Since the death of David Bowie in 2016, there’s been a need for glam rock. PWR BTTM returns to fill this void with the release of its second album, which has been mired with scandal.
Members of PWR BTTM have been accused of sexual assault, as reports circulated online that lead singer Ben Hopkins had non-consensual sex with a number of individuals. These reports came to light after Jezebel did an interview with one of the victims the day before the album’s release. PWR BTTM has subsequently been dropped by its management and label and have cancelled its tour. Pageant is disarmingly honest and has an exuberant energy that arrests the ears. However, the album also serves as an interesting study of a group that falls into some of the very traps it’s criticizing.
The first track of the album, “Silly,” seems to verbalize this exuberant energy with the first words: “I can not sit still.” The pummeling instrumentation of the song is juxtaposed with the insecurities of the vocalist expressed through the lyrics, such as when they wonder if it “was silly to love you.” The song becomes even more tragic as the freedom of the sound becomes the same freedom that eludes them.
“Answer My Text” is a hilarious take on modern dating and the behavioral patterns young adults find themselves repeating. “LOL” is anything but hilarious, as the vocalist admits, “I don’t know what to say so I laugh out loud.” “Now Now” showcases the playful nature of the album with an anthemic play on words (“I’m gonna beat myself up for beating myself up”) that preaches confidence in one’s self as the vocals ride a wave of guitars that sound perfect for the summer.
The album is at its sharpest when its songs get more political and personal. “Sissy” is a smart and stinging example, as the track challenges both the toxic way masculinity is forced upon men who act feminine and gender roles in society. The song begins quietly with simple guitar and bass until the instrumentation becomes forceful, as Bruce proclaims they’re “gonna make you listen” when they sing, calling themselves sissies. The group is reclaiming the word, making “sissy” a badge of pride rather than something disparaging. The composition of the song goes back and forth from pounding guitars to the more restrained sound in the beginning, which displays the shifting power dynamic.
In “New Trick,” PWR BTTM makes a reference to the use of pronouns with the lines, “I’m not exactly a boy in a dress / But thank you, I know what you mean.” The instruments keep building up until Bruce begins vocalizing almost as if they’re wailing. “Kids’ Table” goes further in-depth into the kinds of expectations we place on individuals at an early age. The album’s closer, “Styrofoam,” is also its most personal song, as Bruce finds the band struggling with its gender dysphoria and eventual acceptance with who the band members are. The band makes a point of stripping the song of the band’s trademark punk sound.
The album isn’t perfect, as the group can’t help but repeat themselves every so often. The repetition found on the song “Wash” is probably meant to be purposeful, but after multiple listens I can’t help but wonder why the group bothered to include it all. The song “Won’t” also suffers from the same problem. “Big Beautiful Day” essentially touches upon the same material as “Sissy,” but is shallower in its critique and relentless energy. It’s an enjoyable listen but doesn’t have “Sissy’s” disjointed song structure, making it feel forgettable.
Pageant sounds like a diary as it takes its listener through a whirlwind of emotions. The song of the same name finds the vocalist wondering why they feel the way they do, and the album doesn’t offer too many answers. Pageant is an album that preaches its message of inclusivity and the queer experience with sincerity and conviction. One can’t help but wonder, however, if the album’s lack of answers are purposeful, or if the group just doesn’t have any answers. Either way, the recent allegations have drained even its sharpest songs of potency.
May 22, 8:48 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the song “Answer My Text.”