In July 2020, SWMRS were “canceled” for alleged sexual misconduct following allegations leveled by Lydia Night of The Regrettes against SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong. These accusations came amongst a wave of similar allegations surrounding bands connected to the now-defunct label Burger Records.
This dissertation seeks to serve as a complete autopsy of now-disgraced nepotism-punk outfit SWMRS. Rather than discuss relationships the author was not apart of, it focuses upon broader factors within the band’s fanbase, the scene, and the culture as a whole that led to the catastrophic demise of the band, AKA “getting cancelled.” This essay is part analytical, part personal, and conducted through the feminist lens. The author proposes the thesis that SWMRS, and the Burger Records scene as a whole, were on a slow and painful path to their demise prior to the allegations leveled by Lydia Night of The Regrettes. The author suggests this demise was the result of the following factors: A) Sonic and commercial failures, and, more critically, B) Branding reliant upon intense feminist pseudo-activism, which lay in stark contrast against the patriarchal fantasy of 50s-era surf rock revival that composed Burger Records.
Chapter One: INTRODUCTION
Many people might be familiar with the catastrophic implosion of SWMRS and many, many other bands loosely connected to Burger Records, as well as Burger Records itself, over a short period of time in the summer of 2020 following an onslaught of sexual misconduct allegations. SWMRS’ drummer, Joey Armstrong, is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day’s son, and was accused of sexual abuse by Lydia Night of The Regrettes. The connection to Green Day piqued the interest of major publications like Rolling Stone, putting the final bullet in the head of not only SWMRS, but Burger, and many of its connected acts.
Now, SWMRS, as well as some other “canceled” Burger acts, are starting to make a “comeback;” SWMRS recently sold out the Bowery Electric (owned by Billie Joe Armstrong’s longtime friend Jesse Malin) as well as played The Viper Room (previously owned by Johnny Depp). This is not necessarily surprising, considering the implications of landmark legal decisions made over the past summer and their broader cultural implications. However, in light of this, I wanted to write this to paint a broader picture of what happened leading up to the implosion.
I’m not here to talk about or speculate on relationships I was not a part of. But I was deeply entrenched in the scene for the entirety of its demise, and I was a part of the relationship between the bands and their fans. I can tell you with confidence what I believe led up to the explosive demise of SWMRS, and the greater scene as a whole.
To be brief, SWMRS, and the greater community were attached to, did not go down just because of the girls. Or girl. Or c*nt— Sorry, “Carolina’s Ultimate Netflix Tweet.” Whatever you want.
It’s undoubtable that statements from women like Lydia Night and Clementine Creevy had a massive impact on their careers, and these statements needed to be shared. But I would argue that, truth be told, things were dying an agonizing sonic and commercial death beforehand. Beyond this, though, much of the surf rock scene, conceived in the early 2010s, initially built much of its image around LARPing in this vaguely 50s-esque patriarchal fantasy world. When activism—and specifically, feminism— became trendy towards the end of the decade, some of the bands started hopping on the train, despite the obvious contradictions. Outrage at the hypocrisy, as well as general frustration and disappointment with the slow sonic and commercial failures, reached a boiling point when the US started to experience actual political unrest; nobody thought mimicking a less-progressive era was fun anymore; and then, in the summer of 2020, everything exploded.
In the middle of all of this was SWMRS, a band that sprang from the forehead of nepotism itself, a band that appeared to have cut its teeth on the edges of the grittier side of surf rock, before transitioning away from their roots into a cleaner sound. This band made activism, and specifically feminism and consent, a huge part of their brand; this was a primary reason many teens (especially girls) were drawn to them. This was especially potent given their status as a seeming oasis in the, like I said, patriarchal fantasy of the surf-rock scene. However, SWMRS proved to be just like everyone else, in spite of all of their preaching. Though SWMRS were already struggling to stay afloat, it was this stunning, unbelievable hypocrisy that sealed their doom.
Lydia herself said the hypocrisy was what pushed her to tell her story, but I don’t think very many people bothered to actually listen to her at all. Regardless, SWMRS’ downfall was the last death knell of what was referred to broadly as the “Burger Scene.”
This essay will have two major parts, divided into smaller chapters—first, I will set the stage SWMRS, and the greater surf-rock movement, emerged on, and the scene they subsequently created; next, I will explore the failures that cumulated in SWMRS’ painful and cataclysmic demise.
Chapter Two: SETTING THE STAGE
SWMRS’ true rise began in 2016, following the release of their debut record Drive North and amidst Green Day’s Revolution Radio era. Green Day, having risen from the ashes like a phoenix following their singer’s crippling battle with addiction and his televised meltdown, felt like unstoppable punk-rock superheroes. You know, “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA.” The whole schtick, real rock ‘n’ roll. Or at least this is how it felt to sheltered seventeen-year-old suburbanites.
Even mentioning the election going on simultaneously is hackneyed and overplayed to the point of being inane because everyone had what happened pounded into their heads with a hammer. But back then, me— and other people with lives trivial and privileged enough to care about indie band politics — were summer children. We lived in an era of continual and linear progressivism. George Bush was a senile old man that liked to paint, and all of the time we’d been capable of semi-complex thought was during the Obama years, a time where third-wave feminism was in full swing, healthcare was expanding, gay marriage was legalized across the US, et cetera. Things weren’t perfect, but the only way to go was up, right? And besides, this thing happening was a fucking Scooby Doo villain, this was a literal joke, and then we’d have the first female president, whether people liked her or not, and we’d go up and up and up. Nothing like the overturning of Roe V. Wade would ever actually happen. Right? Right?
Despite all the supposed political outrage, it felt like—to me, anyway— there was nothing happening on the radio— perhaps due to exactly this. Our Dead Kennedys, our Clash, our so-called Nirvana-messiah was a Christian rap-rock band that had ripped through the charts despite being too weak for the ‘gay burden’. I am sure there was something else somewhere, but this is the Iowa Top Forty I’m talking about. In the rather ham-fisted words of cancelled surf-rock five-piece The Orwells, “This whole generation don’t make a sound.” The closest thing we had was Green Day, recycling the past. Lucky for us, though, Billie Joe Armstrong had a newly adult son—actually two, if we’re being precise— with curly hair and big brown eyes and bandmates that did some male modeling in France in between painting their nails and blabbing about abortion, anarchism, and existential philosophy onstage. This was completely irresistible— if you’re teenage and so naïve you’re nearly braindead, anyway.
(The curly hair was important, of course. The cow eyes, too.)
But beyond reasons that were merely shallow or misguided, their music genuinely had me in a vice grip ever since I listened to their first record—Drive North— alone in bed, when I was seventeen. The intense love I felt for other bands had been a slow acclimation facilitated by continual exposure via the radio and my peers; but this—this was love at first listen. I loved it so much I stayed up most of the night listening to it over and over. Their debut perfectly encapsulated palm trees on VHS, iridescent nail polish, the kind of burger joints you only see in California, pink and blue baby tees paired with oh-so-carefully cuffed mom jeans and white sneakers, lo-fi cassette tapes, cheap screwdrivers, oversized sunglasses, stick and poke tattoos, and a lot of pot, all mixed with salt water and cold sunshine.
I wish I could say I grew up and realized all of it was bad. I can’t. Some of their songs are much, much less skillful and charming than I recall— but a few are just as they remained preserved in my memory.
Chapter Three: SETTING THE STAGE: THE BROADER SCENE
Beyond SWMRS, though, there were all these other bands, the kind that were probably better than SWMRS. They were bringing rock back, you know, the stuff that sounded like you used to hear way back when. The Growlers mixed oft-sinister lyrics, scratchy and faraway vocals, and heavy drum/bass rhythms alongside psychedelic and garage elements to create a dark yet airy sound, known as “Beach Goth,” something that felt like tripping hard during a beach cabana zombie sex ritual. Meanwhile, The Buttertones combined elements of doo-wop, surf, and garage with fast, punky beats; jazzy and feverish brass solos; mellow, viscous, and venereal vocals; and richly descriptive, oozy, and dark lyrics, all melding The Doors, Gang of Four, and something you’d hear in a 50s jazz dive into “more cinematic vignettes than anything else.” Additionally, The Orwells mixed heavy drums and bass; violent lyrical landscapes; clear guitar; vocals that were as mellow and loping as they were twangy and unpolished; and traces of classic rock, punk, and even folk, all swirled with slick production to create something anachronistic-Americana— “Rebel Yell” meets “House of the Rising Sun.”
