Note: This article contains descriptions of alleged sexual misconduct and references to suicidal depression.
Arcade Fire are one of the biggest indie rock success stories of all time: a scrappy group that went from tiny Montreal clubs to sold-out shows around the world, sold millions of albums, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. The band centers on singer-guitarist Win Butler and his longtime partner, singer and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, whom he married in 2003; until a recent amicable departure, the lineup also featured Will Butler, Win’s brother. Their status as an earnest family band is part of their appeal, along with songs that reflect on love, lost innocence, and the search for something real to hang onto in uneasy times. As the band has grown, Butler and Chassagne have been vocal about social issues and raised money for philanthropic causes. They’re generally regarded as a feel-good band with a feel-good story.
Earlier this year, the band released an album entitled WE, which redoubled their earnest presentation. The album cover features an eye open wide, and Butler explained the album’s title and art as representative of, in part, “The dream of Martin Luther King Jr., the iron of the nail of the church door of his namesake, the innocence and the mistake, the universal flaw and the perfect imperfection.” When the album’s second single, “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” was released a month later, Arcade Fire tweeted that the song was a reminder to “… Trust your heart, trust your mind, trust your body, trust your soul.” The next tweet reads: “Shit is going to get worse before it gets better, but it always gets better, & no one’s perfect. Let me say it again. No one’s perfect.”
Numerous people who spoke with Pitchfork in recent months say that Win Butler’s virtuous public reputation is not entirely in line with his offstage behavior. Three women made allegations of sexual interactions with Butler that they came to feel were inappropriate given the gaps in age, power dynamics, and context in which they occurred. All three women were devoted Arcade Fire fans between the ages of 18 and 23 at the start of their interactions with Butler, which took place during overlapping periods from 2016 to 2020, when he was between 36 and 39.
A fourth person, who is gender-fluid and uses they/them pronouns, claims that Butler sexually assaulted them twice in 2015, when they were 21 and he was 34: Once while they were riding together in a car, and again after he allegedly showed up at their apartment despite text messages admonishing him not to come. All four requested to use pseudonyms in this article. Pitchfork has viewed screenshots of text and Instagram messages between them and Butler, and interviewed friends and family members who said they recalled being told about the alleged incidents.
When reached for comment, Butler communicated with Pitchfork via the New York-based crisis public relations expert Risa Heller. In his first written statement to Pitchfork, which addressed the allegations made in this story, Butler acknowledged having sexual interactions with each of the four people, but maintained that they were consensual, and not initiated by him. Through Heller, Butler offered to put Pitchfork in contact with different women who had consensual sexual experiences with him in the past. The representative then provided a written statement from Chassagne in support of Butler’s perspective, which ends, “He has lost his way, and he has found his way back.” (The full statement is included at the bottom of this story.)
In a second statement provided to Pitchfork, and included in full later in the story, Butler addresses the allegations once more, speaks to a period of drinking and depression, and apologizes multiple times.
“While these relationships were all consensual, I am very sorry to anyone who I have hurt with my behavior,” he wrote. “As I look to the future, I am continuing to learn from my mistakes and working hard to become a better person, someone my son can be proud of. […] I’m sorry I wasn’t more aware and tuned in to the effect I have on people – I fucked up, and while not an excuse, I will continue to look forward and heal what can be healed, and learn from past experiences.”
Lily (a pseudonym) says they first met Butler at another band’s Montreal concert in January 2015. At the time, they were a 21-year-old art student who didn’t have a particular affinity for Arcade Fire’s music, and he was a 34-year-old local celebrity. Lily gave Butler a business card and received an email from him the next day. He gave Lily his cell phone number and encouraged them to text him. Butler’s account of the evening differs from Lily’s in one key respect: He says Lily “flirted with me all night” at the concert, and Lily says their interactions were friendly, not flirtatious. Butler displayed an interest in their art career, they say.
Dozens of text messages between the two over a period of about two weeks after the initial meeting underscore their differing outlooks on the nature of their connection. “Not that I’ve been making it particularly clear but if this is about sex for you I think you found me at the wrong time,” Lily wrote on January 17, 2015.
Soon after meeting, they went out for drinks, an occasion Butler described to Pitchfork as a date. Lily objects to that characterization, citing the fact that they had a long-term partner at the time and Butler was married to Chessagne. Butler claims they kissed consensually during that first outing; “That did not happen,” says Lily. According to Lily, they began spending time with Butler because they were open to becoming friends with him.
