The Predatory Exploitation of Today’s Music Scene between Fan and Artist
CONTENT WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE PROVIDES DETAILS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT. PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
by Mica Kendall
Concerts are often representational of an escape from one’s outside world problems for a brief moment in time that allows them to immerse themselves in the solace of listening to and experiencing live music. Sharing a space amidst other music lovers and connecting as an audience with the musician for an hour and a half long set is why live music is so powerful and integral in our society. Live music is about sonically connecting with the musician who fans often deem their idol, role model, or physical representation of the music that soundtracks their entire life. However, the purity of live music has recently become more of a murky facade due in large part to the gruesome reality of sexual assault and harassment.
Now don’t get me wrong, I recognize the refute when it comes to the relationship between musicians and fans. One often hears the rhetoric, “well isn’t every fan’s dream to have a relationship with their favorite musician?” For the most part, yes, as seen with the British Invasion, boy bands, pop idols, and my 5th-grade love for Harry Styles that has convinced me I do not need any other man except for Harry himself as many dream to obtain that form of intimacy with your idol. However, I think there’s a line between a genuine relationship and the act of sexual manipulation for one-sided gain. For example, I do not think a genuine relationship should be a constant demand for Snapchat nudes from your partner.
This incessant request is the exact tactic musician Garrett Borns, known in the music world as BORNS, used on several of his fans that he found to be pretty or that had interest in him. One anonymous ex-fan from Hamburg named Mathilda felt inclined to do whatever he asked of her in order to maintain his attention. She stated “he knew that if he ignored me, I would come back giving him what he wanted to. It was always on his terms.” Essentially, Garrett would play a cat and mouse game with girls where if they did not fulfill his requests he would leave them “ghosted” and deprived of receiving individual attention from their idol. Additionally, Ex-fan, Nia, experienced emotional distress when she did not comply with Borns requests, which resulted in Borns immediately cutting off all forms of communication. She described Borns way of making her feel personal guilt for sticking to her comfort levels as “months [would] go by when he ignored my messages because I said no to going to his hotel room. I felt so hurt because I started to think I had no one to talk to.” The even more sinister underbelly behind Borns’ actions is how his sexting requests of some minor aged fans lasted for years until they turned 18 where sexting turned into in-person physical requests. A victim to Born’s sexual advances, Alyssa Daniele, complied to Borns desires for physical action, but after the experience felt manipulated and regret. Daniele describes Borns dominating nature as “the things he did were things I did not want and it hurt. He was aggressive and controlling and I was so fucking scared of him. He didn’t make me feel pretty, he didn’t make me feel appreciated or respected. I was a toy and he did what he wanted.”
Essentially, Borns treated countless girls who foundationally made up his career as a musician as mere rag dolls conveniently at his disposal, knowing all the while that if one wouldn’t give him what he wanted there were countless other fans that were only an Instagram DM away. Sadly, these malicious actions of sexual assault between the fan and the artist are not limited to just Borns. Victims all over the country have shared their viral stories that encompass rape, verbal and physical abuse, and more against some well-known bands and artists including The Orwells, Summer Salt, The Symposium, Ducktails, Brockhampton, Pinegrove, Moose Blood, and more.
Amidst all these bands receiving exposure for sexual allegations, the band that hit hardest for me on a personal level was the band Summer Salt. Before moving to Boston for college I was avidly involved in the up and coming Austin music scene back in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. Summer Salt was one of the rare bands that I watched grow from a small local group playing in a record store with the crowd consisting of just me and their parents to a prominent band touring with acts like The Walters and Turnover and acquiring millions of streams on Spotify. I felt a sense of pride that I had supported a band’s career since the beginning, and had the utmost appreciation towards the band for conducting an interview with me in 2017 for my music publication “Alt Philanthropy.” I always deemed Summer Salt as humble and well deserving for their uprising success.
Consequently, underneath their rising success and outside the public eye were actions of both sexual assault and harassment. The allegations are directed towards all 3 band members, but the majority of the accusations are directed towards bassist Phil Baier. The accusations against Phil are downright disturbing and chilling with a text message from the “Summer Salt Sexual Misconduct” thread on Google Docs with Phil stating “Yeah we had sex. I hope that’s not a problem, it seemed consensual/ didn’t just immediately happen. But we were both drunk. Call me if you need to!” Underscore the word “seemed” alongside consensual. Firstly, if you break down the act of consent, it’s merely a verbal communication of one saying yes or no to an action. Consent is not inferred, it is not a guess or a shoulder shrug that is deemed as “seeming” okay. It’s literally an all or nothing of yes or no. The fact Phil downplayed his sexual actions with the justification of being drunk and assuming consent is a major red flag that cannot be excused. There are multiple accusations towards Phil advancing on fans, while the other band members would see his actions and not do anything about it. Yet, to make matters even worse, one of Phil’s victims stated, “Phil also gave me HPV. If you had any sort of relations with him, please get tested and checked for abnormal cell growth.” Not only are these actions for victims mentally scarring, but also can have permanent physical health consequences that cannot be undone all because the act of intercourse “seemed” okay.
Both Borns and Summer Salt have released statements regarding their actions, and ironically both statements are dismissive and missing the point of their actions. Borns’ statement primarily lacks empathy excusing everything as being consensual, and focuses more on himself, effectively making the victims appear as overly sensitive that things “ended abruptly and obviously caused hurt feelings.” Meanwhile, Summer Salt’s statement feels like a watered down attempt on trying to evoke pity and save their careers by pushing all the blame on Phil even though undisclosed accusations exist towards other band members of the band. Summer Salt stated, “ We would never want anyone to feel violated in a space in which people should feel safe.” ironically it seems like that space has been violated between them and their fans since the start of their career in Texas.
In opposition, however, some supporters still endorse the musical endeavors of Summer Salt and Borns, blaming the power of social media and the idea of “cancel culture” to be far-fetched and overdramatic. Essentially, these fans that are turning a blind eye on these band members that are accused sexual assaulters, excusing their actions and supporting their music. This is likely due to the all too common practice of framing one’s idols as being perfect automatically stating “they would never do that” in their defense. If you strip away the title of someone being a famous musician and disregard the celebrity hierarchy as a prominent figure in music, underneath it all they are just a human being. We are all human and fundamentally, social status titles that are given to us through society mean nothing. The idea of “cancel culture” being dramatic is justifiable because the people of the internet are ultimately ending careers of abusers through the power of voicing their thoughts and causing victims stories to trend and reach all forms of media. However, cancel culture would not need to exist if musicians and the public as a whole understood how simplistic and logical consent and moral boundaries are with human beings.
The environment of live music has shifted from a naive perspective of fans thinking that every personal favorite band has human decency towards their supporters to a real awakening sense of unease with some fans deeming their idols to think that they are just merely a piece of meat or eye candy amidst a crowd. Ultimately, not all bands are bad. In fact, the bands that have no allegations against them are greater in number than the bands that do have claims. At the end of the day, music should just be about music and that is what most bands project with their performances.
Live music itself is not “canceled” and in today’s political climate live music is needed more than ever to keep us sane. Music, in general, is so vital and integral in the sense that it holds the power to tap into human consciousness and resonate with listeners on a personal basis that no other form of entertainment can provide. Essentially, music is a form of comfort that helps make our everyday lives easier in being able to keep going throughout all the challenges life may throw. Thus the comfort music provides should never be stripped away from the listener and be replaced with trauma and negativity in the form of assault and harassment. Overall, I believe through the continuous effort of spreading awareness and understanding right and wrong, the relationship between the artist and fans can retain its genuine sense of purity and appreciation of live music.