The bands I loved didn’t end there. The Frights attracted with their aggressive 50s-doo-wop clashing with fast, punky guitar, ham-fisted-ly bildungsroman lyrical themes, indie feel, and raw vocals; FIDLAR sun-bleached some of their fast, hard, and drug-fueled skate punk into something balmy and clementine, while other tracks maintained their brooding and apocalyptic feel; The Regrettes’ early work was poppy, catchy, polished hooks plus straight surf-punk-meets-50s-girl-group, with a marketable teen libfem twist, wrapped in a bow of what critics called “Riot Grrrl” that ripped against their pristine production; the noise-pop-slash-indie-grunge Cherry Glazerr combined a retrofuturistic feel with erotic soprano, fitting for their sophomore album title of Apocalipstick; Destroy Boys, as much as they may have tried to resist it, were pure Riot Grrrl and Ramones.
Anyway, as much as I loved all of it, by the time I arrived to the pool party, there was an overwhelming weight of anxiety that the confetti was settling and everyone—or at least the boys— had blown their load forty-five seconds into their careers. But then, it was just a barely-there sense of foreboding—like how maybe things would be okay even though so many people said the world was gonna end after the election… and then it didn’t. Yet.
Chapter Four: FETISHIZATION OF 50S-ERA PATRIARCHAL GENDER ROLES
But like, let’s be blunt here. A lot of this music was about the good old days, you know, back when people used to beat women. I know this sounds a little dramatic—hysterical, even— but it’s true. It was also kind of comfortingly Americana, in a way.
A lot of rock music is like this, pretty much; Julian Casablancas of The Strokes (who jointly owned a record label with the frontman of cancelled surf-rock band The Growlers), laments in “Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men,” that “Modern girls always get their way.” Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy (who signed Joey’s little brother’s band, Mt. Eddy/Ultra Q) and the former senior editor of Rolling Stone summed up the longing modern men in rock ‘n’ roll bands feel for the past—you know, that vague time period where women knew their place and men used to drink hard liquor and chain-pound cigars— quite well in their joint novel: “[1950s Rockabilly bands were] the kings of their era… They were the savages of the decade, pounding the piano, and thumping the upright bass. Pulling pints of whiskey from their back pockets. Groping girls. Having wild times.” SWMRS and FIDLAR, similarly, would spit in their cover of The 1975’s “People” that, “Fuck it, I’m just gonna get girls, food, and beer.” And so on and so on.
The Burger scene just happened to hit on it a lot harder than most. Let’s start with The Orwells, who toured with and released a split cassette with FIDLAR (whose frontman produced SWMRS’ Drive North, alongside multiple Frights albums). Many of the band’s songs took place in this violent, patriarchal inspired fantasy world of the past, borrowing bits from everything from old-school Americana to 70s movies to Breaking Bad. Their debut full-length LP was titled Disgraceland, an obvious reference to 50s rocker Elvis Presley. The lead single off the record, which earned a showstopping performance on Letterman, featured a vaguely anti-draft, anti-establishment anthem, despite there being no draft for over 30 years prior to the record’s release; the video depicts the band performing against a backdrop of old-school Americana photos such as the moon landing and smiling women in 50s advertisements. In “Body in the Bayou,” off their second LP Terrible Human Beings, an underage girl tells the narrator in a charmingly old-fashioned way how her alcoholic father beats her, and in the video, the band brings young, attractive women to a political candidate to fulfill his sexual fantasies; the album cover for Terrible Human Beings depicts a nude, thin, and blonde woman in a 70s-esque office. In “Mallrats,” one of their earlier releases, “little bab[ies] at the mall” spend their time “looking for push-up bras.” Meanwhile, throughout their songs, the male narrator spends his time in a Tarantino-esque fantasy, surrounded by drugs, sex, fistfights, guns, and torture, snorting cocaine and driving black Camaros with “girls in the backseat [and a] trunk full of beer.”
The Growlers were perhaps an even larger pinnacle of the surf rock movement, hosting the famed Beach Goth festival, which served the dual purpose of putting a genre name to much of the sonic landscape of Burger and its surrounding artists. Likewise, they also participated in the retro-love aesthetic; their cover for City Club showed the exterior of a 50s-style nightclub, while the cover for Casual Acquaintances featured an abandoned 1960s honeymoon suite hot tub. The band’s photoshoots featured panama hats and floral embroidered suits, vaguely reminiscent of a bygone era, something kind of plantation-like or Prohibition-era, maybe. Julian Casablancas and The Growlers would cover 60s rock band The Doors’ “People Are Strange” at one of the Beach Goth festivals (1960s-1980s industry executive Danny Fields characterizes Doors frontman Jim Morrison as violently abusive towards women like Nico of The Velvet Underground in the punk history book Please Kill Me). Like The Orwells and other artists in the scene, the Growlers featured eyebrow raising lyrics like “Little girls don’t last forever, enjoy them while you can.”
But the band that most strongly exemplified the 1950s patriarchal fantasy of the Burger-adjacent scene was definitely The Buttertones, who were also megacancelled. Much of the band’s sound and branding harkened back to the 50s, from their uniform of suits to their Tarantino-esque music videos to their switchblade logo to the cover art for American Brunch, and much, much more. Their music was heavily jazz-inspired, with many of their songs featuring an intense, ferocious saxophone; their singer’s mellow, velvety voice was eerily reminiscent of Jim Morrison of The Doors (remember what I said about the Doors). The band asserted that their name alluded to 50s and 60s groups like The Silvertones and The Cleftones, and cover art for their “Shut Up, Sugar” single featured the band in identical black turtlenecks and sunglasses, a clear allusion to the fashion of the 1950s Beat movement. “Shut Up, Sugar,” is about what you can probably imagine based off the title (“Baby, you keep saying things you don’t mean— your newfound ego has a big mouth”), but pretty much every song was along the lines of strong retro imagery and rigid gender roles. Notably, “Jabberjaw” includes “Just hold your mouth…I’ll take the reins,” and “Tequila Mockingbird” croons, “I’ll drink too much and make creepy demands.” Their videos featured typical retro-macho fantasies ranging from 50s heists, the bloody Old West, wearing suits and flashing poker cards while being surrounded by dancing women in white panties (this video also featured blackface), and a traditional 50s love story.
And, of course, it was The Buttertones that opened for SWMRS at Uncool Halloween 2017—right before The Regrettes’ set— despite the way all of this contrasted hard against SWMRS’ extensive onstage speeches about feminism. The Buttertones’ set at Uncool 2017 had been excellent— however, their presence was nothing short of controversial. There was an Instagram account dedicated to allegations against the band as well as (if I recall correctly) small protest displays, generating a swirl of unsavory rumors that rippled throughout the crowd. Regardless of your opinions about the content of their artistic endeavors or rumored personal scandals, the fact that The Buttertones were even playing at all that night highlighted how hollow SWMRS’ message was, and how little they actually cared about what they were preaching. We’ll get into the precise specificities of SWMRS’ message later.
(Though the fringes of the genre that expanded into things like [deliberately immature] skate-punk was far more subtle and less-objectionable, it definitely still played a smaller part in the broader backdrop. The Frights’ self-titled album cover featured an old black-and-white photo of a couple kissing, with the man grabbing the woman’s jaw; a song on their early Fur Sure EP included an ode to a “High School Girl.” The cover art for You Are Going To Hate This featured a woman who had just been struck in the face (albeit by a horse), her blonde hair splayed and her mouth open in a way that was honestly rather sexual. Songs by The Frights (which, like SWMRS’ debut, were oft-produced the frontman of FIDLAR) often featured uncomfortably corny sexual interjections in songs, like, “Oh yeah, baby,” and “That’s what I’m talking about.” FIDLAR themselves included charming titles like “No Ass” and “Whore.”)
The 1950s-1960s iconography wasn’t just present among the guys either; early reviews for The Regrettes praised their 50s and 60s surf-rock influences; Lydia was seldom without her signature retro-inspired red lip, pastel dresses, and cat eye; her Tumblr was filled with GIFs of Audrey Hepburn and photos of Marilyn Monroe. Likewise, her band’s name alluded to so many 50s-60s girl groups like the Ronettes, Ikettes, Marvettes, Vonettes, Tennettes, Chordettes, Bobettes, Velvettes, et cetera, with the suffix indicating that something is petite and feminine. The lyrics on their debut, however, contained a heavy smattering of 2010s-era “feminist teen” anthems lamenting how people think offensive things about her because she is a feminist. These accusations included that she doesn’t shave her armpits, that she is a lesbian, or that she should read books. Meanwhile, the album cover for Cherry Glazerr’s Stuffed and Ready parodied something you’d find from a record store in a bygone era, featuring Clementine Creevy in a floor length vintage pink dress; the album featured the “lightly BDSM” anthem “Daddi,” complete with single art (for the remix) meant to look like the frontwoman is giving a blowjob and lyrics like “What should I cook, Daddy?… Who should I suck Daddy?”. However, the song quickly pivots to a liberated rejection, transitioning from Creevy’s signature erotic falsetto on the submissive verses to the lower, guitar-driven grunge chorus of “Don’t hold my hand, don’t be my man.” After all, this was not actually supposed to be the 50s; it was supposed to be a homage with a fresh twist.
