I met Claire Evans—the effortlessly cool and always-up-for-a-laugh singer of the pop duo YACHT—in New York City in 2014. I was interviewing her and King Britt about how they were bringing back Omni—a subversive science magazine owned by Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione that shuttered in 1998. A few months later, we met up again just for fun, and smoked weed in a park in Brooklyn while talking about everything from Afro-futurism to science-fiction feminism, giggling over our own high-induced paranoia. Both of these conversations confirmed what I already suspected from watching the band's high-octane live shows: that Claire is highly intelligent, with the kind of crackling wit that would be intimidating if she weren't also so damn funny.
My deep admiration for Claire is why, when my editor leaned over this afternoon to tell me that a sex tape Claire made with her bandmate and longtime partner Jona Bechtolt had been leaked, my immediate reaction was a mixture of horror and concern. I worried that the public shaming that inevitably follows these types of stories would crush her fiery spirit—that society's inherent sexism would brand her with a bullshit scarlet letter for an act that was never meant to be public to begin with.
The band released a statement on Facebook that only reinforced my concern for Claire's emotional state, writing, "We're in an awkward situation where the art that we made for us and us alone is being viewed by anyone who has the inclination to hit play—a true and humiliating blurring of the public and private."
"Just because we are public figures does not mean we asked for this," they continued, "We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal. This is an exploitation."
As soon as the news broke, my editor and I started discussing the story's newsworthiness—are celebrity sex tapes really newsworthy, or would we just be stooping to tabloid-levels of salaciousness while vying for clicks? (Full disclosure: Claire also works with for our VICE colleagues at Motherboard, where she is the "Futures Editor" and host of a science and technology show.)
Then, suddenly, a surprising twist: three hours after the band released their statement, they wrote a follow-up comment on Facebook, announcing that they'd decided to take ownership of the situation and sell the sex tape on their website. All you had to do is go to Fuck.teamyacht.com, and pay $5 to download the file. Explaining the reasoning behind this move, the band referenced the history of female celebrities, like Pamela Anderson, Kim Kardashian, and Paris Hilton, not making a dime off their leaked tapes—and even included a reference to Beyonce's artist-controlled business model, saying, "We're not as savvy as the Kardashians, but something occurred to us this morning: we could try and distribute the video directly to you ourselves. Lemonade?"
Their fans' reactions to this move was overwhelmingly supportive, with many praising the band for their integrity and turning the tables on their predators. Similarly, my mental response was "fuck yes!" as I mentally cheered Claire on for doing something really clever and empowering for victims of sex tape leaks, hacking the system that was exploiting them.
But here's the thing: Lemonade is not that same thing as Paris Hilton's sex tape. But by drawing this comparison, the band raised an interesting parallel between the two—pointing towards a future in which the content of a sex tape could be treated in the same way as the content of an album. This dystopian world would be the result of the music industry's failings, of artists—even moderately famous ones like YACHT who regularly get lots of press—not being able to make a buck off their work. "This has been a hard time for us as a band," the group wrote in their Facebook statement.It's hard for bands generally these days. We make music in a time where album sales are at an all time low. Tours are a formidable expense with no guarantees that we'll make the money back. Not even t-shirts sell the way that they used to. Music isn't art anymore, it's just content." Apparently, Yacht can't make much money off their music. But would they make money selling this sex tape?
To verify that the tape they were selling on their website was real, my colleague went to the URL provided and typed in his credit card info, mumbling something about how he'd probably get his details stolen by a hacker. But as soon as he did, the site redirected to a "server error" page—and after checking his bank history, we realized that the transaction had never been processed. What the fuck was going on?
Hopping back online, we realized that the internet was just as confused as we were. In fact, forums like 4chan were full of people speculating that the video was actually an elaborate hoax—manufactured by the band themselves as an attempt to sell more records, get tons of free press, or make a statement about celebrity culture, viral marketing, and how hard it is to make money off your music… or something.
Some commenters speculated that this could be a marketing stunt for "I Wanna Fuck You Till I'm Dead," a song off their last album, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, which shares a similar title to the URL of their sex tape website.
It also seemed like none of the fans following the story had been able to successfully download and watch the video, either from YACHT's official website, or from an illegal downloading site like Pirate Bay. (One commenter provided a graphic description of what they claimed to have seen, but all the comments in reply to it seem to think this commenter is lying.)
the only person that got fucked regarding that YACHT video is me (I paid $5 and it 404'd)
— yup (@kris_tba) May 9, 2016
Suspiciously, the only people who claimed to have seen it were celebrities who appeared to be friends with the band, like Miranda July and Island's Nick Thorburn, who tweeted:
Once my colleagues and I started suspecting that this whole thing might actually be an elaborate hoax, supporting evidence started pouring in.
For one thing, Claire's position at Motherboard is based on her credentials as an expert in the way the internet and technology works. YACHT also has a long history of trolling the media—like lying that their name comes from an after-school program, and creating a LinkedIn for their last record and adding the members of the music industry as "connections."
Last year, when a Spin reporter asked about whether they tried to "game the press cycle" with Future, Claire replied:
"Oh, fuck yeah. We've done that forever. There's a bunch of stuff about us on the Internet that is 100 percent fictional. We realized if you wrote your own press release and put whatever you want in it, that 99 percent of music press — no offense — would reprint it, like in the golden age of the music blog. We seeded all these weird lies about our band that still are on our Wikipedia page and stuff."
Reviewing the original Facebook post about the leaked tape, we also noticed some fishy statements that felt more like bait for a set-up than earnest remarks. For example, why would anyone encourage their fans not to watch a sex tape by saying, "Our tastes in the bedroom might seem uncommon to some, and possibly off-putting. But considering the variables that go into any sexual experience, wouldn't anything seem uncommon, and possibly off-putting?"
The timeline of the story also doesn't really add up. In the original post, published at 11:53 AM EST today, the band claimed, "Today, without our previous knowledge nor consent, a personal video was released." However, in their follow-up, they also thanked their friend Daniel Bogan for "cobbing this site together last night." A 4chan commenter also noted that the torrent for the sex tape itself was only posted this morning.
So how did Bogan create the site last night, if the video was only leaked this morning?
So far, publications like Pitchfork, the FADER, Vulture, Exclaim, and others have covered this story in earnest, taking the band at their word. But if YACHT is actually trolling, this might be one of the most brilliant internet hoaxes in music industry history—and a biting commentary on the state of music journalism, which turns sex tapes into #content without blinking.
For now, all I'm left with is my instincts: if I think I know Claire, there's definitely more to this than meets the eye.
Additional reporting and detective work contributed by Anna Codrea-Rado and Colin Joyce.
Michelle Lhooq is THUMP's Features Editor. Follow her on Twitter