Release Date: May 12, 2017
Record label: Polyvinyl
Eds note: This review was assigned and published prior to the revelation of sexual abuse allegations made against band member Ben Hopkins. Since then, Polyvinyl Records has dropped the band, stopped selling Pageant, offered fans refunds and pulled the record from streaming services. Read our article about the fallout, "What We Can (And Can't) Learn from PWR BTTM's Downfall," here.
Glam was as much a sartorial movement as a musical one - with glitter, platforms and androgynous fashion forming an exciting and, to some, frightening new visual language. Dressed in blouses and smeared, sparkly makeup, PWR BTTM certainly seem to hark back to the era with their aesthetic, as well as their brand of intermittently explosive rock. But the New York duo deviate from the glam template in tone - instead of arch, attention-grabbing camp, their flamboyance is simply a symptom of their earnest self-expression.
A glammy punk duo from upstate New York, Pwr Bttm mix Bowie-esque gender/genre subversion with wild-hearted vulnerability: "When you are queer you are always 19," Ben Hopkins sings against operatic backing vocals and slamming guitars on "LOL." He rips Eddie Van Halen peals on the haplessly romantic "Silly," while drummer Liv Bruce wrings shout-along comedy out of modern-dating insecurity on "Answer My Text." The corker is "Big Beautiful Day," an anthem for oppressed queer kids that bursts with rage and empathy. .
Rock 'n' Roll music is often thought of a place where rebels and outsiders can find their home, but after nearly a 60-year history, the form, and nearly all its offshoots have been commodified to a degree where affectation and implication become much more important than authenticity. It's also a place that's largely been a vehicle for cis gender heterosexual white men. With this in mind, it's easy to reduce a band like PWR BTTM, whose members Ben Hopkins and Liv Hopkins both identify as queer, as being little more than that—their identity is directly proportional to their significance.
Nobody does fun quite like PWR BTTM. The New York duo of Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins throw glitter and wild shapes on stage, and not one of their spirited live shows is like the other. Second album 'Pageant' follows 2015 debut and cult favourite 'Ugly Cherries'. Both records give brutally honest, direct accounts of identifying as queer in a hostile environment, whether it's being the subject of insults from across the street or seeing individuality as strength.
Any PWR BTTM fans hoping for more of the same fun, upbeat pop-punk anthems as heard on their debut Ugly Cherries will be surprised by what they hear on Pageant, but fortunately it's a good surprise. In a recent interview with The Skinny, PWR BTTM's Liv Bruce told us, "(Pageant) reflects the difference in who Ben (Hopkins) and I are since we made (Ugly Cherries)." That difference is that they're a whole lot more grown up and they've got the music to prove it. All the album's tracks remain under three minutes in true PWR BTTM style, sticking to their punk-rock roots, but there's more of a sense of self-reflection on Pageant.
Pop punk's not dead. But it's not not-dead in quite the way that nostalgic attendees of New Found Glory's Pop Punk's Not Dead Tour and lifetime Blink-182 devotees may think it's not dead. Pop punk isn't dead because, thanks to bands like PWR BTTM, it's evolving. And thank fucking god. Because ….
PWR BTTM made quite an impression when they burst onto the scene with 2015's Ugly Cherries. Their penchant for punchy pop-punk and sartorial sparkle saw them heralded as a beacon for a new wave of queercore. 2017's Pageant might well see them escape the limitations of being aligned with a niche area of music, but they will certainly take its spirit with them.