Except the boys in the scene sure acted like it was. In 2019, a year before the shitshow, the first “cancellation” occurred, serving as a tell-tale sign of what was to come. Many bands in the scene would cut ties with The Orwells and their label would drop them following the creation of a Google Doc in which multiple girls alleged they were sexually assaulted so violently by members of the band that they bled afterwards and cried during; Consequence of Sound covered the incident. Likewise, The Growlers were eventually accused of sexual misconduct by Starcrawler frontwoman Arrow de Wilde. Finally, a number of sexual assault, rape, and abuse accusations were leveled against The Buttertones, including ones by Clementine Creevy of Cherry Glazerr, a model I won’t name, and several anonymous ones. And, of course, Lydia Night of The Regrettes would level accusations of sexual abuse against Joey Armstrong of SWMRS. These are just a few examples.
chapter five: WHERE WAS SWMRS IN ALL OF THIS?
In fairness, SWMRS were one of the only “surf-rock” bands not as heavy-handedly participating in the worship of 1950s iconography and traditional gender roles; later in their career, they would depart from the 50s-60s “surf-rock” sound entirely and enter the world of “hip-hop and grime,” as per Wikipedia. The only connection I could find is so slight it was barely there, but I still felt it was potent; their Drive North track “Ruining My Pretending,” which is sung by their guitarist and secondary vocalist, proclaims “I like to believe in how I was brought up.” While ostensibly this is reference to daydreaming about rock bands of old, it connects back to the broader overarching concept present within the scene: things were better back in the good old days, you know, when women knew their place. But apart from this incredibly light allusion, SWMRS were not participating in the 50s iconography at all. They instead claimed—and dressed—like they were entirely influenced by progressive counterculture bands like Bikini Kill and The Clash, making progressivism and vague leftism, but specifically feminism and consent, a huge part of their brand.
I cannot stress how constant this was this enough. Eternally-present Twitter rants about consent, raving about guys from their high school who had been accused of rape, steaming internet rampages about different ways guys sexually assault girls, waxing poetic about “How to eat pussy like a champ” (yes, that was, in fact, verbatim), passing out zines about consent, passing out zines about how to punch a rapist or “creep” with lines like “Abusers of all kinds— You should leave now or you will be subject to severe punishment,” “Sexual assault is not normal or okay,” and most damningly, “Cis men, call out your homies on their shit. Use your voice to stop abuse at shows.” There were also donations to Planned Parenthood and other feminist organizations like Girls Rock, participating in the Women’s March, wearing pink pussy hats, selling t-shirts in support of Christine Blasey Ford (who leveled rape allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh), et cetera et cetera et cetera. Their lengthy and ever-present onstage speech about sexual violence included telling girls in the audience that “if someone is groping you, or violating you in a way you don’t want to be touched,” to “punch that motherfucker in the face” and if they didn’t want to do that, SWMRS would “punch that person for you.” On at least one occasion (Uncool Halloween 2018), SWMRS went so far as to say that rapists and abusers should all be killed. Feminism and sexual consent was a massive, constant part of the band’s branding.
This all being said, though, outside of their marketing ploys and within their actual record, SWMRS were still participating in not awesome gender things.
Despite advertising their band as a paradigm of male feminist icons, the lyrics on their debut Drive North were nothing special. Let’s start with their primary vocalists’ tracks. “Miley,” about Miley Cyrus, refers to the fact that (other people think) she’s “disturbed” and “a dumb slut.” The band, however, thinks she’s super hot because her music videos are “pornography,” her words are “questionable,” she has a huge ego, and most importantly… “she keeps burning blunts… Fuck.” “Miss Yer Kiss,” meanwhile, is an ode to a one night stand and her amazing “tits”; while it does mention her “brain,” it does so in a way that is certainly not-so-clever slang for a blowjob passed off as pseudo-feminism under the veil of plausible deniability.
“Palm Trees”—my favorite on the record, save for “Hannah”— is quite possibly the worst. It showcases an exploitation fantasy about a “pride[ful]” girl who wants to be a star, so she “abandons her standards and soul” and fucks a “rich man with a spray tan” (literally supposed to be Donald Trump) who “wants her,” resulted in her being “trapped,” “owned,” “abused” and “fucked (over).” While the girl in the song is cast as somewhat sympathetic, the fact that she “abandons her standards and soul,” places the blame on her; the starfucker thing is also something the band would later lightly insinuate of Lydia. The original lyrics to the song prior to studio recording included, “One more thing before you sell your soul— there’s better ways to go to the top,” solidifying the song’s intent to blame the female subject for being “owned,” “abused,” and “fucked.”
I don’t really particularly care about the morality of what’s on the record, nor do I think it’s something to clutch pearls over. It is a record written by a couple of college guys, and porn and weed and tits and exploitation fantasies is what many of them are focused on. This is also only a small percentage of content on the album. But it was definitely at odds with how they were marketing themselves at the time, highlighting how glaringly hypocritical they were from the very start. Many interviews have been removed since the bands “cancellation,” but I seem to recall that their vocalist stated in an interview that while writing for their sophomore album Berkeley’s on Fire, he moved away from writing songs about women entirely so as to avoid writing songs that were misogynistic, which is… quite the conclusion to come to.
This second record definitely took on more mature and nuanced lyrical themes than weed and tits. However, in retrospect of everything that’s occurred, there are still things about the album that seem much more questionable now. Much of this record took the leftism the band espoused onstage to a new level—their video for the lead single and title track, “Berkeley’s On Fire,” primarily starred young women, particularly those of color; the track itself brags about participating in an anti-Nazi rally and sneers “Your TV lies.” The video for single “Trashbag Baby” focused the spotlight on a trans skater; “Lose Lose Lose” contains similar themes of political frustration in the face of the upcoming presidential election.
One such political track is “Hellboy” — another of my favorites, though I felt it would’ve been much better produced by Carper. It seems at first listen to satirize the persona of a typical school shooter, a violent, angry young male or “little hellboy,” who is compensated by the NRA for “such a glorious display” of “shooting children while they play.” However, closer examination of the song honestly leads me to a different interpretation; though the narrator sometimes satirizes this character, he is also the character; and rather than just mocking this persona, he’s defending it, himself, and other “hellboys.” The broader culture that surrounds him is blamed for the character’s rage and “American brain,” and the end of the second chorus towards the interlude asserts that this “boy” needs “help.” (Most notably, the song also implies the character’s sink being poisoned—among other things— is the cause of his issues and the reason why he shot up a bunch of kids. Lead poisoning in water disproportionately affects Black communities, while the overwhelming majority of mass shooters are white males.)
Likewise, “Lose Lose Lose” contains similar themes of anger surrounding politics and election interference; the secondary vocalist sneers “death to the motherfucking fascist insect, this shit makes me so sadistic” in the background. The chorus of the song, however, merely features the narrator vaguely threatening to “lose his mind” if one more person crosses him, similar to how he asserts in “Hellboy” that sometimes he feels “so powerless” he entertains fantasies of hurting people. Thus, the real meat of these tracks was centered around anger and a desire to hurt rather than any specific ideology.
Lest I repeat this again: I don’t particularly care about the morality of what’s on the record. It’s art, it’s not everything on the album, and I don’t think it’s something to clutch pearls over. However, the political tracks on the album of this so-called feminist band were centered around male anger and sadism. While there’s definitely a place for rage and even violence, this desire was the true center of gravity of the band’s politics rather than any sort of actual progressivism. All of these songs were—unsurprisingly—primarily handled by their lead singer, the one that spent by far the most time touting feminism and activism and leftism; their guitarist and secondary vocalist focused on bittersweet songs about personal relationships or inward-directed emotions like hope or anxiety.
While going from selling t-shirts in support of Christine Blasey Ford and wearing pink pussy hats to liking Johnny Depp’s Instagram posts and filming seething Instagram videos about what is and is not technically rape is still a complete and utter betrayal, these revelations—especially the one about “Palm Trees” – simplified things for me. Regardless of what they said onstage, on their records, the band presented themselves (at least part of the time) as angry young men looking for an outlet for their rage and wanting someone to fantasize about hurting; men who described the art of women much more successful than them as “pornography;” men who valued women for their “tits” and ability to give a blowjob, and, most critically, men who viewed women’s lack of morals as to blame for their being “owned,” “fucked,” and “abused.”
CHAPTER SIX: BEYOND SWMRS’ MUSIC: THE “SWM TEAM”
To truly understand SWMRS, however, we must go beyond the way their music contrasted against their surface-level marketing by examining the ugliness that was eternally brewing deep within the community surrounding the band, and the ways the band encouraged and facilitated this.
First, we’ll look at their base. I’ve been a crazy band girl for over a decade now, but I had never seen anything like SWMRS’ base, and I don’t know if I ever will again. It was a perfect storm; the band was relatively small, but were directly tied to Green Day, one of the biggest and most famous rock bands of all time, meaning a built-in community of stalker fans that had skipped the “playing hard to get” stage. You weren’t supposed to acknowledge this, of course— The band fumed, spat and went on infamous Twitter rampages whenever anyone did.
