PWR BTTM made quite an impression when they burst onto the scene with 2015's Ugly Cherries. Their penchant for punchy pop-punk and sartorial sparkle saw them heralded as a beacon for a new wave of queercore. 2017's Pageant might well see them escape the limitations of being aligned with a niche area of music, but they will certainly take its spirit with them. While in true punk tradition none of the tracks tip the three-minute mark, the music avoids subgenre sidelining with incisive pop hooks and addictive riffs. Lead single "Answer My Text" is classic punk-pop, complete with a melodic yet shouty chorus. But Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins aren’t your average pop stars. For a start, their lyrics are a playful mix of acerbic wit and realism, which is a refreshing break from the often lyrically wan and vapid world of pop. Matters of the heart are often dealt with in unsentimental and unequivocal fashion: "Answer my text you dick." And the experience, and difficulties, of being young and queer are dealt a cheeky riposte on "sissy:" "I'm a big fat sissy and I'm gonna make you listen when I say." However, Pageant isn't merely a biting cynical play for your mind, as for all the frisky sass this record displays real heart. Their delicious scorn is equally matched with genuine tenderness, and self-awareness. "LOL" hazily waltzes its way through self-realization: "I know that I am naïve/when you are queer you are always 19," only to break into a tragically manic final flourish "laughing out loud." So often the pair lark about in the face of their detractors, but there are moments when the smeared lipstick mask falls. None more so than on the title track, where Hopkins sings, "Body says to brain/Jesus Christ why don't you love me?" His description of gender dysphoria is strikingly unflinching and direct, proving that they can be just as powerful minus the mischievous humor. One of the main strengths of the record is that any difficulties the band broach are done so with a positive, uncrushable spirit. "Now Now" announces itself as a confident anthem by turning self-loathing in on itself in a touchingly, ramshackle, and celebratory way: "I'm gonna beat myself up for beating myself up/I'm gonna take my lunch money for beating myself up." Their wit repeatedly turns the tables on preconceived notions and pejorative language used by the disapproving, as on "Big Beautiful Day": "My advice is to look incredible/as you make their lives regrettable by being your damn self," although they later admit "God it's so exhausting." The duo have described Pageant as both personal and political, and there they've most definitely succeeded. It's as much about the trials and tribulations of navigating young adulthood as it is an anti-bigot glitter bomb. The last thing PWR BTTM are ready to do is mope; instead they've chosen to create a record that feels defiantly optimistic and celebratory.
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AllMusic Review by Bekki Bemrose