and grossly took advantage of it. 

As I had to let artists go throughout the years because I found out they did horrible things like this, I told myself that Arcade Fire was a “safe” band, “one of the good ones.” I laugh at the invalidity of that phrase now. They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but should we even have anyone that we label as a “hero” anymore? As a femme-presenting fan, there’s now a constant reminder dangling above me that they could hurt and abuse me if given the chance. 

How am I supposed to separate art from the artist if the artist couldn’t separate kindness from cruelty when it came to interacting with their biggest supporters? Especially when those victims are just like me, it seems to go against all I stand for as a woman to listen and support the words of Butler now that I know what he’s done. 

Believe me: when I was younger, I tried to be a person who didn’t care. I’ve almost listened to men on the internet that call claims like these “stupid” and maintain that “cancelling” artists is pointless. But now, I’ve seen all of the Facebook comments that have called these victims “groupies” who were jealous of Butler’s fame and started a ruse to knock him down at his best, and I know the truth.

The truth is that they will never realize. 

As I’ve mentioned in my last column, musical creepiness happens in local scenes too, and there were a few people I’ve had run-ins with during my time as a student music journalist that I could not look at again without feeling weird. It’s an unshakeable sense of violation, and I felt it second-handedly when “Wake Up” came on shuffle after I heard the news. 

This anger flowed into the month of October, when it was revealed that the reason indie-pop sensation Rex Orange County — real name Alexander James O’Connor — canceled his tour was a court trial, where he was facing six counts of sexual assault. Shaken fans took to social media to share their disgust, some even saying how the man whose music helped them overcome trauma from assault was, in reality, a perpetrator of the same crime. 

I wasn’t a big fan, but I did take note of the singer’s “golden retriever boy” appearance and pure, innocent love songs. As the cards were revealed, it becomes obvious now that this was most likely a tactic to gain trust with the public. It worked, because the amount of people that are on Twitter right now telling upset fans to “wait for” the possibility that he might be innocent, out of pure disbelief that this sweet boy could possibly be guilty of anything, is a perfect example of how he is still winning the identity game he played. 

You might feel differently about this issue than me. You might shrug, label me as overdramatic and then continue to queue up “Loving Is Easy” on Spotify or listen to “Reflektor,” because none of this has affected you. You may not even believe that any of it is true. But in my reality, I am tired. I am tired of enjoying a band’s song and then learning that they have hurt people like me. I am tired of interviewing a band and then hearing about a time they were creepy to a friend. I am tired of naively diving into the fandom around an artist, making the mistake of idolizing someone I don’t know, and then immediately regretting it when their brave victims speak out. If I am tired by these things, I can only just begin to imagine how people who have seriously been affected by horrible musicians feel.

I feel hopeless, like I don’t have a solution, as writers usually do at the end of columns. I know that there’s power in speaking out on a platform, as shown through the domino effect of stories that can spawn from victims sharing their experiences. But the one question I find myself asking is: when will male musicians realize that their fame, notoriety and the trust that female fans instill in them is not an excuse to treat them horribly? It happens both in Pitchfork headlines and at the local bar and I am done with watching creepy behavior slip under the table as this weird, unspoken tradition that is seen as gossip, and not a serious, fundamental misogynistic societal failure. 

All fans deserve to see their favorite artists as their safe space, and rest assured knowing that they are putting their fandom and trust into someone that will give them the same respect back. This might be something that you don’t value, but as a woman who has seen the local scale of it in real life, I will not stop talking about it until I never have to say goodbye to another life-changing band ever again.

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About Alli Dempsey 42 Articles
Allison (Alli) Dempsey (she/her) is a fourth-year journalism major and communications minor from Staten Island, NY. This is her fourth semester on the Oracle, and third as Arts Editor. She is also a member of the WFNP Radio E-board staff, president of the New Paltz Music Collective and manages her own music blog, Twilight Collective. You can reach her by emailing dempseya1@newpaltz.edu.