Beyond this, though, many of us really believed in the band’s social justice preaching; this, combined with the immediate obsessive insanity of their fans and how accessible the band was, proved to be a lethal combination; a purely manic energy surrounded them that didn’t surround other bands of comparative size. Their guitarist admitted to Galaxy Magazine that the reason people loved SWMRS was more about their base and the experience than the music itself: “A lot of what we do is more of this like culty, pseudo-spiritual kind of show that we’re giving people.” I would agree that their base was genuinely, actually, seriously like a cult.
Adding to the fever was the band’s intense social media presence. They (and especially Joey and their guitarist) arguably contributed to the bizarre, vicious, and Lord-of-the-Flies-esque environment that occurs naturally in teen stan spaces via a) inciting weird power hierarchies; b) incentivizing the cyberbullying of anyone the band disapproved of or anyone who criticized the band; and c) actively encouraging fans to shower them in monetary donations and expensive gifts. Ways to win favor from the band could include anything from lavishing Joey in signed sports memorabilia post-show, plying their vocalist with weed, attacking anyone their guitarist “spilled tea” about on Twitter or after shows, engaging in coordinated “canceling” of anyone who criticized the band under the guise of social justice, donating money to Joey, his brother, and their bassists’ never-ending Twitch streams, or (perhaps most atrociously) donating to their guitarist’s “Rolex Fund.”
The way the band deliberately encouraged these behaviors were broad, but included special attention from the band both online and offline; exclusive access to things like spots on the guestlist or coveted secret group chats; early access to yet-unannounced projects; meeting Joey, who almost always refused to speak to fans; and, most potently, it included (sometimes empty) promises of employment or contract work.
Some of these things are unavoidable given the nature of the internet and teen girls in general, but the band used these things as weapons, honing them in their favor in order to protect their image as The Male Feminist Icons Of Our Generation and shield themselves from attention being drawn to their hypocrisy. Their fans “canceled” anyone who criticized the band by (to name some examples); drawing attention to inappropriate interactions between the band, their crew, and underage girls (or even women in general); mentioned unsavory past social media posts made by members that were at odds with their social justice mission; pointed out that Joey was allegedly lying about being Mexican to avoid criticism for an arguably culturally insensitive Halloween costume while their vocalist was preaching on Twitter about culturally insensitive Halloween costumes; spoke about their personal experiences regarding the band’s dishonesty, hypocrisy, or cruelty; e-harassed Joey’s teenage ex-girlfriend after she dropped out of their tour, et cetera, et cetera.
The indirect power hierarchies being created by rewarding the meanest and the loudest with likes, retweets, reposts, followers, and more visibility were also more directly reinforced by the band. Certain people in fan spaces—particularly Twitch— were designated as moderators, with their job being to silence any and all discussion of issues that arose and ban anyone who brought them up, or even said anything the band didn’t approve of. The undying loyalty and obsession of these fans tasked with censoring the base was on a level the majority of up-and-coming indie bands did not have access to; SWMRS’ connection to Green Day meant, like I said, they had built-in stalkers that would take a bullet for them, and would not question orders. While a more organic “independent rock band” would struggle to convince their teen stans to please, please not tell anyone that their 35-45 year old manager was trying to fuck their 15 year old friends, SWMRS— and Joey’s little brother’s band, Ultra Q— had zero issues with obedience, all thanks to good old grandpa Billie Joe. Those who did say anything were “canceled” into oblivion, to the great delight of SWMRS.
I was not very active on Twitter or Twitch, but I played a role, too — starting in 2017, I heard continual rumors that Joey and Lydia were dating. Even though deep down I knew the volume of messages indicated this was likely true, I insisted that this couldn’t be so and everyone was just being sexist and thought a teenage girl couldn’t be in a touring rock band without fucking her way there. After maybe ten or so messages, I just started deleting them; I did the same with similar “rumors.” I truly and genuinely convinced myself this was all anonymous, attention-seeking bullshit or misogynists looking to smear an innocent girl as a slut; likewise, I anticipate everyone else convinced themselves Joey was actually Mexican or whatever and that they were just doing what they had to do to defend the faith.
It was incredibly bananas, and, like I said, very Lord of the Flies. I have never seen a band relish in abusing their indie band micro-clout as egregiously as SWMRS did. The band especially seemed to enjoy having an army of SJW Twitter stans ready to deploy on a whim. While I know I don’t have “proof” any of this happened, Lydia Night discussed being subjected to the systematic and intentional cyberbullying facilitated by the band, so hopefully you’ll believe me.
CHAPTER SEVEN: BEYOND SWMRS’ MUSIC: UNCOOL RECORDS
Those who were not enmeshed with this absolutely bonkers and incredibly obscure and insular community might question why anyone would ever find something so bizarre, silly, and vicious appealing. However, there were a handful of people—especially young women and nonbinary people—who at least superficially appeared to have launched careers in the music industry via connections to SWMRS, their “Uncool” record label, and, by extension, Green Day.
The logo for “Uncool Records” was the outline of a teen girl, showcasing how they presented the label as something built for the benefit of young women and other people who didn’t fit in, aiding them in getting a foot in the door of the male-dominated rock industry. And, truth be told, there were several young women and trans people who appeared to be on a path to explosive success following involvement with the band early in their careers. This chiefly included The Regrettes, of course, who toured with the group in the late 2010s. However, it also included Destroy Boys, who began on SWMRS’ label, Uncool Records; it also included Kuromi, who were achieving mild algorithmic success with “Cutie In The Mosh Pit;” additionally, the first ever transfeminine pro skater had a spotlight put on her career after starring in one of their music videos, as did many young actresses and models who starred in other music videos. Also associated were a handful of young photographers and artists who received major opportunities through the band that propelled them forward. Many young aspiring journalists and interviewers gained exposure through involvement with the band, too.
The actual functioning of the label, however, was far from benevolent. As an example, a fan was repeatedly hired to design merch and posters, something that was a massive step forward in her artistic career; the band ultimately did not pay her contractually obligated compensation for her labor, despite her repeated requests and dire financial situation. In a move akin to Joey’s lording of his position over Lydia to get her to do whatever he wanted, another teenage girl who developed a close relationship with Joey was repeatedly and publicly taunted over a period of months with the promise of an “internship” at the record label; the band baited her with this nonexistent “internship” to pressure her to engage in exceptionally passionate online stan behavior she didn’t want to participate in.
As for the artists on the label, Kuromi appeared to dissolve following SWMRS’ cancellation; meanwhile, Hello Yello and Ultra Q, the only two entirely male bands on the label, were immediately picked up by the same management agency following the catastrophe. Destroy Boys faced intense and still-ongoing backlash from SWMRS’ base following the summer of 2020; meanwhile, much of SWMRS’ base continued sucking Joey’s little brother’s dick exceptionally hard, despite him being a touring member of SWMRS, and present on the tour Lydia dropped due in part to harassment from the band.
There are so many other stories I can’t share out of respect for those involved, but in short, the label served as yet another tool to incite and enforce weird power hierarchies within the band’s base, and the label itself was not anywhere near as progressive or benevolent as it was advertised. Despite how sketched out many of us were, the proof-positive of how many girls were seeming to make it after sucking up to SWMRS gave many hope to stay obedient and strive for nonexistent internships or other opportunities the band dangled in front of us, and to keep quiet about the unpleasant things going on.
Chapter eight: THE FINAL PHASE PRE-CATASTROPHE
Anyway, let’s zoom out to the scene as a whole. While SWMRS were lengthening their onstage speeches and stepping up their politicized merchandise as the years went on and the presidency progressed, things started to actually heat up in the late twenty-teens. At this point, other surf rock bands started to join in on the pseudo-activism front, despite their somewhat paradoxical messaging between the 50s fantasy of the scene and this so-called activist choo-choo train. Other groups dug their heels in or remained conspicuously silent, but the one thing people seemed to really love to harp on was the whole women thing, probably because it could be presented in a way that appeared to mesh with current political correctness while also feeding into the preexisting chauvinist fantasy of the scene.
For example, I think I was nineteen when I watched the singer of the Frights get completely wasted onstage and start blabbing about the lead singer of FIDLAR “kick[ing] the living shit out of” a “douchebag” leaving a “football game” for calling a girl a bitch in between openly trashing the band playing on the venue’s other stage for no apparent reason. This was in stark contrast to the first time I saw them—their set had been much better then, but afterwards, a member of one of the opening bands cornered an obviously-uncomfortable looking girl in front of a ton of people and started slut-shaming her for what she was wearing, telling her she better buy some of their merch and cover up. Nobody in any of the bands also selling merch told him to simmer down. (Ironically, his entire bare, hairy ass was falling out of his pants.)
