Let's Just Kill the Male "Rock Star" Persona Once and for All
The cases of bands like Hedley and Brand New show that men can't use their lifestyles as an excuse anymore in the #MeToo era.
Photo by George Pimentel for Getty Images
For several months, we have been exposed to—and disappointed by—abuses of power by men. This is not a new trend. Stories about sexual misconduct, once only whispered about among the safe spaces women and men made for themselves, now appear on front pages of newspapers and have become trending topics online. In music, we’ve recently seen cult bands like Brand New fall from iconic grace because of allegations toward lead singer Jesse Lacey. PWR BTTM retreated just as quickly as they emerged on the scene as soon allegations of sexual misconduct began to come out. Alice Glass, formerly of Crystal Castles, openly alleged and spoke of the years of physical, sexual, and psychological trauma she endured by bandmate Ethan Kath. And recently, Canadian pop punk band Hedley’s lead singer Jacob Hoggard is alleged to have committed sexual misconduct over the years, in some cases with female fans who were underage.
As the reckoning of bad men in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp continues, what happens when it comes to our musicians? There is a distinct difference between the action taken in cases of sexual misconduct in other industries. For example, at this year’s Oscars, instead of having past Best Actor winner Casey Affleck, alleged of committing assault and harassment, present the Best Actress Award, Jennifer Lawrence and Jodi Foster took his place. Harvey Weinstein’s career has effectively been eviscerated. Kevin Spacey, gone from public view, was replaced in All The Money In The World with Christopher Plummer six weeks before the film’s debut. There is an effort, even if it’s subtle and perhaps a bit performative, to show that the industry is listening to and believing women who speak up; ready for a substantial change.
In music, that isn’t necessarily the case. There is a pervasive trope that the rock star male musician is dangerous, brutish, and lionized for his sexuality. (We’ve seen this cliché in rap and pop music, too, like with XXXtentacion or R.Kelly.) We, as consumers of the culture, and marketers who have sold this idea, have allowed stage personas be real life and let it continue because they identify as rock stars. There is little effort to make a distinction between the two. And this is what makes it exceptionally hard to have a productive conversation about consent, boundaries, and accountability. In a tweet, with the #outhedley2K18 hashtag, user Ken Stevens wrote: “Feminists are Upset Rockstars are acting like Rockstars [sic.]” In other, deafening words: the accountability is never on the rock star man to stop systemic sexual abuse because we’ve said it’s fine to live and thrive under this trope. Upholding this cliché only serves to protect men in these positions who do commit these acts and reinforces the powerlessness of fans, specifically female fans, and how unsafe they are in this industry.
Hoggard posted an apology on Twitter last week, speaking out publicly for the first time since the allegations occurred on Feb. 15, saying that he had never committed any non-consensual sexual act in his life but had certainly objectified women. Hoggard is alleged to have raped a 24-year-old woman in 2016; said sexually suggestive things to underage fans, touched them as well, and trying to buy them drinks. Exclaim! ran a report that said in 2005 Hedley were under investigation for the drugging of a female fan in London, ON. Hoggard did not acknowledge the specific allegations in his apology.
In Flare, Sarah Boesveld argues he doesn’t exactly understand the link between a cultural practice of reducing women to objects can lead to them being physically or sexually hurt. Without that acknowledgement, or consideration that acting a certain way has the ability to become something that much more harmful potentially, diminishes the conversation to absolutely nothing. How can you tackle the bigger picture without first looking at the microaggression foundational to it? Days after this, at a concert in Brampton, Hoggard didn’t say anything publicly about the allegations but playfully teased more sexually suggestive things to the band’s fans, saying “you’re the most important meal of the day, baby,” more or less implying oral sex to an arena of people. Hoggard is still playing into this role as the spontaneous, subversive rock star. That doesn’t just go away after a public apology.
FYI Music ran a piece with select comments from Hedley’s Facebook page that, for the most part are positive, and reinforce everything mentioned above. One user wrote, “And what about Gene Simmons from KISS boasting that he's been with over 4000 female groupies!!!!!!” Another said, “Since these “anonymous” accusations are clearly ruining their career, the names of the accusers should be released. How can someone hiding behind a screen name have so much power as to destroy someone.[sic]” For every public mention of an allegation, there is someone on the other side rebutting personal accountability. Some users wrote that it’s to up the parents to protect their kids because, of course, rocks stars act like that. It’s thinly veiled victim-blaming; placing the onus, once again, on people and survivors to know how to handle a rock star in this situation, a coded reaction that means the individual is only responsible, never the musician.
Trying to unearth and understand the reasons why we have let the rock star man cliché exist for as long as it has isn’t exactly new either. Our favourite rock star men have disappointed us. David Bowie did. Iggy Pop, Elvis Presley, Anthony Kiedis, Chuck Berry have, too. The conversations almost always circle the drain until something else bad happens to draw our attention back to the task at hand: why do we let this trope of rock ‘n’ roll badassness live on? Courtney E. Smith for Refinery29 argues for conscious consumerism to help curb any additional promotion, and thereby absolution, of men who have treated women abhorrently, which can potentially stop the trope from continuing on not only as a revered lifestyle but also as an excuse to get someone out of taking responsibility for mistreating a person.
We don’t know if Jacob Hoggard is guilty of the things he’s accused of doing. It remains, though, that we can’t begin to have encouraging, productive conversations about how to handle instances of sexual assault and abuse or the prevention of it until music listeners and behind the scenes industry execs stop believing in, and always bringing up, this idea of the rock star, specifically when we talk about the men who assume that persona. That lacks a substantial effort of accountability. Following through on consent and respecting boundaries doesn’t make a rock star any less of a rock star. Sex has always been fundamental in music and that can still exist if we get rid of the need to define our men by how fucking awful and badass we need them to be to be desired.
It feels as though casual rock fans still have this loop playing in their head that “badness” has merit or currency and that barrier prevents us from fully pushing through. We have been urgently trying to re-script this. Without moving forward and away from this foolish, antiquated notion, we’re still sacrificing the safety of fans; still saying it’s fine to put women in positions that may harm them. And that’s not something anyone should be indifferent to.
Sarah MacDonald is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.