What Was YACHT's Best-Case Scenario in Their 'Leaked Sex Tape' Publicity Hoax? 


By now, due to their fake leaked sex tape and the acidic rinse cycle of internet news that we all grit our teeth and capitulate to every day, it’s as likely that you have a certain band’s name—YACHT—in your head as it is unlikely that you could name anything else YACHT has done since catching the tail end of put-a-bird-on-it dance pop in, say, 2010.

If not, here’s a catchup. On Monday, the duo YACHT (Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt, who will be known for the rest of this article as “Yacht,” for aesthetic purposes) posted an impassioned, lengthy statement on Facebook, saying, “Today, without our previous knowledge nor consent, a personal video was released.”

“Due to a series of technological missteps and one morally abject person, a video that we made privately has been released to the public,” Yacht continued. They explained that the video was s-e-x-u-a-l: “Claire and I—who have been romantic and artistic partners since 2006—made a ‘sex tape.’ It was intended for us only.” Then they begged Brer Fox not to throw them in the briar patch:

Our hope is that you fundamentally understand that choice and you choose not to view a private act that was inadvertently made public. We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal. This is an exploitation.

Sure, yes. And it’s been a banner year for both exploitation in the music industry and private acts made public online: media, subject and audience all do understand right now that an event of this nature is construed as exploitation and not “delicious scandal.” The word “delicious” is also a stretch in this situation: Yacht is not famous enough for anyone but a very dedicatedly prurient fan to go digging for this sex tape, or for anyone to watch a random thing on XXXHamsterHub.Com and be like, “Hey, that’s that band YACHT, with the all caps, fucking.” But anyway, yes. Damn, Yacht band, we will not go looking for that thing we would never have gone looking for but definitely won’t now, we might’ve silently said.

And then they came back at 3 p.m. on Monday and said—you know what, we’re actually just going to go ahead and sell that tape.

This video is out there now. We can’t change that. But we can try to be “as YACHT as possible” about it and take some kind of ownership over what has happened. So we’re asking you one thing: if you feel like you 100% have to see this tape, don’t stream it on some tube site, or download a torrent. Instead, we beg of you to download the video, Louis C.K.-style, directly from us.

OK. So, when this news item got posted on Fader—that someone had leaked Yacht’s sex tape, and the band was subsequently selling it on their own site for $5—we talked about it in our work chatroom. It’s an obvious story for Jezebel to post about: we’re always heavy on music coverage, and all the issues that Yacht themselves described (consent, private acts made public, scandal, exploitation, ownership) tend to, in the real world, affect women in a particularly—let’s understate it—stringent way.

It’s also just an interesting idea for sincere and non-racy reasons: as we noted in the subsequent post, many women artists have packaged and sold what could be exploited to compelling effect; arguably, this is what many celebrities, and many women, or many people in general, do too.

Anna Merlan emailed the band’s PR, asking if they wanted to talk about what happened, and then wrote up the item, straightforwardly, as if the story Yacht told were true. By the time she was done writing, the email had bounced back, and something was ringing a little off for a few of us. But it’s hard to prove the negative in this case, i.e., prove that the pre-existing leak of a sex tape does not exist. Anna and I both searched online for it, on porn sites and torrent sites, and didn’t find it, but that doesn’t really mean anything; if it’s not labeled “Yacht,” it’s a needle in the hay.

At this point, arguably and perhaps admittedly, we should have still noted our skepticism. But in our case in particular, at Jezebel, it is an extremely difficult look for a women’s site at Gawker Media to come out of the gate with a story about a band pleading sexual exploitation and non-consent, and say, “This sex crime is probably fake. I will not believe that this sex crime took place until I see the receipts, an act which the band just eight hours ago was pleading with people not to do.” In fact, any time we even try to provide or explore the (legal, procedural) necessity of receipts in these types of cases—as Anna did in this piece, and I did here, for two recent examples—we are pilloried from the other end. In this case, for this straightforward news aggregation, we let it go. We tried to go with the believe-people-when-they-say-something-bad-happened-to-them standard, which sometimes tightens around Jezebel’s neck in a very specific way.

And then, the next morning, Anna got hold of an April email in which Yacht talked about planning this whole thing as a PR hoax. She broke the news that they were faking, as Vice had already suspected outright. Then, Tuesday afternoon, the band tweeted a statement that made it clear that they think this is a very interesting art project instead of a flailing attempt to position themselves as more than a band that you hear played over the speakers before a daytime festival set and turn to your friend and say, “Aw, Architecture in Helsinki, whatever happened to them?”

One part in this statement, directed pretty clearly at Jezebel, is noteworthy:

Frankly, it’s disturbing to us that press outlets could make the incredibly irresponsible leap from “celebrity sex tape,” which is the cultural trope this project explicitly references, to “revenge porn,” which is unfunny, disgusting, morally repugnant, and completely unrelated. Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation. It was always about agency and proactive empowerment.

That’s a nice attempt at a swerve: You’re disturbed by us? Well, we are even MORE disturbed by YOU. It’s also canny enough to try and pinpoint this on “clickbait journalism” and “the attention economy,” as they do earlier in the statement. But it’s rich to have a band try and execute a PR hoax that hinged in a large sense on the structures of aggregation-heavy online media, sure, but much more specifically on 1) people’s good-faith conviction that sexual exploitation is a widespread, important and harmful thing and 2) people’s sincere interest in the way victims of that exploitation respond.

It’s also particularly rich to see them write, “Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation,” when just a single day previous, they’d written:

This is an exploitation.

Yeah, the attention economy is a real bitch, right?

My question at the end of all of this is: Yacht’s saying this all went wrong because media was too credulous. (Not because their PR idea was bad, or that the song they’re trying to promote is bad, or because the “sex tape” itself looks like a college film midterm, or because you do what you want when you’re popping but Yacht has not popped for years.) But—as they were always going to eventually unveil the real story here—what was their best-case scenario? That they’re back in the news; that they’re hailed as conceptual artists; that they have 20,000 more streams on Spotify; that the “project” will become so widely known that from this time forward anyone who claims that they were sexually exploited on video will have the entire internet saying “I don’t believe you,” immediately crying Yacht?

Update: Yacht has apologized at length on Facebook, writing, “The reaction to this endeavor highlights a glaring error we made in positioning ourselves as the victims of a leaked sex tape. We understand that positioning it that way from the beginning was an egregious mistake, and are so ashamed we hadn’t considered this beforehand.”

Image via screengrab/PornHub

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