Things were like this a lot. It was presented as feminist activism, but it wasn’t—it was about the guys getting drunk and high and whacking off each other’s egos with daydreams about getting to be a real man and beating up a cartoon pervert for some damsel in distress who probably had great tits. (Like that scene in 500 Days of Summer.)
I’ve already mentioned SWMRS failing to acknowledge the Instagram account/protest when the Buttertones performed alongside them at Uncool 2017, but another example of this combination of deliberate blindness and vindictive hypocrisy is what happened with The Orwells. Following the publishing of a Consequence of Sound article regarding the Google Doc, a number of bands would make public statements onstage or on social media saying fuck The Orwells and that they had no idea any of this ever happened. While it’s very plausible no one knew the extent of what was happening behind closed doors, the lead vocalist of the Orwells was known to slam girls’ faces into the stage, hit them in the face with equipment, or choke them while performing; these things were massive public spectacles and occurred on tour with various other bands who did nothing at the time, but joined in on the hate train the second it was cool.
In any case, the 50s-obsessed surf rock scene suddenly became preoccupied with being The Male Feminists Of Our Generation, gradually progressing from vague, rambling hypotheticals and maybe-happened tall tales of white knightery to bands relishing in turning against their now-cancelled former close friends. Though SWMRS were by far the worst offenders, continuing their holier-than-thou tweeting about “disappointment” and “therapy” up until the moment Lydia went public, this began much earlier, with the bands looking the other way for as long as possible and then cannibalizing each other the second it would get them woke points. It makes me so sick I can’t even talk about it.
Chapter Nine: INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO: Sonic and Commercial Failures
Anyway, now I’m done setting the stage on the pseudoactivism front, it’s time to move on to part two of this, which is highlighting how all of these bands—but especially SWMRS—were feebly hobbling along until they were finally put out of their misery. To summarize, while their sophomore record Berkeley’s on Fire gained some critical acclaim, SWMRS made poor business and marketing decisions that rendered their fanbase largely frustrated, annoyed, and bitter almost a year before they got “cancelled.” Things were ready to snap at any moment.
I was most familiar with SWMRS and their base, but there were tell-tale signs across the board that things were about to collapse. The Frights’ followed You Are Going To Hate This with their 2018 record Hypochondriac, which received mixed reviews; if I recall correctly, the release of their subsequent record, 2020’s Everything Seems Like Yesterday seemed sudden and odd, with little promotional lead up; it appeared to have a noticeable downgrade in production quality, and failed to garner the same attention as all of their previous albums. FIDLAR’s most recent release, 2019’s Almost Free, received mixed reviews; their previous record, 2015’s Too, had previously garnered generally positive attention. Mt. Eddy—Joey’s little brother’s band, originally signed to Uncool Records—had “broken up” and reformed as Ultra Q, and were streaming much less successfully than their previous iteration despite being quietly signed to DCD2 by Pete Wentz (of Fall Out Boy) and Spencer Smith (formerly of Panic! at the Disco).
Additionally, The Buttertones’ guitarist had departed the band, and the records following 2017’s Gravedigging had seemingly failed to garner the same attention. While The Growlers’ 2016 album City Club had peaked at #6 on the Heatseekers chart (an all-time high for the band), their subsequent 2019 record Natural Affair was more-or-less self-released, and did not make the chart at all. While The Orwells performed a showstopping set on Letterman following the release of 2014’s Disgraceland, Pitchfork gave 2017’s Terrible Human Beings a fairly scathing review shortly before their demise in 2018. (Perhaps ironically in retrospect, the bite of this review seemed to hinge on the pretense that The Orwells status as young, middle-class white males meant they were harmless to the point of being “wholesome,” thus rendering their album title laughably incongruous—allow me to remind you members were accused of raping or otherwise assaulting multiple women until they bled.)
Now, since this is an essay about SWMRS, we’re going to dissect the demise of SWMRS specifically. Though—like I said— the band’s second record received great critical reception, things were a different story up close; their core base was rapidly jumping ship due to the raging dumpster fire of one catastrophic summer. Then, the band’s floundering career and imminent failure was largely put on pause following the band getting in a severe van accident in 2019 that triggered an outpouring of support for the group. Subsequently, a member of SWMRS was hospitalized for several months, suspending the band in amber, until the point just before the scene as a whole imploded.
Like I alluded to earlier in this monolith, SWMRS were kind of doomed to fail. The supposed grittiness of the scene they were “born” into was at stark odds with their claimed philosophical outlook, and they were too ridden with daddy issues to truly take on the cleaner, poppier route.
And as I also mentioned earlier, I believe they were always on this long and winding road from the very beginning. I’ve already touched on this several times, but one critical early moment that exemplified this so potently was The Buttertones opening for SWMRS at their annual Halloween bash in 2017. While The Buttertones’ set was excellent and well-received on the actual stage, it garnered murmuring of general dissent throughout the night due to rumors of a protest and an Instagram account dedicated to allegations against the band, who everyone generally knew where scumbags; however, it failed to become a true PR scandal, and was something the band never addressed despite their onstage speech. Uncool 2018 was similar; while the theme of Harry Potter was mostly well-received at the time, JK Rowling’s transphobia was first starting to become undeniably apparent, generating some frustration and discomfort. Going back further in my memories of the band’s career reveals much of the same. Minor as it was, this all cast an ever-so-slight unsettling feeling over everything, offering a tiny glimpse into how rotten the floorboards holding this whole thing up were.
But at some point in 2019, SWMRS’ career veered past the point of no return and towards certain cataclysmic doom due to a series of what I would classify as failures. There were a number of things building up to this crossroads in their career; off the top of my head, I can name a few. There were some whispers about a manager (in his forties) behaving inappropriately with underage girls— this happened with Mt Eddy/Ultra Q too, though the manager was in his thirties and the band desperately strove to keep it quiet. Likewise, there were some unpleasant rumors about a member of SWMRS and a very young actress in one of the videos promoting the most successful single from their first debut. And despite giving communism a weird shout-out on the sixth track of their sophomore record, passing out zines about consent and anarchism, and the title track of their sophomore record focusing on setting fires during a leftist black bloc demonstration in Berkeley, SWMRS started hanging out more and more with middle-aged “meta-centrist” dudes that talked about the “total communist situation on the hard left” or sang about how “you were only seventeen.” The elusive Joey had gotten a Twitter and had ceased to be a dark, mysterious, doe-eyed prince and rumored business mastermind; he was instead revealed to be a braindead and annoying Elon Musk/Marvel/Royal Family fanboy, things that clashed against the band’s “feminist antifa communo-anarchist riot grrl warrior whatever” image. Perhaps more importantly, obsessing over Elon Musk was decidedly not hot.
And, perhaps most damningly, The Regrettes had abruptly pulled out of SWMRS’ spring 2019 tour and were replaced by Destroy Boys, under circumstances many felt were bizarre to say the least. Even though I wanted to spray champagne around my dorm when I heard the announcement (Vi had always been so sweet), the coordinated way SWMRS’ fans began dogpiling on Lydia on Twitter for supposedly-unrelated slights under the guise of social justice was unsettling. This isn’t to say things were all bad— I followed part of that spring 2019 tour with my friends; I did have a blast, and most of the sets were excellent.
Even so, there was this sense of foulness afoot. Maybe it was the string of fake marriage proposals between fans that occurred on the tour as a ploy to get attention from the band. Maybe it was how mean a member of one of the openers was when I interviewed her. Maybe it was the furtive whispers between the lead singer and the band’s TM around the side of the venue when they thought no one was looking. Maybe it was the way SWMRS’ beloved Waterloo Teeth side project had been unceremoniously ripped from Spotify in favor of weird, shitty drum demos everyone hated. Maybe it was the fact that the guitarist stopped speaking to fans because he had “gotten in trouble” for the drama he continually caused shortly after the Lydia debacle. Maybe it was how a member of an opener kept hanging out with me and my friends because he couldn’t stand being around his own band, and quit right after the tour. But it was probably just how high SWMRS’ vocalist was after shows, quite literally unable to function or form a coherent sentence amidst a gaggle of tittering girls.
All this aside, I believe this “point of no return” really, truly came in the summer of 2019, during the cycle for their second album, Berkeley’s on Fire. These things may seem petty, but I was just one fan, and this is just what I witnessed firsthand. Consequently to what the length of this essay may suggest, I did have a life outside of this; Thus, I imagine there were many other kerfuffles that I cannot provide a firsthand account of. All of these things—plus the noxiously radioactive nature of their base I mentioned earlier—built on top of each other, slowly causing their fans to sour on the band. Just prior to the accident, people were genuinely ready to turn on the band or walk away at any moment, and the band had spent years—intentionally or unintentionally—training their fans to spread rumors about people they disliked and engage in vicious and coordinated harassment campaigns under the guise of social justice, something that would later seal SWMRS’ fate. I know I’m just some random person, but I knew how I felt, and I knew how all my friends and e-mutuals felt, and I knew how many were walking away.
