https://www.thestar.com/opinion/2022/09/01/arcade-fire-inspired-my-career-as-a-music-writer-how-im-grappling-with-win-butlers-sexual-misconduct-allegations.html

Whenever people ask me why I decided to pursue my career as a music journalist, I immediately picture the same scene from my teenage years.

I’m sitting in my parents’ basement, holding my newborn baby brother in my arms, rocking him to sleep. The TV is on and the channel is set to Much Music, at a time when music videos were still the norm.

I’m 14 years old, and my life is about to change. I don’t know it yet, but the following clip that will play will expand my definition of music. It will shape who I am at a time when I am discovering who I truly want to be.

At first, it’s the drums. The steady beat of the percussion playing like a heartbeat, then the synth adding a layer, a faster rhythm. My heart starts to beat faster. I watch the surreal video that feels very familiar.

Kids are coming out of homes that define the Montréal southern suburbs, where Régine Chassagne is from. Win Butler’s voice sings something that soothes my soul. The sense of rebellion that inhabits my teenage self is hypnotized by the images, the sound, and the colours I feel through this song. “Rebellion (Lies)” is my first contact with Arcade Fire.

When people ask me why I decided to pursue a career in music journalism, my answer is the same: “I’m a music journalist because of Arcade Fire.” Arcade Fire opened my eyes to the power music can have in someone’s life.

My whole life has been built on that moment. I became obsessed with my identity as a Montréalaise, born and raised. I became proud of my city’s contribution to music, its imperfect identity, and its creative energy. When I wanted to pursue graduate studies (which I never did), I wanted to write my thesis about the band and its impact on the gentrification in the Mile End neighbourhood. I went to their shows, cried over breakups to their songs, and asked my dates what their favourite Arcade Fire album was, and then explained why their answer was wrong. I even built friendships around AF.

From the first time I heard a song, Arcade Fire inspired me to utterly devote my life to music and its power. I wanted to report on these feelings through my writing and make people feel the same thing I experienced that first listen.

Then everything came to a grinding halt.

On Saturday, a Pitchfork article came out in which three women and one gender-fluid person accused Win Butler of sexual misconduct. Butler has disputed their stories and maintained all encounters were consensual in statements to Pitchfork, but that stands in stark contrast to the inappropriateness of the relationships. Considering the age gap and that they looked up to him, the power dynamic laid out in the allegations is horrendous.

The people involved were young and trusting fans, like me. On top of describing their experiences, which the accusers say ranged from feeling forced to exchange nude photos and feeling pressured into in-person sexual encounters, two women also share how the experience negatively impacted their mental health. One says she attempted suicide.

It’s a horrific glimpse of how Butler’s actions had an impact on these people he was involved with. On Saturday, thousands of millennials who grew up with Arcade Fire and glorified the band suddenly realized their idols might not be who they appeared to be.

As a millennial music journalist who hails from Montréal, I have been confronted by the sudden realization that the band that carved out the indie rock reputation for my beloved city can no longer be considered this nice, caring and community-oriented band.

I was confronted by the reports that the band’s lead singer, who made me love everything about my city and music itself, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct towards people who admired him and his art. I am confronted by the fact that I built part of my identity on what now feels like a terrible lie, one that appears to have left victims in its wake.

Since Saturday, I’ve been trying to deal with the meaning of all this. How, as a fan, do I move on from these revelations? How do I explain to the teenager I was that the music that kept her going through her late teens means absolutely nothing? How do I tell that 14-year-old girl that part of who she is, was built on a false foundation?

Perhaps, this is a moment of reckoning. Millennial fans must learn over and over that our darlings can disappoint us and when they do, we have to cut ties. The magical and euphoric moments associated with these people will live on, but they should not prevent us from shedding light on the pain victims suffer at the hands of those we love.

Butler is not the first artist to face similar accusations, and he won’t be the last.

For the time being, I cannot but find sadness in seeing people in Dublin applauding the band and screaming at the first show of their Europe tour.

Butler’s statements are filled with multiple apologies, but in the same message, he insists “every single one of these interactions has been mutual and always between consenting adults.” Isn’t consent about recognizing the other’s feelings and boundaries, which his accusers claim he crossed? Because of this, there seems to be a lack of empathy and remorse, even if Win Butler’s statement is apologetic. The dissonance makes me question his sincerity and what will happen moving forward. Because, whatever lies ahead for Butler and Arcade Fire, whether it is redemption or disappearance from the public sphere, these allegations cannot be pushed under the rug.

This is also my own reckoning with myself, as a Montréalaise and a music aficionado. Everything I love in Montréal goes back to that spark that was ignited when I heard “Rebellion (Lies)” for the first time.

I live next to the Mile End, the mythical artsy neighbourhood from the early 2000s, long-emptied of its artists and mom-and-pop shops. I report primarily on the Montréal music scene. I was part of the massive crowd in 2011 when Arcade Fire gave a free show at Place des Festivals. I still feel the palpable euphoria in the air from 11 years ago. Every moment I live in this city carries the legacy they left. Today, it feels like an indelible stain, yet I want to believe there’s more to the town than this behaviour from one of its biggest bands.

Because Arcade Fire isn’t Montréal. Because Win Butler isn’t Montréal. Because there’s much more to the city and its scene than these accusations. Because the people who have come forward deserve better. Because we should continue to move forward. Even if the ghost of the deceit is floating around, making memories harder, clouding my perception of the last 17 years of my life.

After all the allegations, I finally realize that the 14-year-old kid I was, just needed a push to know what she loved. That moment in 2005 was just setting the stage for something bigger. When I was lost, my younger self clung to Arcade Fire for a purpose that I couldn’t find elsewhere, but they were just an excuse. Their music was an excuse. I am who I am today because of myself.

Today, they are nothing more than an old memory that felt good on that summer day in 2005.

Yara El-Soueidi is a millennial writer and freelance music journalist based in Montréal, Canada, where she covers the local cultural scene. Find her on Twitter @yaraelsoueidi or email yara.elsoueidi@gmail.com