PWR BTTM is not the name of a band you can tell your mom about. It feels like the kind of name you scrawl on a bathroom stall next to a number saying “Call for a Good Time.” It feels like smoky club rooms and music that’s just a touch too loud and with so much glitter in the air you can taste it. And that is, at least on the surface, kind of what the band sounds like. If they seem like the kind of band to rock dresses and glitter lipstick and fuck shit up to dirty guitar, then you’re right.
I can’t really talk to you about what PWR BTTM sounds like, because I’m stuck on what PWR BTTM feels like. It’s like trying to describe the rain, or that time when a great song comes on right when you’re cresting over the edge of a sunrise, or when you’re 13 and Avril Lavigne just speaks to you. Back pedal a bit there.
It’s impossible to talk about PWR BTTM without touching on the fact that they’re a queer band. That is by design, it’s a message wrapped in listenable punk, with the kind of lyrics you want to scream in your car while driving just a touch too late in the summer air. It’s a packaged feeling, but one that’s encrusted in sparkle and sweat. It’s at least in part related to the name. “Power Bottom” is a sexual position, and vowels removed, will still net you a great deal of porn hits the next time you pull up Tumblr.
But it’s a position that’s about dominance from a seemingly subordinate position, a tone that suits the band. Queer is getting its spotlight moment, but it’s not the dominant culture. Even when Sam Smith sings about relationships (he is openly gay), he does it without male pronouns so that straight folks can still sing along. So when you have a song about a “boi” sung by a queer person, followed by an admission of lipstick wearing, it finally feels like your reality is being sung about.
Maybe I first knew that I loved them when I caught the NPR Tiny Desk concert with them performing, guitarist Ben Hopkins wearing a slinky red dress, flowers in his hair and pink glitter lipstick that is smeared through his beard. Or maybe it was when I watched the video for their addictively singable “West Texas”, where they run through an abandoned West Texas water park with colorful flares and sequins. It’s about the sound. It’s about the look. It’s about taking up space that was meant for straight dudes – because they’re wrong and you’re great and full of promise and power. It’s about that feeling.
I’m still not sure what that feeling is, but I know that PWR BTTM does.