Last week, Tramp Stamps was a new pop-punk girl group trying to promote their single about how much it sucks to hook up with men. By Friday, the Tramp Stamps had become the internet’s main characters, and not in a good way.
Let’s backtrack: In November, the Nashville-based band debuted on TikTok, featuring three women in their 20s dressed in the trappings of stereotypical alt-lite zoomers (hair dyed a rainbow of purple, pink, and blue, dolled up in Y2K fast fashion). On their origin story: “3 girls got drunk at a bar and wrote a song.” They released autotuned covers of Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” and Weezer’s “Beverly Hills,” came out with merch whose aesthetic was vaguely riot grrrl meets Mean Girls, freestyled about clitorises, and joked about their traumas.
At least some people were into it: Before this week, when I’d see their videos on my For You page, the comments would be like, “you guys are my spirit animal!” and “we stan!” and, “bi energy!”
On April 9, they debuted their latest song, “I’d Rather Die.” Sample lyrics: “I can’t remember the last time/I slept with someone I actually liked and he went down on me/I can’t recall a memory of someone driving home and not asking for a blowjob/I’d rather die than hook up with another straight white guy.” It was, like the rest of the Tramp Stamps’ oeuvre, a little corny, a little on the nose, a little tryhard, a little … off.
Then, a predictable cycle happened: Multiple TikTokers made videos accusing the group of being industry plants, citing the fact that their PR-ready website and Instagram page appeared far too polished for a seemingly independent trio of musicians who happened to meet each other at a bar. User @hard_cope dug into the members and found that lead singer Marisa Maino was, until mid-2020, performing as a solo pop artist under a more standard-issue glam persona and that drummer Paige Blue has written and produced commercial music for years. “It’s almost like it’s a bunch of people who were like, theatre majors and shit who had rich parents and now they’re co-opting riot grrrl aesthetics that people literally dedicate their lives to for money,” he said in his video.
That’s when the accusations that the band was legitimately problematic started to come in. Once more TikTokers (as well as users on Reddit and Twitter) started digging, they found that both guitarist Caroline Baker and Maino have deals with Prescription Songs, which is owned by Dr. Luke, who was accused by Kesha of sexual assault. Others found several tweets of Maino’s in which she uses the n-word and implied that she supported Trump. Many more criticized the song “I’d Rather Die,” which they argued advocates for sexual coercion in lyrics that complain about men who can’t “get it up” because of alcohol.
Reply to @hard_cope #greenscreen @trampstamps Google is free yk...this y’all? Actual artists have dedicated their lives to real DIY communities. Corpo♬ original sound - ☭ ☭
By far the biggest critique of the band, however, has been centered around its alleged inauthenticity, which I’d argue is a much graver transgression for young fans than a past tweet or associations with problematic figures — Doja Cat, Kim Petras, Dua Lipa, and Saweetie have all worked with Dr. Luke, for instance, while celebrities like Justin Bieber and Post Malone have been filmed saying the n-word in the past with little detriment to their careers. There are now hundreds if not thousands of videos on TikTok explaining the Tramp Stamps drama, where commenters compete to post the most ruthless own: They’ve been described as “buzzfeedcore,” “the band version of Riverdale,” and “major ‘alt & goth amazon finds that you NEED to purchase’ vibes.”
In response, the band posted a statement to their Instagram that begins “Hi fuckers” and goes on to scorch cancel culture and claim that actually, the band is technically independent, because they started their own label called “Make Tampons Free” under a company called AWAL, or “Artists Without a Label.” (They did not mention that AWAL is owned by Kobalt Music Group, one of the world’s largest music publishing companies.)
Then, Tramp Stamps make a very good point: In the final slide, they write, “You have gone to the ends of the fucking earth to shit on us, have told us to kill ourselves, and have used conspiracy theories on TikTok as a trend to get more views on your own videos. Fuck you. You don’t like our music? Don’t listen to it.”
It’s interesting that being an “industry plant” is about the worst thing you can be accused of on TikTok, particularly because we’re entering an age where pretty much everyone assumes what they’re seeing online is completely fake. If the going definition of being an “industry plant” is a well-connected artist whose persona and/or content is more business decision than artistic expression, what can you say of pretty much everyone that has gotten famous from TikTok? Creators may randomly land a viral hit, but building a meaningful following takes much more than just talent or charisma — it takes learning how the algorithm works, posting consistently, engaging with followers, and learning from what they want. It is also about building a persona that brands will want to work with, then maybe eventually launching your own brand. “The industry” isn’t the enemy, it’s the endgame. Maino, Blue, and Baker were already part of it, working as songwriters and producers before pivoting to the Tramp Stamps.
I really enjoyed this critique of the whole thing from music industry YouTuber Anthony Fantano, who made the excellent point that the music we listen to is almost never 100 percent “authentic” in the way we’d like to think it is. He lists off several artists who were criticized as “industry plants” whom we now laud as beloved artists (The Police, for instance). Instead, he argues that what we’re really criticizing when we talk about the Tramp Stamps isn’t that it’s marketing, it’s that it’s bad marketing. “It’s just desperate pandering toward teenagers that they don’t think will know any better,” he says.
That’s why the internet has had so much fun latching onto the whole episode: Anyone who ever might theoretically listen to a rainbow-haired girl group scream-sing about tampons and bad sex is already extremely adept at sniffing out any inkling of inauthenticity. It starts to get less fun, though, when the game becomes a complete dogpile on three individual women rather than corporatized capitalization on progressive politics. (An aside: Are we really supposed to be that offended that Big Music is attempting to sell us riot grrrl aesthetics? They’ve already been doing that for, like, 30 years, and plus the original movement was pretty much only for white women anyway!)
Personally, I think the most punk thing Tramp Stamps could do is change their name to the Industry Plants and just really lean into it. Because honestly, who cares if a girl group wants to sing cringey songs about how much it sucks to date men? Sometimes it does suck to date men! Leave the Tramp Stamps alone. They’re already angry enough.
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