Foxygen’s “Yoko” Meltdown: When Internet Misogyny and Misguided ’60s Nostalgia Collide


Look, I don’t want to kick a band when they’re down. Like many other music writers, it seems, I’m not a fan of Foxygen, but the fact that they’re apparently having some sort of ongoing meltdown isn’t a cause for celebration. At the end of the day, these are human beings we’re talking about, and they’re clearly struggling with one another, the music industry, and the relentless nature of what it means to be in a somewhat successful band. With that said, the reaction to the recent lengthy Tumblr post by Elizabeth Fey — a touring member of the band, and Foxygen core member Sam France’s girlfriend — has been disappointing, because it’s cast her as some sort of Yoko to France and Foxygen co-founder Jonathan Rado’s Paul-‘n’-John.

That’s both simplistic and borderline misogynistic. Clearly, there are two sides to every story, and we’ve only got one here, but the whole thing sounds like a spectacular case of internecine bitching — for one thing, having one band member’s girlfriend playing the same role that the other band member’s girlfriend used to play is asking for trouble, especially if the two don’t exactly get along (an impression confirmed by a series of tweets from Rado’s girlfriend Jackie Cohen over the weekend).

Beyond those who actually know any of the people involved personally, no one really understands what’s going on here. While it’s easy to giggle in the fact that the people who proclaimed themselves to be “21st century ambassadors of peace and magic” have apparently turned out to be kinda dicks, they’re not exactly the first songwriting duo to maintain a successful creative partnership while simultaneously not getting along especially well. Indeed, creativity often thrives off such tension, and there are plenty of examples of bands that lost their mojo once that tension was gone.

That said, Fey has a point when she says that she “was the perfect scapegoat: the only girl, a new member, a loud opinionated female.” Whether or not her band mates have been shitty to her is something that only she and they know, but the reaction to her blog post has rather proved her point; take a look here, for instance, where Stereogum first reported the existence of her post. The comments section is pretty much as depressing as you’d expect — Fey gets called a “groupie/girlfriend-turned useless touring member,” accused of “taking advantage of the situation to get in the spotlight,” and, yes, called “a Yoko.”

All of these things may be true for all I know, but the point is that I don’t, and nor does any random dickhead on the Internet. It appears that similar things have happened on Fey’s Twitter — it’s a private account, but her mentions seem to involve lots of discussions of how to block people — and on her Tumblr, where she’s been reblogging posts like this: “No offense but you need to work on being a musician, not sam’s girl friend. No one is jealous of you, we love foxygen’s music and you’re more or less just the girl he’s sleeping with, not a member of the band and not a feminist if thats all you have to your name.” And this: “please don’t yoko up foxygen.”

Honestly, I couldn’t give less of a shit whether or not Foxygen break up, or whether or not Fey is in the right or the wrong, but I do care about seeing this sort of thing happen, because it happens all too often on the Internet (see here, for instance). It’s all too easy for men — and yes, it’s largely men — to bully outspoken women from behind their keyboards. Equally, it’s notable that the positive comments that Fey has been reblogging are largely devoted to her “speaking out,” etc.

All the speculation, in other words, is about her. In some respects, that’s to be expected — it was her who wrote the blog post, after all. But if it were one of the other (male) band members, you can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be at least some speculation as to, hey, maybe that Rado guy is a dick. That’s certainly happened in similar situations in the past — Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce vs. Morrissey, for instance, or Eric Avery vs. Perry Farrell. Such arguments have been conspicuous by their absence in the discussion of this story so far.

The particular irony here is that pretty much all this misogyny can be traced back to the era that Foxygen are so keen on trying to recreate: the ’60s, where men were men and “girls” administered judicious blowjobs backstage. The hostility to “girls in the band” stems from the idea of bands as bros-before-hos boys’ clubs, wherein engaging with women in any respect beyond sleeping with them and casting them aside was something that could only undermine the sanctity of the testosterone-tied bond between members.

That may be the basic premise behind the conflicts in Foxygen, too, and definitely colors the perception their fans have of these conflicts. It could well be that all the people involved are dicks to varying extents — and, honestly, on the strength of Foxygen’s music, that wouldn’t be entirely surprising — but if they do break up, odds are that it’ll be Fey left carrying the can for the whole thing. How very Yoko-esque, indeed. Same as it ever was.