Waking Up About Win Butler

The recent sexual assault allegations against Arcade Fire’s Win Butler have been particularly tough for me to grapple with. Often I’ve found such situations are more complicated than they first appear, usually with mental health (on the part of the accused) playing a large factor, but in Bulter’s case it’s much more complicated. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but Pitchfork did a good write-up on it.

When I say things are complicated, I mean this in many ways. To begin with, in their public statements, Butler and his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne acknowledged that there was extramarital activity here. The factors up to dispute are whether Butler’s advances were consensual.

But I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of the allegations, because that’s not my point. Rather, I’m struggling with the process of, well, processing such events, as a fan. As I mentioned, I’ve dealt with similar situations before, but it was almost always the sort of thing where there was some sort of mental health aspect or, in one case I won’t name specifically, dispute as to whether the alleged actions were even that bad. Here, though, it’s pretty cut-and-dry that Butler was at best being creepy, and fans now need to A) re-evaluate their relationships to Arcade Fire’s work, and B) reckon with potential new meanings in the work itself.

In discussion with some fans online, the lyrics of some songs on Everything Now came up as seeming quite rancid in this new light. I admittedly haven’t listened to that album, because every time I heard a piece of a song I found it, well, bad, and just complained about how far the band had fallen.1 The Arcade Fire I love is the one exemplified by Funeral and The Suburbs—most recently they impressed me with “The Lightning I & II” and “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)”. The sincerity and reflectiveness always takes me in. Yet in hindsight, it becomes hard to see Butler the same way I did even just a few months ago. What felt vitalizing on WE now feels affected and perhaps even like a lie.2

The most potent observation I’ve made since these allegations, though, is the new resonance that their classic “Wake Up” has taken on. The song is ostensibly about the disappointment one finds growing up into the adult world. But disappointment is exactly what I, and I’m sure many other fans, have felt since the allegations came out, and the lyrics take on a surprising new meaning. In particular, the final verse Butler sings before Chassagne comes in feels newly pertinent:

Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up

We’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms

Turning every good thing to rust

I guess we′ll just have to adjust

Fans now have to adjust, because every good thing is turns to rust. Earlier in the song, Butler says he “can see that it’s a lie”—what exactly “it” means has always eluded me, but right now, Butler’s character feels quite a bit like a lie. Ultimately, it’s pretty cruel irony: hearing such resonant reflection on disappointment and coping with it is jarring and paradoxical when it’s coming from the very person you’re deeply disappointed in.

Granted, the end of this remains to be seen. While his statement was far from an unequivocal admission of wrong, Butler’s left himself enough room in his public statements for growth in the future and potentially owning up to more. I hate complaining about “cancel culture”, because more often than not people use that term to refer to simple accountability, but I do feel that in recent years the public hasn’t given famous people the ability to grow, change, and improve. That’s worthy of its own article, and I do plan on writing it at some point, but for now I can only hope that Win Butler will be able to grow from this, change his behaviors, and more clearly own up to what’s happened. Ultimately, though, I guess we’ll just have to adjust…

  1. Their newest album, WE, actually felt like a return to form, although it’ll probably now be overshadowed by these allegations. 

  2. If you’re a fan, you might see where this is going now…