For the past several days rising Nashville rock band Tramp Stamps has been getting viciously roasted online for being what’s known as an “industry plant.” The trio, who make pop-punk about hating men, caught the wrath of TikTok users who called bullshit on the band’s Hot Topic aesthetic and sound. Tramp Stamps, which includes two songwriters signed to Dr. Luke’s music publishing company Prescription Songs, already had roots in the music industry before they started their band, and therefore, critics say, they’re “plants,” signed and manufactured by out-of-touch industry people.
Yes, Tramp Stamps are definitely corny. Their latest song “I’d Rather Die,” a chirpy pop-punk song capturing a strain of en vogue heteropessimism, includes the lyric “I’d rather die than hook up with another straight white guy.” They use language like “it’s some major fuckin tea” and “who’s ready to make men cry?” online, the likes of which I haven’t seen since reading Buzzfeed .gif lists circa 2014. The styling of this band has been gravely miscalculated, down to the painstakingly put-together Dolls Kill ensembles and freshly, perfectly matching hair dye. They call women “badasses.” “It’s the kind of stuff women talk about all the time with their friends, but no one’s ever put it to this kind of music before,” one member says of their music on the band’s site. I have to imagine a quick flip through bands or artists like Bikini Kill, L7, Poly Styrene, Sleater-Kinney, or literally any explicitly feminist punk band from the last 50 years might correct that misconception.
Tramp Stamps also have appeared fully formed, with a highly manicured social media presence. To a generation of listeners who are used to seeing artists break out seemingly more organically, like uploading lo-fi pop songs from their bedrooms that go miraculously viral on TikTok, alarm bells went off. Savvy TikTok users did some research and found more information about the band, discovering that lead singer Marisa Maino and member Caroline Baker were both signed to Prescription. Travel back through the discography and social media pages of the band members and you can see they haven’t always made this kind of music or even looked this way (people went to town when they found Blue’s wedding photos to a man, calling hypocrisy on the whole “we hate straight white men” schtick). The band ultimately issued a multi-slide Instagram statement in response, railing against “cancel culture” and clarifying that they write and produce their own songs, they have worked in the industry for several years, and they’re not on a major label they’re on a self-created label named “Make Tampons Free.”
And yet after this wealth of evidence that Tramp Stamps aren’t a great band (nor a “brilliant” voice on “white-boy privilege and fragile masculinity” as their website claims, my bar is personally higher than making men cry), I still don’t think they’re “industry plants.” Clumsy and tone-deaf, definitely, and tragically out-of-touch with whatever audience they’re trying to capture, but not an “industry plant.” Over the past several years, the phrase “industry plant” has been lobbed at artists like viral pop artist Clairo after it was revealed her father worked for Coca-Cola and Converse, rock star Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish, Post Malone, Lizzo, and nearly any artist who seems to shoot to the top of the pile and achieve virality (sorry, that means you too Olivia Rodrigo, child-star Disney roots be damned). But the term often means nearly whatever the critic in question wants it to mean. Is this a band that seems indie, or is presenting as an independent artist, but is on a major label? Plant. Is this an artist (especially a woman artist) who you think doesn’t write all their own music? Plant. Is this a singer whose family has ties to creative industries and/or familial wealth? Plant.
The term industry plant might be silly shorthand for healthy and rightful skepticism about an especially cringe-worthy artist like Tramp Stamps, whose grrrl power performance doesn’t make up for their connections to putting money into the pockets of Dr. Luke, who allegedly sexually assaulted Kesha. But the exhausting popularity of the term obscures and flattens conversations about privilege and access in the music industry by emphasizing a narrative that suggests popular artists are either authentic or totally fake, working without any outside help or label puppets, when in reality the lines are depressingly blurrier. Industry plant assumes that so-called plantlike behavior—like coming from familial wealth, having the right connections, having financial support and an aggressive publicity team from a label with the money to throw at them, fucking around with Spotify playlist placements and TikTok memes and weird merch packages that boost streams, or working with other songwriters and producers—are bugs, not features, of the music industry. Once you realize that, bands like Tramp Stamps no longer seem shocking.