“GOD DAMN IT, DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR ART,” reads one comment beneath YACHT's second Facebook apology in two days. Odds are you’d either never heard of the L.A.-based dance-pop duo till this week, or you vaguely remember their DFA-sanctioned hipster mysticism circa 2009, the last time Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans’s project might have been considered remotely newsworthy. I’ll catch you up while we’re stuck here: They’re on their fifth (!!!) album, and not only are they still spelling their name in all caps, occasionally with a △ in place of the “A,” they intend it to stand for “Young Americans Challenging High Technology.” (Lowercased spellings of the group’s name are declared “unacceptable” in their online mission statement. Not joking.) That fifth album is called I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, a title that goes beyond “ironic coincidence” into “dick-slap in the face from the vengeful god of music media” in the wake of the duo’s unintentionally horrific PR stunt this week.
In sum: YACHT posted a distraught Facebook update begging fans NOT to watch a sex tape that had been leaked without their permission: “We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal. This is an exploitation.” Three hours later, they had flipped the whole script on their supposed abusers: The tape was now for sale for $5, though any attempt to purchase was met by a 404 error. Turns out, Evans had emailed Jezebel a month prior, laying out the group’s plan to stage a leak of a “sex tape” that never really existed. It was a Trojan horse for the shitty sci-fi makeout sesh that is their new video, “I Wanna Fuck You Till I’m Dead.” Naturally, YACHT wedged that link into their second apology, having deleted the first one that passive-aggressively blamed the media for not getting the deeper meaning behind their conceptual mind-fuck. “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,” they stressed.
When your art comes with a disclaimer literally explaining what it’s supposed to be about, there’s a good chance your art sucks. But back to that Facebook comment at the top, which goes on to ask: “Do you want to live in a world where art is no longer provocative because it might trigger someone?” I’m not sure if the commenter’s question fully applies here — certainly there is a difference between provocative content and manipulating fans to believe you are the victim of a sex crime in order to sell your crappy record. But let’s throw nuance aside for a sec and entertain the idea that this commenter has a glimmer of a point. YACHT’s sex tape stunt was vile, thirsty, and, yup, “incredibly irresponsible” — but was it art? And what the fuck was the point if so?
I’m going to save you the exhausting and exceedingly generous breakdown of what I think Evans and Bechtolt were trying to do here — in short, I guess, a small-plates tasting menu of celebrity sex tape as American cultural phenomenon, from taboo to spectacle to reclamation of one’s own sexuality. This stuff is nowhere near uncharted territory in contemporary art. Though not a literal sex tape, Jeff Koons and Ilona Staller’s Made in Heaven series knocked this shit out of the park nearly three decades ago, addressing pornography, vulnerability, and stigma with sincerity and wit, not to mention dazzling technique. Koons had hired Staller — a porn star turned elected member of the Italian Parliament, who on multiple occasions offered to fuck Saddam Hussein in exchange for peace in Iraq (seriously, google her) — to star in a 1989 film of the same name. Instead, the two fell in love, married, and turned Made in Heaven into an over-the-top installation in homage of their love: giant, lurid sculptures of the two fucking in various positions, Baroque marble busts of them mid-makeout. Koons compared himself and Staller to a contemporary Adam and Eve, saying that through the work, they had cleansed themselves entirely of fear, guilt, and shame. “All of this has been removed for the viewer,” Koons explained. “So when the viewer sees it, they are in the realm of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” How much of this was tongue-in-cheek is hard to say. Three years later, Koons divorced Staller for continuing to do porn and slut-shamed her for custody of their son, so there’s that. But bullshit or not, there’s something there, in the intersection of bougie rococo aesthetics, middlebrow crassness, and endorphin-crazed mysticism, that elevates sex beyond shock value.
But can a sex tape — or a fake sex tape — be art, even if it doesn’t sell at Sotheby’s? By now we’ve heard about Kim K’s a million times, a sex tape so culturally significant we might retroactively deem it a work of art. But even more compelling, in this case, is Farrah Abraham — former star of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, not to mention a pretty fascinating outsider artist in her own right — and her sex tape that wasn’t a sex tape. In 2013, Abraham pulled a YACHT (that’s what we call it now when you get caught in an obvious, self-interested lie — don’t forget to smash that caps lock!) and announced that in an attempt to subvert the imminent leak of a privately recorded sex tape that just so happened to feature porn star James Deen and have multiple camera angles, she’d be releasing the 70-minute video through Vivid, home of the infamous Kim tape. Abraham got a million dollars, and Backdoor Teen Mom racked up 2 million visitors in 12 hours. Abraham never officially confessed to having staged the whole thing. Instead, she dropped a trilogy of erotic novels called the Celebrity Sex Tape series, a totally fictional saga in which a debt-ridden Fallon Opal gets bamboozled into a sex tape by shrewd porn star Jimmy Heinz. Abraham’s tactics are manipulative, to be sure, but there’s something almost poetic — or, at the very least, hilarious — about a young woman whose sex life made her famous flipping the script on us all. YACHT could never dream of critiquing American media so incisively, or absurdly. And unlike YACHT, Abraham's music fucking rules.
So let’s say our commenter is onto something: YACHT’s fake sex tape might be morally reprehensible, a desperate move that will almost certainly make things more difficult for actual victims of sexual exploitation, but that doesn’t mean we should refuse to engage with the work, right? Well, I engaged with “I Wanna Fuck You Till I’m Dead,” a corny Family Fodder cover that I had to turn off after Evans sings what sounded like “groovy doobie woobie,” and I am here to say: It still totally sucks. Sometimes, in the words of the hallowed prophet, it’s way too late to say sorry.