When Benjamin Hopkins burst through the doors of the Decker Social Space with messy, colorful makeup plastered on their face, they left a trail of glitter in their wake — part and parcel for all of PWR BTTM’s performances.
As Hopkins adjusted the sleeves on a tight red dress and kicked off the pair of pants they were wearing underneath, Liv Bruce laughed, with dark red lipstick highlighting a huge smile.
The duo apologized for being late (they had driven nine hours to get to the College on Friday, Oct. 7) and announced that this CUB Alt show, like all of their shows, was a safe space.
That’s what PWR BTTM is all about: respecting each other, having fun and shattering societal norms in a most radical fashion.
The New York-based band made headlines this summer in major media outlets, like MTV and NPR, for requiring gender-neutral bathrooms at their shows. Both Hopkins and Bruce use gender-neutral pronouns to describe themselves.
PWR BTTM’s unapologetic queerness shines through in their lyrics, which alternate between silly and sincere.
“My girl gets scared, can’t take him anywhere,” Hopkins sings in “Ugly Cherries,” the namesake of the duo’s first album. “My girl’s so sad. Everything I do makes him mad.”
How can a “girl” be referred to as “him?” Is Hopkins singing about a girl or a boy? How do gender-neutral pronouns work? Invoking these questions is just PWR BTTM’s first step. Actually teaching their audiences about gender identities is a far loftier undertaking.
After explaining gender-neutral pronouns to their friend’s very Republican father this summer — something Hopkins said should be a feat in the Olympics — Bruce wrote a song about how fun it can be to teach people to address others in a way that makes sense.
“I’m not exactly a boy in a dress, but thank you, I know what you mean,” they sing on the track. “Do you wanna ask me something? Do you wanna look at me?”
It isn’t just PWR BTTM’s lyrics that impress. The band’s glamorous lo-fi sound and intense power chords have poised the duo to break out into the mainstream. At one point during the night, Hopkins fell onto their back and shredded on their guitar with well-manicured fingers, while Bruce bared their teeth and pounded away on their kit.
Halfway through their set, the duo switched instruments and launched into “I Wanna Boi,” the featured song in PWR BTTM’s most recent music video. The performance turned into a wild, head thrashing singalong that was only rivaled by the band’s encore.
There, Hopkins invited the crowd to scream along with them to a poem they wrote: “One man won’t ever love me like I need him to.”
Other tracks were not so raucous. Before “C U Around,” Bruce told the crowd it was OK if they started to cry, an invitation appreciated by the handful of fans in tears by the end of the song.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we can be in the same place and my heart won’t start to beat at such a frantic pace,” Bruce sang. “But today was not that day.”
The pair was their own comic relief. When Hopkins asked the sound technicians to turn up their voice in the microphone, Bruce interjected.
“More importantly, was there enough of my voice?” they asked. “More of me, please!”
The duo playfully bantered with each other all night long.
“There’s a band called the Dixie Chicks,” Hopkins said later. “They’re very good and you should listen to them instead of us. Have you ever heard ‘Goodbye Earl?’ It’s everything you wish we were.”
PWR BTTM fans ate up the joke, but from the looks of it, they didn’t wish for anything more than what was right in front of them: two individuals who aren’t afraid to be themselves, and encourage others to do the same.
Like the glitter embedded in the carpet of the Decker Social Space, PWR BTTM doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
*This story was originally published in The Signal.