According to Lily, the two met again for dinner on or around February 26. In an initial interview with Pitchfork, they claimed that Butler stuck his hands into their pants without consent while driving them home after the meal. When Lily expressed discomfort, they say, Butler eventually removed his hand and dropped them off at home.
Butler claims that he only put his hand on Lily’s inner thigh, and that Lily “looked me in the eyes and said ‘not in the car’ in a way that seemed flirtatious.” Responding to Butler’s account, Lily said it was possible that he touched them through their pants rather than putting his hand inside, but maintained that it was a “very aggressive” touching of their crotch, not their inner thigh, and that their response was not flirtatious. Their accounts of the meal itself also differ. Butler claims that they “flirted all meal” and again kissed consensually; Lily remembers the dinner as awkward and says that no such kiss took place.
They agree that there was a kiss after Butler dropped Lily off. Butler says it was a consensual kiss that made it “clear to me that the attraction was mutual.” “I did not ask for it. I did not reciprocate,” Lily says. “It was very short and uncomfortable because it was so bad.”
According to Lily, Butler showed up at their apartment about two days later, on February 28, after he texted asking to come over and Lily repeatedly told him not to. Lily was busy preparing for an art event they had curated that night at a Montreal venue when Butler arrived at their door. Butler, in his statement, acknowledged the visit. “I happened to be by [their] apartment a few days later and asked if [Lily] was free,” his statement reads. “[Lily] said [they were] busy with schoolwork and I said I would just say hi since I happened to be right there.”
“I opened my door and he pinned me up against the wall and was aggressively grabbing my body and sticking his tongue down my throat,” Lily said. “It was an attempt to be sexy, and it was so not OK in the context.” However, Butler’s statement reads, “When [Lily] opened the door we started kissing immediately…I don’t remember who initiated it but it was definitely mutual.”
According to Lily, they asked Butler to leave and he refused. “Eventually he pulled me onto his lap on my couch. I don’t know if he was holding me by the waist or what, but I was physically constrained by him as he was putting his hand down my pants. At some point he tried to go down on me,” they said. They claim they told him again to leave. “The anger and the power in my voice surprised me,” they said. “I will never forget it.” Butler got up at that point, Lily claims, and began berating them for denying his advances.
Butler vehemently denies any non-consensual behavior. “We moved to [Lily’s] bed, but it felt like the mood was weird so I stopped and asked if [Lily] was OK,” his statement reads. “It seemed like maybe things were moving a little fast. [Lily] never asked me to leave, and I never berated [them]. I did express some genuine confusion as to how the mood had shifted so suddenly and become awkward. I said it was no big deal at all. I stopped and I left.”
After Butler left, Lily texted him to apologize for rejecting his advances. “He thought my behavior was weird, so maybe it was actually me in the wrong,” they told Pitchfork. “Looking back, it’s pretty easy to identify the manipulation at the core of that exchange. It’s also really clear that it worked. I continued to doubt the validity of my behaviors and my assertion of my ‘no’ and lack of consent for months after.”
Butler responded to the apology by telling them it was OK, Lily said, and they never spoke or saw each other after that. After several months, Lily came to view the incidents in the car and their apartment as sexual assaults. (According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), “Sexual assault is used to describe any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.”)
“[Lily] wrote me to apologize the next day,” Butler wrote in his statement. “I figured it wasn’t a match, and not a big deal. I never forced myself on [them], and when the mood changed I stopped and checked in and left with no drama or issue. I would never assault anyone and I did not assault [Lily].”
In 2020, amid a wave of sexual assault allegations across the Montreal arts and culture scene, Lily quit a job in the music industry. In a resignation letter viewed by Pitchfork, they broadly outlined their allegations against an unnamed figure whose description matches Butler’s, and wrote that his name had become too upsetting to encounter on a day-to-day basis through their work. Four other people told Pitchfork in interviews that Lily outlined the allegations to them at various points from 2015 to 2020.
Stella (a pseudonym) first heard from Butler in 2016, when she was an 18-year-old student in Montreal, after she posted photos of Butler and Chassagne to Instagram that she’d taken at “POP vs. Jock,” an annual charity basketball event hosted by Butler, who was 36 at the time. “This woman caught my eye and smiled at me when I was milling around at a charity basketball event that we had done, and she tagged me on Instagram,” Butler’s statement reads.
