In the 21st century, every subculture got the blog it deserved. For the mostly female fans of late-aught pop-punk, it was fbr_trash, a Livejournal forum started in 2006. On its surface, fbr_trash reflected the Myspace scene these bands were built around: tiled, watermarked background images of stars in unflattering poses; text dotted with asterisks and tildes for “~~emphasis~~,” scrolling text banners and 100 pt, bolded font. But the content was both thrilling and terrifying: posts sharing new music were sandwiched between copious amounts of trolling and thinly-veiled teenage lust, with the forum’s melodrama and penchant for the prurient serving as an equalizer. Whether you were a lonely suburban high schooler or the guitarist of a rising emo act, lurking fbr_trash meant giving yourself over to the whims of indignant super fans. In a male-dominated music scene with no lack of inflated egos, fbr_trash bought teenage girls a seat at the bargaining table.
Fbr_trash was ostensibly a forum about Fueled By Ramen, a record label started in 1996 by Vinnie Fiorello of the ska-punk group Less Than Jake. Fiorello and co-founder John Janick, now the CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, sought to create a platform to distribute emotional, pop-forward punk that they believed was overlooked by major labels. Their early releases included EPs from heavyweights like Jimmy Eat World and Yellowcard, distributed via mail-order cassettes.
But as the label grew, in large part due to the sleeper success of Fall Out Boy’s debut full-length, Take This To Your Grave, their rockist purism wore thin. The label started to sign more emotive, theatrical acts that veered from punk: The Academy Is…, Gym Class Heroes, Panic! At The Disco. These new groups were raised on the same alternative rock that inspired Fueled By Ramen but put more of an emphasis on branding and personal style, swapping flannels for Victorian floral vests and keytars. Fiorello didn’t care for the fluorescent, Hot Topic reincarnation of the scene: He left Fueled By Ramen in 2006, slamming the door on his way out. “I felt like music was more about being famous then the actual songs themselves,” he wrote in a blog post about his exit. “It felt like style was outweighing substance.”
This fame-mongering era of Fueled By Ramen, when Fall Out Boy was just as likely to be in the news because of a member leaking their nudes, is when fbr_trash first whined itself into existence. The new Fueled By Ramen was filled with bands who desperately claimed to be above reproach: ”Oh, Mr. Magazine, I never wrote one single thing for you / or your so-called music scene,” William Beckett sang on the Academy Is…’s debut LP with the earnestness of a child actor. But of course, these guys cared immensely about the “so-called music scene.” Fbr_trash’s success was borne from the fact that these bands were, as Brendon Urie put it on Panic! at the Disco’s debut, “desperate for attention,” and they’d do seemingly anything to get it from just about any fan.
In 2008, a typical day on fbr_trash included some quasi-stalking of a photographer for the band Cobra Starship, a post for users to share bad fan art, and some light speculation on whether the members of Panic! At the Disco were celebrating 4/20. But what first presented as an innocent if intense space for fangirls to swap stories quickly became a way for users to directly talk to band members, many of whom used Livejournal themselves. “These band members would come on here, and they were definitely in their 20s, and they would make comments,” Sam, a former fbr_trash moderator and frequent user, recalled. One prominent frontman of a popular band allegedly used the forum to dispel rumors about his attraction to underage fans with a questionable defense: “the thing is, i'm such a control freak in my daily life, that when it comes to getting down, i want a girl that's gonna fuck my shit up. that's why i'd pick your mom over you any day of the week!” Sam recalled those interactions with disgust and pity: “It's like, you realize we're 15 years old?”
Not satisfied with the online contact, many fbr_trash users took the smarmy, confrontational nature of the forum into the real world. Google “fbr_trash” now, and you’ll see a series of images that look like cheap mugshots, with swoopy-haired band members sheepishly holding up “fbr_t” signs written on printer paper. For Sam, whose Livejournal username was on one of those signs, those pictures were trophies in their conquest for power over the Warped Tour scene’s most obnoxious musicians.
The community, which at its peak had over 1000 members and 3000 “lurkers,” was never on the bleeding edge of verified gossip like Livejournal’s celebrity news site OhNoTheyDidn’t, nor as tastemaking as the catty style forum “Fashin.” Instead, fbr_trash felt more like an online burn book, a place to air your bitchiest thoughts and spread baseless rumors about Z-list celebrities. No, the users didn’t have anything particularly intelligent to contribute; yes, they could destroy you with one withering remark. In my long and winding path to self-discovery, it was also, vitally, a community of largely female music fans, who were unabashedly passionate about their opinions and unafraid to go to extreme measures to make sure that they were heard.
There is an unmistakable power in a group of teenage girls displaying their passion for a musical artist. Fans of the K-Pop group BTS tried to deplatform music critics who were not wholly enraptured with the group’s music; Taylor Swift fans rallied to stream her new album Lover specifically to prevent Tool’s first album in 13 years from upstaging her on the charts. But the members of fbr_trash, by contrast, delighted in openly mocking Fueled By Ramen and its signees. “Discuss how FBR struggles to remain relevant and in business… Or you can even discuss how no one wants to buy their shitty merch,” a typical post from 2009 read. “if i had to pick, paramore would probably be my favorite fbr band. they still kind of suck though,” one anonymous commenter wrote in a separate thread. “this shows the quality of fbr bands lol,” another replied.
