On June 21, Brockhampton, the fast-rising hip-hop boy band that released three albums in 2016, made their network TV debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They’d been on TV before, giving an amped-up, dance party performance on MTV’s TRL in February and starring in the docu-series All-American Boyband on Viceland, but there was something different about this gig. The band wasn’t wearing their trademark blueface makeup and orange jumpsuits. They wore matching flannel shirts and sat cross-legged on green turf with a beach scene projected behind them. They looked sad.
Those new to the band might not have known that evening that they were also down a man. The Tonight Show appearance was their first since member Ameer Vann was removed from the group’s lineup. Just a few weeks prior, two women accused Vann of abuse during sexual intercourse.
In hindsight, it’s not difficult to see why the band kicked Vann out. Until the allegations came out, they had as squeaky-clean and inspirational an image as a hip-hop group could have: a multi-racial team of creative young men — producers, rappers, filmmakers, graphic designers — making a full-package audiovisual experience out of a house in South Central Los Angeles, led by the proudly gay rapper Kevin Abstract, whose solo successes powered the group in its early days. To me, they were proof that a group of young, independent-minded, close-knit creators could, by combining talents, not only achieve success as music industry outsiders, but create something that speaks to the ethos of a generation.
In this view, the beginning of the end came not with the accusations against Vann, but with the group’s signing to RCA, as major a label as could be. It seems silly to play the “sellout” card in 2018, but when the group announced the signing, it was hard not to feel as if all the words about doing it yourself had been left in the dust. That decision colored what came after it. When Vann was let go, it appeared as though the group had left behind their friend. Their appearance on Fallon became a very public group therapy session where they could play the victim, where Abstract could say lines like, “I feel like brothers lie just so my feelings don’t get hurt.” The most unreasonable part of me felt it was a ridiculous, unnecessary bit of theatrics.
But this is a very simplistic, angry reading of a complex situation. Writers and editors are fortunate in that they are able to reckon publicly with their own mixed emotions and complex thoughts, and that’s exactly what I have in this situation.
A fuller picture of the situation around Vann emerged after the Fallon performance. Although it must be said that no criminal charges or police reports have been filed, what has been said against Vann by two women interviewed by Pitchfork is strange and disturbing. Both women give similar stories of engaging in BDSM-style sexual acts taken too far by Vann. One describes being bruised, being held down during intercourse and being choked until her vision went black. “The sex itself was consensual,” she says “but not what he’d do, and saying stop was not an option.” The events described by the two women happened in 2015, when Vann was 18.
I don’t doubt that Vann did what he is accused of, and neither, it seems does anyone in the band. After the allegations came out and before Vann’s removal from the band, Kevin Abstract said, “I don’t agree with anything Ameer has admitted to” and expressed guilt over not revealing the abuse earlier. Vann denied engaging in any criminal behavior, but did say, “I’ve been in relationships where I’ve fucked up and disrespected my partners.”
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Nowadays, most of us accept immediately that when a famous man is accused of sexual misconduct, he is guilty. Before, people in the press might’ve asked for reason or restraint in such a situation. They would say “innocent until proven guilty” and our desire not to jump to conclusions would allow the man to get away scot-free, and keep raping and hurting women. The #MeToo movement has been a severe reaction to that situation, but that severity is understandable in the face of a deeply patriarchal society that has time and again turned a blind eye to such chronic abuse. It’s a reaction to the ineptitude or willful ignorance of law enforcement, another deeply patriarchal institution, in such situations; to the millions of untested rape kits; to the millions of times an officer has chastised a woman for “asking for it” by wearing skimpy clothing. There are times when it can seem the movement goes too far, that they are overreacting, but more often than not, the need for justice overrides that.
As irrational as it may seem, I want to see Vann back in the band. I want him to have a second chance. I go against my better nature in saying this, but my attachment and desire for redemption overrides it. I knew eventually that #MeToo would reach something I love, but through this I’ve learned what’s worth keeping around. In the beginning, you retain an attachment to this artist whose work has given you happiness. You want to be a good person, but you also want to believe that your idol is also good, even when they do something wrong. You go through the stages of grief, the denial, the anger that comes from feeling betrayed by this person with whom you made this one-way compact of attachment. And you realize you can live without them.
I haven’t listened to Brockhampton since Vann was kicked out, either the old, prized material with him or the new songs without, released ahead of the group’s new album Iridescence. At first, it was because I felt a Brockhampton without Ameer Vann wasn’t a Brockhampton at all. But I can’t stand to listen to the old songs either. I hear his voice and think of what he’s done and who he’s hurt. The songs don’t sound the same. What was once filled with hope and truth is polluted by suffering. I don’t know where the group will go from here, but as far as I’m concerned, we can live without each other.