Chapter Ten: FAILURE #1: THE LUNCHBOX
The first real death rattle was petty, but it is honestly what I cite as the point of no return. In July of 2019, SWMRS released new merch. It was merch fans were really, really excited about—they had correctly tapped into their teen fanbase and the back-to-school season by selling notebooks and lunch boxes, so we could all flash around being “uncool” in the halls and lunchroom; even though some of us were older, many of us were in college, and still needed school supplies. I ordered mine just two days after the drop.
However, for many of us, our merch never came. We were charged for it, but it never arrived. A month went by, so I submitted a polite request for assistance. Literally no one responded; my friends said the same had happened to them. For an entire month, we submitted support tickets and sent emails and Tweets and DMs, but our concerns were dismissed, we were told to be patient and our orders would arrive, these things take a minute, ladies, please relax, there’s nothing to worry your pretty little head about, you will get your notebooks in time for school, honey, don’t be hysterical, it’s on its way, this is all in your head, you’re being so impatient—maybe it’s that time of month?
The band, who frequently boasted about being so tight with their base, didn’t really seem to address the concerns or care about this at all, more concerned with soliciting money on Twitch in exchange for the privilege of them allowing us to listen to them yell at each other during two-hours-long gaming sessions with their bros. At least another full month went by, and many of us still had not received our merch or any response from their staff.
Eventually—oopsie daisie, I guess— the band revealed that over the last two and a half months, they had somehow accidentally been selling—and not shipping— way more merch than they actually had, and we were not going to get our t-shirts and notebooks and lunchboxes and everything after all, even though we had drawn attention to the issue months ago and been told to be patient. But don’t worry, it would all get handled somehow.
Instead of just shutting the fuck up and apologizing and giving us our money back and a discount code or something, we were told to wait even longer. Then we all got emails trying to get us to take unsold merch from years prior instead, the ugly stuff that hadn’t sold because no one wanted it. Though I ordered mine—and was charged— two days after the drop, I did not hear back from their team about my order until two and a half months later, and they did not immediately apologize or acknowledge the fact that I’d tried to contact them about my order several times. The story was the same with all my friends. I do not personally know a single person who ended up receiving any of the merch from this drop, and I knew a lot of other fans.
Yeah, it’s just a stupid lunchbox. It’s dumb. It’s silly. Grow up. Get over it. These things just happen. Admittedly, it is incredibly petty, but it foreshadowed a lot of elements that would recur. Firstly, their inability to handle the responsibility and work ethic required to be in a successful and functioning rock band. Secondly, their total fumbling of something that should have been a major success for the group. Thirdly, it exemplified how the band was a total fraud, claiming their fans were their BFFLs for realsies but not really bothering to care when fans tried to bring even small issues to the band’s attention. It also illustrated their inability to apologize to people for fucking up without being begged to, and their refusal take any true responsibility for even minor mishaps.
Finally, but perhaps most critically, it highlighted that despite all of their preaching, SWMRS seemed incapable of believing young women were telling the truth over something as silly and inconsequential as being charged for a lunchbox that never arrived, and doing anything to help them out. It also clearly demonstrated they lacked the moral character to properly rectify a business error, let alone succeed in their mission of “killing all rapists” or “punching Nazis” in defense of young women.
Chapter Eleven: FAILURE #2: X GAMES
In August of 2019, as the lunchbox disaster was brewing, SWMRS played an extreme sports (plus competitive gaming) festival in the Midwest. The energy there was not good. In fact, it was terrible. Why was it so bad, you ask?
First, the band’s performance was exceptionally bad—it was their worst performance I’d ever seen, and I’d been to something like ten or fifteen shows. The vocals were especially painful (likely due to their vocalist’s excessive pot-smoking habit), grating through a slapped-together pop-rock cover of “Old Town Road.” Second, almost no one was there to see them or interested in watching their set. There were maybe ten—fifteen, if I’m being generous—girls watching their show on the barrier, and some stragglers from the skate festival lurking nearby. Some of them were only there because they’d won free tickets. Most of us already had each other blocked on Twitter due to some petty dispute or another. It was truly dreadful.
That’s not to say the show didn’t have its magical moments—there was a little half-assed, hesitant circle pit that was kind of fun. The best moment of the show, however, was also pretty lousy.
Someone’s random toddler had wandered over to us with no parent in sight—presumably due to an extended lapse in judgement from a drunk father entranced by totally sick ollies, bro. Worried about him getting hurt or lost or, you know, literally fucking kidnapped, we all took turns holding him, playing mommy in this sea of drunken, Tony-Hawk-wannabe, Fortnite-hypnotized drunk dads. To be honest, it was kind of fun, it felt kind of special. The band was eating it up. That’s what women are for, right?
Afterwards, the dad yelled and swore at us for touching his kid.
After this, we tried to buy some merch. The band had recently begun selling t-shirts everyone was excited for—they hired a fan this time, so she could really tap into the energy and what we wanted; she was an excellent artist to boot. (Later, this fan would become homeless, and the band would fail to pay their contractually obligated compensation for work she did for them because “they forgot.” She would not be the only person they failed to pay.) Though it had only been about two weeks since the school supply drop, most of our orders had still not shipped, and we already had a bad feeling. Thus, we were hoping to buy some merch in-person, but they hadn’t even bothered to set up a booth.
So, as we all went to leave, they had a member of the band—of course, the bassist—come out and beg us all to stay. First, he told us it would be a few minutes. His voice saccharine and business-like, he explained some news channel was coming to film them, they had to re-perform a song, they really needed us for the hype, they’d be so, so grateful if we stayed, and we might get a chance to be on TV, and wouldn’t that be so cool? We agreed it would be cool, we’d stick around for a few minutes—but the minutes stretched and stretched into what felt like hours. Sitting in a circle on the floor near the barricade, we grew more and more agitated and bored; but each time we got up to leave or look at other attractions at the festival, he kept coming back, getting increasingly desperate and pushy, insisting that we just needed to stay a few more minutes. So we stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
Loyal to the end, I put on an award-winning performance as their deranged, unhinged fan-girl—and sure enough, I made it on TV. But when it was over, and I left, they had kept us so long the electric scooters I had taken to the show were shut off; my phone was also dead, and I couldn’t call an Uber. So, like many of the other girls, I walked a mile to my hotel room, alone in the dark in an unfamiliar city. I cried the whole walk home—not because I was scared, but because the entire night had been a pathetic, hundred-dollar shitshow, and I knew deep down it was really over.
Why was it such a disaster, you’re wondering? This was a skate and video game festival—the teen girl fanbase SWMRS boasted so loudly about had little interest in attending for the other festivities (not that their bassist would even let us try).
I am sure people are rolling their eyes at this and saying girls play video games and skate too. Yeah dude, I know. Still, none of us nineteen-ish-year-olds wanted to go near a bunch of day-drunk twenty-eight-year-olds hooting and hollering about rooty tooty shooty games. According to a report from Texas Tech University analyzing the Winter X Games IX, the target demographic of the X Games are overwhelmingly males: “Males watch more and participate in more action sports than do females;” women appeared in only 5.8% of commercials aired; “Participants at the X Games are predominately male. There are limited events in which women can compete at this time;” “most individuals who watch the X Games are men;” and finally, none of the advertisements for gaming consoles or technology featured women; the vast majority of commercials that showed women were soup commercials, because cooking chicken tendies for their gamer sons is what women are for, right? According to Statista, the age demographic that watched the 2018 X Games the most were aged 30-49. This was clearly geared towards older dudes, and this was not something their teen girl fans were going to enjoy. It was bound to be a complete disaster from a marketing perspective, especially factoring in the fact that the tickets were prohibitively expensive for most people to come just for the band.
But SWMRS sure loved sports and video games, and it was all about them—they were the stars. Plus, a member of the band’s family lived there, so it was convenient. This was clearly something the band did because they wanted to go see the sports and video games, not because it was a good business decision. And because they were— In the words of triple-platinum rock band Smash Mouth—”Daddy Green Day” ’s brats, they could coast on by and do whatever the fuck they wanted without really worrying if it was successful or a good business decision.
Chapter Twelve: FAILURE #3: UNCOOL HALLOWEEN 2019
The last death rattle came with the band’s Uncool Halloween show. Uncool Halloween was a huge deal. Every year, there would be a magical Halloween bash in SWMRS’ hometown of “”Oakland,””—they’re from Piedmont, actually— and their loyal fans would fly out to see them, and other bands on their label and in the scene we knew and loved. Us uncool kids would get to see the internet friends we lived so far away from, say hi to the bands we loved, have a punk-rock party of our own instead of spending the weekend with frat stars and keg kings. (We tried to ignore that Max was in a frat.) And maybe— just maybe, we’d catch a glimpse of Billie Joe, wandering around in disguise.
