Wil Wagner, Abuse Claims, and Self-Proclaimed Male Feminists (Opinion)
Words by Imogen Hindson
CW: Suicide, violence, emotional abuse.
In the past week, a series of emails allegedly sent by the frontman of The Smith Street Band, Wil Wagner, have gone viral. Instagram account @bitchinbrujeria was at the forefront of this exposé, posting on behalf of two anonymous women claiming they had received emotionally abusive messages from Wagner at the end of their relationships. This raises serious questions over the reality of misogyny in the music industry, the alienation women feel in music, and the trend of continuing to glorify abusers, but only if their art is consumable for the mass audience.
The first collation of emails allegedly sent by Wagner, included lines such as “you made me want to kill myself. You made me feel like a worthless, disgusting piece of shit”, and “you’re a despicable human being, and becoming involved with you was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
Wagner has since issued a statement, stating “I am not hiding from anything… [but] I ask that you make up your own minds”. Wagner claimed that the emails were ‘selectively shown’, and emphasised ‘one-sided statements’. This statement came four days after allegations were leaked online.
One of the two women have remained anonymous, however, Camp Cope’s Georgia McDonald (Georgia ‘Maq’) has posted a statement to Instagram. Maq said “I’m sure by now a lot of you have figured out that it was my inbox that those emails ended up in… I am the receiver”.
Maq continued by saying “I’ve been told it was just a bad breakup… I had to threaten him with an intervention order for him to stop harassing me… This was not a bad breakup. This was harassment and emotional abuse”.
Georgia Maq has been supported by Waax Band, David Le’aupepe, PUP, Courtney Barnett, Gen Fricker (Triple J), Thelma Plum, Ecca Vandal, Portugal The Man, and many others.
The post has since been removed from Instagram, but you can read further details here.
Furthermore, two supporting bands that were expected to tour with The Smith Street Band, Sweater Curse and The Beths have since pulled out of future lineups.
At what point do we then separate art from the artist? I was once a fan of The Smith Street Band, a true believer in the positive messages embedded in their songs. I sat by the beach and sung ‘I Aint Safe’ with my siblings in the summer, ‘Get High, See Mice’ nursed me through a breakup. They guided me from a teenager into a young adult. If it were up to me, I would attempt to separate Wagner’s alleged abuse from the songs that guided me through this time, but we cannot allow musicians to utilise their platform to not only normalise their behaviour, but continue to share it with the world.
One of The Smith Street Band’s most recent songs ‘Passiona’ gives the band the title of their most recent album, with the lyrics “and I’m absolutely infinitely more scared of you than you are of me / And I’ve always been the one who cares too much”. In light of the emails, this song takes a much darker tone; one which reiterates the age-old trope of the dynamics between the evil ex and the holier than thou frontman.
It’s fair to say the release of TSSB’s album, and the release of Camp Cope’s single ‘Opener’, was the topic of conversation amongst people involved in music scenes. Wagner was celebrated for his ‘soft’ approach, whereas Georgia Maq was critiqued on her inability to prevent her politics from infiltrating her music.
When these lyrics are read within the scope of the alleged emails, stating “[I’m] just a person… who is suddenly terrified of women and wishes they were dead even more than usual”, it is impossible to separate the art from the artist, because the art, in this case, is so closely linked to real people and abuse. By glorifying this art, we encourage women to be seen as the villain in circumstances where they were victims of emotional abuse.
This alienation that women feel in relation to alternative and emo music is explored by Jessica Hopper, stating “girls in emo today do not have names… our actions are portrayed solely through the detailing of neurotic self-entanglement of the boy singer- our region of personal power, simply, is our impact on his romantic life.”
The Smith Street Band so easily created an illusion of the perfect feminist man. With songs like ‘Death To The Lads’ condemning the toxic culture that engulfs the Australian music scene, and ‘Birthdays’ with lyrics such as “we are more than future housewives”, the irony is clear. The Smith Street Band monopolised a demographic of Triple J bros, who were so intrinsically the definition of ‘lads’, yet were excused due to their supposedly sincere intentions.
This is something that is so fundamentally wrong with our music industry. Musicians gain autonomy over the discussion surrounding male aggression at shows, while attempting to silence the women who are trying to make these changes.
We’ve seen the same support of abusers time and time again in Australia’s music scene. In 2017, Sydney’s Sticky Fingers were accused of threatening and verbally abusing other musicians. After a year-long hiatus and a sea of supporters quick to defend the group, the band played a sold-out show at Thebarton Theatre in October 2018. When we actively support the art of abusers, we are providing them with a platform to send a message to the world: abuse is acceptable, especially if you play in a band.
It is impossible to separate the art from the artist when the art itself is so heavily tied to their inadequate actions. In the case of The Smith Street Band, you won’t find me supporting them any time soon.