“The whole trolling thing was to try to get the band members to acknowledge them,” Sam explained to me. “Everybody in the community wanted to get a reaction in some way out of these band members, and for them to acknowledge the community and everybody that was a part of it,” she said. “And a lot of times, these band members would react when you're literally trolling them or saying negative things about them.”
In a scene with a toxic gender imbalance, in which more than a few musicians used their power and fame to sexually assault their underage fans, the trolling and call-outs on fbr_trash were a way to punch back, by any means necessary — even through flat-out lying for the attention they sought. When a fbr_trash user insinuated, without proof, that All Time Low’s lead singer, Alex Gaskarth, was a pedophile, he shot back with a Myspace blog referencing the forum directly, adding, “Haters: FUCK YOU. Suck nine dicks.” When the blog was shared on fbr_trash, the users rejoiced: “I SEE WE GOT WHAT WE WANTED,” one commentor wrote. And at the end of the day, they just may have: see a photograph of a duck-faced Alex Gaskarth holding a paper sign that says, “FBR_TRASH can S 9 D’S ;).”
Whether they were annoyed or simply amused, bands reacted publicly to fbr_trash. Pete Wentz gave a shout-out to the forum on his blog in 2008: “FBR_TRASH… because i love the haters… (which member do you think I am? I like you. you are the wild west).” Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship was known to wear a tee shirt that said ‘LMYV FBRT FTW” (it allegedly stood for “lick my vagina, fbr_trash for the win”). The interactions illustrated what Fueled By Ramen’s founder had foretold: bands wanted attention any way they could get it, even if it meant crossing the norms of fan culture. Kevin Kane, a member of the now-defunct Fueled By Ramen band Powerspace, was known to drop into the forum. In addition to soliciting “n00dz,” he also admitted to fbr_trash’s power: “This community is genius...we all read it.”
Our opinions held real weight; in numbers, young women could make adult, quasi-successful men admit they cared what we thought.
The forum’s less-than-ethical attention-grabbing tactics didn’t seem to bother fbr_trash members, who sought attention at any cost: “They'd call out fbr_trash, and say ‘fbr_trash is shitty’ or ‘fbr_trash is full of losers’ to us, and we'd be like ‘oh my god, they said ‘fbr_trash,’’” Sam said. And fbr_trash was an antidote to the erasure endemic to the scene: “Emo has become another forum where women were locked out, observing ourselves through the eyes of others,” Jessica Hopper wrote about the early days of faded jeans and basement shows. But fbr_trash inverted the dynamic. If a bunch of teenage girls could make a grown man pose with a poster mocking his own words, maybe they held the power, after all.
Its politics were far from perfect, and often parroted the misogyny of the larger Warped Tour scene — Haley Williams, one of the only females signed to Fueled By Ramen at the time, was frequently ridiculed online for her appearance and voice; in a now-deleted video, Vicky T, keytarist for Cobra Starship, defended herself against fbr_trash commenters saying she looked like a man. In some ways, the forum functioned as a kind of emo-music Gawker: rumors proliferated, some true, and some spurious (mostly positing various homosexual relationships among band members), with commenters free to play detective. But despite its flaws, fbr_trash was, to me, evidence that fans did matter in the music discourse. Our opinions held real weight; in numbers, young women could make adult, quasi-successful men admit they cared what we thought.
Around 2010 or so, the scene that had birthed the website had begun to wind down. Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco, two anchors for the fandom, had both announced hiatuses and band restructurings. For members of fbr_trash, many of whom were now entering college, the new signees couldn’t hook them with studded belts and lines about ill-fated romances. “It honestly got boring after my favorite bands began to break up,” one former fbr_trash lurker, Jamie, told me. And there were structural changes, too: “[LiveJournal] in general was being abandoned for Tumblr and people just growing up and over it all,” Jamie added.
When I asked Sam about moments that stood out to her, she spoke about the forum as if it were a summer camp, or group therapy, more than a gathering of fangirls. “I think when that whole scene died down, that's kind of when everybody just formed a bond and it transitioned from emo music to just being a place where friends talked about whatever they wanted,” she said. When she moved to New York in 2009, at the forum’s peak, the members she knew became concert buddies, tour guides, instant friends that easily translated their exaggerated sense of humor into real life camaraderie. “I don’t think it was ever really about the music,” Jamie said. “It was about being a stupid community that prided itself on starting drama and being recognized.”
For years, fbr_trash’s Livejournal page was essentially dormant. The last major post, in March 2018, is a picture of Mark Hamill looking ecstatic. It would be a fitting grave: a slightly smarmy take about a celebrity, followed by over 1000 comments that wildly vary in topic, from buying vintage Bjork vinyls to taking psychiatric drugs.
But in early September, the group slowly started up again on Reddit, with a photo of Powerspace’s Kevin Kane as its profile picture. And at once, the internet’s saltiest commenter’s reunited, like a virtual group hug. “idk who's reading this but i love u all and hope ur all well,” one user wrote. Two users immediately started catching each other up on the past five years, their jobs, their schooling, their life. The next post was a picture of Pete Wentz with red, streaky highlights. Gradually, the fangirls are returning, older but no less acerbic. (There was even a post on the old Livejournal acknowledging the existence of this piece, after I started looking for old fans across the internet.) There’s a quiet power in outliving the bands you used to pretend to hate.