This year, the band excitedly tweeted that they had a surprise for us, it would be something we really wanted, they’d be so excited to see us, they just couldn’t tell us what the surprise was yet. I was excited—but my friends had heard rumors, and the rumors were not good ones.
The surprise was a second Uncool Halloween show in LA, a city the band sneered that they “hated” in the TITLE TRACK of their first album. (By the way, this title track skipped horribly on their vinyl— yet again demonstrating that they failed to have their shit together every single time it mattered.)
Absolutely no one was happy about the Uncool Halloween announcement. Many of us had booked our flights and our hotels in San Francisco/Oakland already. No one wanted to go to both—no one wanted to drive a rental five hours, no one wanted to book another flight, no one wanted to get another hotel, and everyone was disappointed. Most people were forced to pick one show over another, splitting up the little friend groups that made the occasion so fun. Someone with mashed peas in their head could have told you this was going to happen.
(This was also in September, I think, when everyone had their hackles raised over the utter failure of the great lunchbox catastrophe of 2019, meaning this news was even more poorly received.)
So why did the band try to play the Palladium? Because they wanted to play the Palladium. Despite sneering that they “hate LA,” onstage and on their record, they wanted to be there more than we did, wanted to feel like a big rock band in the home of the Sunset Strip, real stars just like their daddy. Instead of recognizing that their fanbase wanted to be home, wanted to celebrate with the little “family,” wanted this once-a-year event to be special and intimate, they focused on what they wanted. They were also arrogant enough to think their roots didn’t matter, that they could play shows as big as they wanted, in whatever city they wanted, when this special, once-a-year, much smaller hometown show didn’t even sell out.
And, as everyone expected, things did not go well. SWMRS soon started pathetically e-begging for us to please, please, please buy tickets to this show no one wanted. This made everyone want to buy them less, because the writing was on the wall. Desperation is such a turn-off. Sure enough, the Palladium show got canceled, leaving many of us with to deal with wasted flights and hotel rooms and time off work. Just like with the stupid lunchboxes, the band made grandiose and empty promises out of their own arrogance, and demonstrated a complete lack of capability and crisis management skills; likewise, we again spent our money and got our hopes up for something that never arrived— except this time, the stakes were a lot higher.
This left us with just the San Fran show. This last Uncool Halloween was a disaster. I had attended two years prior, and they were—and still are, even after everything—probably some of the best nights of my life.
Uncool 2018 in particular was special. The year prior had been Harry Potter themed—this was before what JK Rowling stands for became as clear as it is now, so there were some rumblings of discontent, but many of us still looked fondly back on our childhood love of the book series. The characters were teens, like us, and the costumers were cute, fun, even sexy in tartan skirts, collared shirts, and fake tattoos. The characters had school uniforms, so everyone knew how to dress, and we all stood as one cohesive group. The hall was wonderfully decorated like the Great Hall in the books, with ghosts and stained glass and cobwebs. It was gorgeous. Everyone loved the lineup, too—they were bands we all knew and listened to and cared about. I was so happy that weekend, I smiled so much the muscles in my face actually gave out before the end of the night.
But the 2019 show was a fucking disaster. Perhaps the fact that SWMRS had quietly yet abruptly left their deal with major label Fueled By Ramen contributed to the lack of organization and apparent lack of resources, as well as the earlier summer disasters. To my knowledge, the terms of their departure were not known, but they had a history of histrionic bridge-burning; notably, they had gotten in a spat with Hedi Slimane, the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent. If I recall correctly, their guitarist would later Tweet a screenshot of an email thread concerning Slimane calling the band “rude and disrespectful” and saying he would be contacting his lawyer. Additionally, other fuss kicked up by the band included (I think) feuds with Debbie Ryan, Smash Mouth, (a one sided feud with) Alex Turner of the fucking Arctic Monkeys, Awsten Knight of Waterparks, The Frights, Yungblud, Anthony Fantano, and the yellow Power Ranger, to name just a few.
Back to Uncool 2019. The costume concept—“Pixar”—was so broad no one knew what to dress up as. It also felt patronizing and childish; we were all in our late teens and early twenties now—too old to still be kids, too young to be genuinely nostalgic yet. Many people passed on dressing up entirely, including me and my friends.
Having directed so many of their resources and attention to the canceled Palladium show none of us wanted in the first place, the concert itself was a mess—one may even say a San Fran Shit Show. No one liked the bands that played—and besides, the lineup was eternally shifting to the point where no one even knew what the fuck was going on, apparently due to fan outcry regarding multiple acts initially booked being accused of abuse or sexual misconduct. The band also booked artists they could use for token diversity, rather than people their base listened to or gave a shit about. The much-beloved repeat acts Destroy Boys were absent from the lineup, for reasons that would later become uncomfortably clear. The décor also wasn’t as cool.
Beyond this, the night was just unpleasant. Things kept going technically wrong, the opening acts sounded terrible, time between sets dragged on and on, and they kept hauling up their random friend to talk between sets to try and distract from the trash fire and keep the audience calm and in the building. He made the same jokes and told the same story over and over, trying to get us to cheer each time, even though we were all cringing with secondhand embarrassment. The backdrop of the show appeared to be running entirely on the vocalist’s laptop, complete with routine appearances of his desktop (and vast quantity of unopened emails), screen saver, and mouse cursor obnoxiously floating on the screen.
Some of our friends had placed their bets on the LA show, and couldn’t afford to rebook the flights and hotel rooms and take even more time off of work, so we missed them. We were annoyed at the letdown of the “big surprise.” No one was as happy or excited to be there. Things felt off. The band didn’t really bother to say hi afterwards, at least not as enthusiastically as they had in the past. All in all, it was an awful night, and many of us were pissed.
The skating show had been a bummer, but I had tried to write it off as a fluke—the band would pull through. This, though—this was undeniable. But some of us are lifers, here until the bitter end, so I tried to ignore this, too.
Chapter Thirteen: THE END
Then, everything was really done for. There was some kind of freak West-Coast October snowstorm, like it was God deciding, after the cringeworthy previous night, to euthanize this for its own good. I bounced between airports and delayed redeyes for the rest of the weekend and well into Monday, hungry and tired and dirty and cold and crying and knowing I’d miss class. I knew I wasn’t the only one leaving Uncool that experienced it. When I finally got back to Iowa, my car had frozen from the sudden cold snap, and I had to get airport security to help me jump it as I sobbed uncontrollably in the freezing parking lot.
Things could not get worse for the band. Except they did. Not too long after, a bomb dropped—a member of the band and two crew members had been driving in the snow and been in a horrible accident. They were trying to make it in time to open for some pop act they liked, shows that—like the “big, exciting Uncool show in LA”—no one had wanted or cared about, but the band saw as propelling them to bigger and bigger heights. The crew members were mostly okay, but the guitarist was not. He was sleeping in the back and not wearing a seatbelt, even in the awful conditions, and consequently had been thrown through the windshield. He had horrific injuries (if I remember correctly, a traumatic brain injury, broken shoulders, and broken ribs, among other things). The band blamed their label, they blamed their lack of insurance, and they blamed the weather. And they blamed the music industry for not giving them enough money and pushing them too hard, never mind that it was their decision to walk away from a deal with a major label just before this happened (as reported by Riff Magazine).
Regardless, all upcoming shows were canceled, and the band announced the guitarist was going to be hospitalized for months. We all knew it was over for good then. The more naïve and younger among us didn’t really comprehend the severity of such injuries—the band was optimistic and downplaying them, but many of us knew, deep down, it was never going to be the same. Everything was over. This was in November 2019. (Later, we would all learn that not long after, this is when everything with Lydia trying to get “an apology” from the band first started.)
I was absolutely beside myself. Some people might say it would be silly to be this upset over a band. And I agree, it was incredibly silly. I cringe at how upset I was—I was sobbing and not eating over some nepotistic indie band. But it was bigger than just a band. My local scene was falling apart, and days after Uncool and the crash, and this insane guy I had been seeing really freaked me out to the point where I stopped going to local shows. I listened to NPR every morning, and soon after all this, this weird disease was the only thing they talked about. No one was taking it seriously yet, but something was very, very wrong.
I was mourning my youth—this band I had loved since high school was, for all intents and purposes, toast. Subsequently, all the best-friends-forever the band had brought together were scattering their separate ways. I had learned firsthand how scary guys that claim to care about you can get when you don’t do what they want. I had learned people graduate, get jobs, move on with their lives, and stop playing in bands and putting on house shows forever at a way earlier age than I thought they did, and that none of this ever fucking mattered and there was never a point to any of it at all. I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and we all had to grow up, whether we felt ready or not. I knew it was all going to end someday—but I didn’t know it would be so soon, so sudden, and so painful.
Chapter Fourteen: THE END (AGAIN)
Though this is personal to me, I feel like my situation was probably similar to many other girls who finally blew up on Instagram and Twitter in the summer of 2020. This high-pressure environment was a primary factor in why all of this occurred, and why it occurred the way it did.
