To the untrained eye, the Tramp Stamps might look like any run-of-the-mill Gen Z band you’d come across on TikTok. Boasting turquoise- and fuschia-dyed hair and fishnets with jean shorts, the trio has posted dozens of videos of them performing covers of Avril Lavigne, Wheatus, and songs by other members of the pop-punk canon to their nearly 400,000 followers.
This week, however, the Tramp Stamps became the subject of widespread backlash across TikTok — and later, by extension, Twitter and Reddit — for allegedly being “industry plants” who have co-opted queer identity and a “punk” aesthetic for their own career gains.
By definition, an industry plant is an artist who has label backing but presents themself as self-made. As uncovered by a Reddit user this week, a 2019 report by the trade publication MusicRow shows that the band’s guitarist, Caroline Baker, is signed to music publishing house Prescription Songs, owned by producer Lukasz Gottwald, known professionally as Tyson Trax or Dr. Luke. Marisa Maino, the band’s lead singer, also inked a deal with Prescription in July 2020.
Neither the band nor Prescription Songs immediately responded to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
In addition to their Prescription Songs connection, the Tramp Stamps are also signed to Kobalt Music Group, according to the credits on their YouTube videos, which is owned in part by Gottwald, along with other industry heavy-hitters such as Sir Paul McCartney and Max Martin.
TikTok users started looking into the band’s history last week after Tramp Stamps posted a TikTok teaser for their new single “I’d Rather Die.” (The audio on the TikTok clip has since been removed, but the song was released to YouTube and music streaming services on Wednesday.) “I’d rather die than hook up with another straight white guy,” they sing in Auto-Tune over duh-dun guitar chords.
In the TikTok’s comments, the group was criticized for the apparent lack of authenticity of the track with regard to race and sexuality: All three members of the Tramp Stamps are white themselves, and as many commenters were quick to point out, one of them appears to be married to a cis white man. One top comment on the video describes the song as having “‘I’m spicy straight ugh wish I was a lesbian’ energy.”
The Tramp Stamps did release a video that addressed their “straight white guy” lyric in more detail, as well as a different video where Maino stated that she was, in fact, a lesbian. But, as it often goes, internet sleuths began sleuthing, and the Tramp Stamps have since become targets for reasons unrelated to their song lyrics, namely their connection to Dr. Luke.
there’s a “punk” band that everyone on tiktok is making fun of because they’re obviously an industry plant and their music has a lame “tumblr edgelord” vibe. like their entire aesthetic is so forced that I almost feel bad for them pic.twitter.com/olnijeubn8
— Keifer (@DannyVegito) April 15, 2021
Gottwald, as you may recall, was the defendant in several lawsuits filed by Kesha in 2014 for sexual assault and emotional abuse; he later countersued for defamation and breach of contract. Their legal battle sparked the “Free Kesha” movement, a widespread conversation on how allegations of sexual assault are handled within the music industry, and Kesha’s Grammy-nominated song “Praying.”
In 2020, New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter ruled that Kesha had defamed Gottwald in the text message to Lady Gaga in which Kesha alleged that Gottwald drugged and raped her as well as raped Katy Perry. Perry later denied the allegation in court, which led Schecter to state that there was no supporting evidence for the claim. The judge also rejected Kesha’s legal team’s defense assertions that Gottwald is a “public figure.”
Having an association with Dr. Luke is not a career-killer, though; Gottwald continues to write and produce for pop stars like Doja Cat, Kim Petras, and Saweetie, largely under his Tyson Trax alias. He received a Grammy nomination for his work on Doja Cat’s “Say So” just this past year.