Let's Talk About Male Manipulator Music
How a subgenre of gaslighters came to be.
I was raised on Radiohead’s The Bends and Weezer’s Pinkerton. When I found out that these bands, along with many others, had been labeled as ‘male manipulator music’, I was shocked, to say the least. Basic definition: A guy who listens to a little too much Mac DeMarco or Neutral Milk Hotel, who is also an emotionally abusive partner. Directly correlated? Maybe not. Super common? Unfortunately.
Sure, this indie subgenre is undeniably a male- dominated space. But does it deserve the title ‘manipulator’? I was set on figuring out why this definition has become so widely accepted on internet platforms, but especially TikTok, the phrase’s birthplace.
I think we can trace it back to the whitewashed trend of romanticizing emotionally unavailable indie men, and thus, in order to unpack and understand this breed of boy, we look to the intersections of their interests for answers. It’s a secret language we’ve developed in order to identify (and avoid) common red flags.
A prime example is Tom from (500) Days of Summer. In an effort to not allow ourselves to become the ‘manic pixie dream girl’, we’ve gotten pretty good at running as fast as we can away from the Tom’s of the world. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who played Tom) himself reflects on the cult classic film, saying, “Watch it again. It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end.”
One of Tom’s most notable attributes is his love for The Smiths, which is led by none other than white nationalist Morrisey. Yikes. Here’s the thing. As much as I hate Morrisey, I appreciate The Smiths. The inaudible lyricism and post-punk sound are so addictive. So, what gives other groups a problematic reputation?
Maybe it’s the indie scene’s ongoing sexual harassment issue. Front men of big names have consistently been accused of emotional and physical abuse, including Sorority Noise, Mom Jeans, The Front Bottoms and more. (It hurts so bad when they put out such good music.)
I think it comes down to a defense mechanism masked in humor. I’ve undoubtedly had relationships with men who obsess over Modern Baseball and coincidentally are serial gaslighters. After finding those commonalities time and time again, can you blame girls for labeling certain genres as warning signs?
However, this doesn’t mean you have to stop listening to these bands.
It’s the age-old debate of separating the art from the artist, and now, it’s fanbase. If you want to scream Pink Triangle at the top of your lungs, despite its cringey self-pitying message about being screwed over by a lesbian, do it! It slaps.
At the end of the day, I think the trend is all in good fun, with a touch of truth.
Madeline Murphy is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words. Her Instagram is @maduhlinemurphy