I don’t need to rehash how devasting and bleak things were for live music and people who care about music at all. I think the period between March and November of 2020 was one of the darkest periods of my life, and probably was for many of us—I was supposed to spend that spring interning in New York, but instead, I was still in Iowa, and it felt like the pandemic was never going to end, and I was going to live the rest of my life trapped in a room staring at a screen, working in a grocery store for $8.45 an hour, all alone in an empty apartment, with nothing at all to live for and no light at the end of the tunnel.
Meanwhile, though—this is when the writing on the wall started to come true, at least for the scene. At first, things seemed okay—the winter would end. Things would get better. The weather would get warmer. It was just two extra of weeks of spring break. Maybe three. Four at most.
But the weather heated up, and things got worse. As the calendar slowly flipped to June, things didn’t get better—they got worse. Sirens screeched constantly and helicopters airlifting patients to hospitals or surveilling protestors beat overhead at all hours of the night and day. Shows and movies and other things to entertain us stopped coming out. Toys we ordered off the internet to distract us didn’t arrive. The stimulus money ran out. People took to the streets to protest the deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, and were met with drones and tear gas and rubber bullets. Natural disasters were trashing much of the country. Things were not getting better; they were getting much worse. It’s corny and cheap for me to repeat it.
This is about the scene, though. That June, this genre of music that had gotten credit, or credit-by-association, of being built on activism and doing the right thing and fighting for social justice and punching Nazis and killing rapists and blah blah blah was being exposed for what it was—mostly a bunch of white guys with rich and/or famous dads cosplaying Kurt Cobain. Their tone-deaf posts and little black squares and hashtags demonstrated how little they actually knew about what they were preaching; people also noticed how many refused to say anything at all. Black fans were the first to realize how little they cared, the first to point it out, and the first set the stage for what happened next. And they never got the credit in the articles that came out afterwards.
As June folded into July, things started to heat up on the feminism front, too—these were rumors many of us heard, but had been willing to swallow our distaste and look the other way on, since we had been having fun, listening to music that was actually good, going to festivals that were actually run in a semi-competent way, and the guys in bands had been, well, doing their jobs.
(It may be inappropriate to openly admit this, but Joey, his brother, and other band guys were also all shaving themselves bald around this time due to the combination of salon closures and summer heat; in a sentiment similar to what’s expressed in this Tumblr text post with 150k+ notes, much of our adoration rapidly dissipated into disgust.)
But now, there was no new music, there was no curly hair, there were no shows, there were no funny group antics, and there wouldn’t be any for a very long time, quite possibly ever again. It wasn’t worth keeping quiet anymore. We had lost money we needed for more important things on canceled shows for bands that had “sold out” only to achieve very little success, and weren’t even that good anymore, anyway. Everyone was angry, and the floodgates opened. A lot of it was true and rational. A lot of it wasn’t. But it didn’t matter. We were hysterical.
Right up until the end, SWMRS were spouting off condescending social media posts with buzzwords about therapy and disappointment every time one of their friends was accused of something. The whole time, they knew what Lydia was about to do, they knew they were next on the chopping block, but it didn’t matter. They were willing to try and continue their feminism charade up until their dying breath—and they did. Especially Cole.
Chapter Fifteen: THE END: PHASE TWO
Everyone knows what happened next. They—and every band ever — got “canceled.” Whatever.
It seemed that these bands had been so focused on their daydream world of traditional gender roles and undying male superiority, they had forgotten this was a fantasy, and that many women are successful musicians, too. And though SWMRS spouted pseudofeminism ad-nauseum, they didn’t think any of the girls they expected to worship them like benevolent boy-gods in exchange for their chivalry would ever actually be better than them, and not need their inherent superiority. But in real life, there was always a real possibility that the young women in their lives would greatly surpass them in terms of success, and it would eventually matter how they treated these girls when they were on top.
A few months after SWMRS got “canceled,” when things were even worse on the pandemic front, and even more people were dying, Joey—who, like his father, had been spouting off Tweets and Instagram posts shaming people for not staying inside—had a wedding, complete with rumored international guests. As an Iowan, the complexity of the Californian legal system escapes me, but I heard it was illegal due to the sheer numbers of disease and death. And they couldn’t even keep their little party off social media. Not that it looked fun—in the picture I saw, no one was really smiling.
The months dragged on. The vaccine came out. Trump didn’t win. Things looked better. The band had not accepted they were toast—rumors they were feeling out for a comeback were starting to bubble. It had only been a few months. The pandemic wasn’t even over. Even if they did release a record, they wouldn’t be able to tour on it yet. It was ridiculous.
Then, at the end of February, out of nowhere, I got an email from the band. I did “ask for it” in the sense that I had written the band letters after everything happened. It’s subject line was also a carefully placed bomb, deliberately poised to try and play with my emotions and hit me where it hurt.
It was ridiculous. It was saccharine. It was disgustingly transparent and manipulative. It was from the lead singer, my favorite member, someone I didn’t know but had fancied myself in love with for years. The force of what I somehow hallucinated in this complete and total loser was so all-consuming it inspired me to write academic-award-winning, corny, goo-goo-ga-ga teen poetry. It’s pathetic, it’s embarrassing, and it’s certainly regrettable— but it’s true.
The letter tried very hard, and treaded very carefully, to make me feel special and important and included and understood as they explained their story. But it was also incredibly patronizing and forced, maintaining enough distance to cast plausible deniability later that I was just a psychotic fan and they didn’t really mean it, and didn’t really admit to anything, anyway, and I probably made it all up because I’m so crazy.
It came in the middle of my midterm exams and it severely affected me, as it was intended to; it served as a distraction and roadblock to the important parts of my life. It’s fair to completely blame me for getting so upset.
All of my closest friends (I announced an immediate emergency video call, complete with my downing a Smirnoff Smash Screwdriver® from the gas station) saw it for what it was—they were screaming at me that this was not good, and I needed to not listen. In my gut, this felt very, very wrong. I ignored it at first, but then they pushed. I was also a grown-up. I should have known better. I shouldn’t have let something this fucking stupid and inconsequential and asinine affect me. But it still was an incredibly mean and callous thing to do to somebody.
(The conference call in question)
I, of course, caved, and immediately regretted it. Something like a day later I started hearing rumors—unsubstantiated ones—that I was not the only girl that had gotten one, and they were practically copy-pasted, right down to the SoundCloud link. Worse still, it was Joey’s birthday, which I had forgotten; while it was midterms for many of us, it was the special little birthday boy’s day, and that was all that mattered. His mommy posted on Instagram about how proud she was of him. I felt disgusted and used and humiliated. It was a coordinated ploy to feel out for a comeback and soullessly try to get me —and everyone else— on board with it. It was mean. It was cruel. I still shouldn’t have written first.
Obviously, this little comeback didn’t pan out. Not the first time, anyway. I heard they went live on some relatively unknown app to drag up some fake tears and talk about how cancel culture (and, insert another c-word here) had ruined their careers so bad they had to mine bitcoin to survive. Clearly, it was fucking dumb to ever love a band like that, and fucking dumb to ever love them that much.
Chapter Sixteen: EVER AFTER
Anyway, fast forward to now. I heard they’re using dear old dad’s connections to swing spots on Spotify playlists and shows at places that aren’t Johnny Depp’s former bar. I’ve heard one of their father’s connections—who has a pretty unsavory history himself— swooped in to bail their lethargic little brother’s eternally lackluster career out yet again. Meanwhile, 50-year-old, married Billie Joe Armstrong is not-so-subtly following Johnny Depp on Instagram while getting wasted and letting pretty, young “astrologers” post TikToks of them rubbing faces in between Instagram posts about teaching starving African girls how to play guitar or something. Who knows if any of it’s true. None of it fucking matters.
If you’re still with me, you might be wondering what the point of all this was. My point is, SWMRS weren’t promising young men with their hearts in the right place that lost everything because of some rogue Carolina’s Ultimate Netflix Tweet. They were already dead in the water by that point, and so was everyone else. They lost their career because they were a bunch of arrogant, selfish losers that didn’t care about anyone or anything except jerking themselves off, and possessed an inability to think critically about their careers. They proudly burned every professional bridge they had through gossip and shit-talking and bad behavior. Many of the experiences they were creating for their fans were miserable and self-centered. Their base was already more or less completely turned against them, and they had lost many of their friends, fans, and professional allies through their own bad behavior. Most egregiously, they knowingly charaded through a lie onstage and smeared their friends for the same things they were guilty of, all while striving to serve as false prophets and The Male Feminists Of Our Generation.
This was Lydia’s whole point the entire time, when she called them hypocrites—but nobody really listened to her, I don’t think, they just reacted to the first three words.
But it doesn’t really matter, does it? This is just some indie band.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
This pointless dissertation was made with love to Jillian, for being my one true California friend, and with love to little Ray, who is always right.