PWR BTTM – ‘Pageant’

By Susannah Bennett

‘Pageant’ is the gloriously defiant follow up to PWR BTTM’s debut album ‘Ugly Cherries’. Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce continue to empower with rock anthems that chart the fears and joys of life as queer-identified individuals. PWR BTTM are the bright beam of optimism and pride that many are searching for in a time when being bold comes with fear. It’s difficult to come away from the record feeling anything but liberated. Their unapologetic celebration of queerness and identity gives you the courage to be “your damn self”.

Progressing from ‘Ugly Cherries’, ‘Pageant’ shows PWR BTTM at their most vulnerable yet. The band still rip their way fiercely through confident power-punk tunes, but ‘Pageant’ devotes attention to softer, introspective moments, becoming a poignant and at times heart-wrenching exploration of identity.

Hopkins opens ‘Silly’ with a chaotic torrent of intricate tapping, their signature technique. The riff fits the “I cannot sit still” of the opening line perfectly; once you’ve heard it, you won’t be able to either. When the percussion filled chorus kicks in you’re left grinning; it’s upbeat and bursting with pride. ‘Sissy’ empowers because it boldly reclaims a word intended to hurt. Bruce sings “cause I’m a big, bad sissy, and I’m gonna make you listen when I say”. It’s the fearless response you wish you could have given, in retrospect, to anyone who has ever criticised your self-expression.

Anxiety and frustration are simmering beneath PWR BTTM’s glittering surface. The poignant acoustic title track ‘Pageant’ departs from the confidence of previous songs. Hopkins’ introspective contemplation is incredibly moving: “body says to my brain, Jesus Christ, why don’t you love me? I’ve been feeling so ugly”. Their faltering vocals exude vulnerability; it’s about struggling with internal conflict and feeling powerless. ‘Styrofoam’ alludes to discomfort and dysphoria: “and if I could I’d take it off, take a walk around the block, but since I’m stuck here I guess I’ll call it home”. Stripped bare, the track devotes focus to Bruce’s vocals as they navigate the conflict between their non-binary identity and body.

‘Answer My Text’ couldn’t be more relevant. It expresses everyone’s frustration at being ignored for hours on social media and ends with an explosive guitar solo. Hopkins’s life-affirming lyrics in ‘LOL’ are enough to bring you to tears: “when you are queer you are always nineteen”. They reflect the struggle of trying to find your place in a world not designed for you. The infectious energy of ‘New Trick’ is fitting for a track that’s about trying to get people to use gender-neutral pronouns. If only it was as effortless as PWR BTTM make this song.

‘Big Beautiful Day’ is a queer anthem. It’s a vibrant burst of energy ready to empower anyone who needs it. The energetic opening riff showers you with optimism before bursting into Hopkins’s liberating lyrics: “my advice is to look incredible, as you make their lives regrettable by being your damn self”. Huge hooks and assertive lyrics make the track a vibrant celebration of difference. It’s a middle finger to anyone who has ever tried to bring you down for being yourself. PWR BTTM instill courage and self-confidence; they’re encouraging you to be your best and most authentic self.

The importance of a release like ‘Pageant’ cannot be overstated and it’s vital that people have access to it. It’s an exhilarating explosion of authentic self-expression. Many will listen and wish that they had been able to hear the record growing up and for those who can it will be invaluable. ‘Pageant’ builds on the vigour of ‘Ugly Cherries’ but surpasses it with its intricate riffs and newfound openness. Cascading between angst and hope, confidence and confusion, ‘Pageant’ provides an unparalleled soundtrack for the exploration of identity.

SUSANNAH BENNETT

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