Butler messaged Stella on Instagram not long afterward, according to apparent screenshots. “Hey this is win,” the first message reads. “I was looking through photos of pop vs jock and remembered that you seemed super familiar for some reason, and I saw your amazing costume from the reflektor tour. So great! Anyway all the best.” (Reflektor is the name of Arcade Fire’s 2013 album, and the band had asked fans to dress up for the tour.)
More messages followed: Butler invited Stella to have a drink with him at a bar he co-owned with Chassagne, and messaged again later to make sure she got home safely. A few days later, he gave her his phone number and encouraged her to text him. “I am a very private person and would appreciate it very much if you didn’t talk to your friends about me!” the message with his phone number reads. “Hope everything is great :)”
Within days of the bar meeting, Stella alleges, Butler was repeatedly sending her explicit texts without her consent or reciprocation. “Sorry I really hate sexting,” she wrote in response to one of Butler’s apparent Instagram messages. In screenshotted messages provided to Pitchfork by Stella, Butler also appears to ask Stella if she had a roommate. Butler never asked her age, she says. In his statement, Butler responds: “I googled her and knew that she was 18.”
Stella also claims that Butler sent her photos of his genitals against her wishes, and a friend of hers recalled seeing the photos in an interview with Pitchfork. “She was devastated,” the friend says. Stella told another friend about the sexting in a Facebook chat on October 23, 2016. “Win butler asked me for nudes and tried to sext me. And I told him I was really uncomfortable with that,” Stella wrote. “I don’t really know what to do now. He keeps texting me. Over and over.” Pitchfork viewed the Facebook messages between Stella and her friend and spoke with the friend Stella was messaging, who confirmed the veracity of the exchange.
In Butler’s accounting, he and Stella had been sexting since before the meeting at the bar, which Stella denies. “Later, we met up for a drink and she got quite drunk and was asking me forcefully if there was somewhere we could sleep together,” he wrote in his statement. “I didn’t feel right about it and put her in a cab and made sure she made it home safe.” Stella acknowledges that she was drunk on that occasion and does not remember every detail of the evening, but does not believe that she made such an advance. “That’s just not who I am,” she said. “And also my friends were there up until the last moment.” A friend of Stella’s who was there that night told Pitchfork in an interview, “I just remember being very worried for her and I just wanted to leave…To me he was just another creepy old guy, and to her it was her hero.”
Butler acknowledges that he sent sexts to Stella after the night at the bar, and says that he did not understand that they were not welcome. “I was drunk when I texted her and misread her not answering that she just didn’t get my texts,” his statement reads. “I really misread that she was uncomfortable with that second round of sexting and eventually assumed that I must have hurt her feelings by not reciprocating her request to sleep with me.” Butler’s account starkly contrasts with Stella’s, in which there was no initial round of sexting before the bar meeting, and no request for sex at the bar.
“After a couple months I couldn’t take it anymore,” Stella said. “I definitely said explicitly that the texts and pictures were not wanted, but that did not stop him.” Stella claims that she blocked two of Butler’s phone numbers from texting her, and that his Instagram messages became less common sometime in late 2016.
They were in touch a few times more, once when Stella attended an Arcade Fire show on the guest list in September 2017, and finally when they had a brief Instagram message exchange two months later. Stella said she attended the show because she “wanted to at least get something out of the relationship.”
Five years later, Butler offered a reflection on their 18-year age gap. “I didn’t realize the significance of the age difference at the time,” his statement reads. “I can now see how it could be overwhelming thinking back to when I was 18, but at the time I didn’t appreciate that.”
Recent years have brought a re-evaluation of the dynamics behind sexual relationships between popular musicians and their fans, as cultural conceptions of consent have evolved to account for the idea that a power imbalance between parties can act as an instrument of pressuring or even coercion. Across genres, musicians have drawn scrutiny over relationships that might have been seen as commonplace, or even glamorized, in the pre-#MeToo era.
Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights lawyer and the author of the new book Sexual Justice, has observed the shifting focus toward power dynamics. “It’s certainly right that over the last couple of years we’ve seen increased attention to how power differentials make it harder for people to say no and also to have their ‘no’s be heard,” Brodsky said in an interview with Pitchfork. “We are further along on that question culturally than we are legally.”
Civil rights laws attuned to power differences apply to specific situations such as workplaces and schools, Brodsky noted, rather than areas like the artist-fan relationship, where the roles aren’t so formally codified. “My thought tends to be that we should recognize that the law isn’t the best arbiter of sexual ethics,” she said. “Some power differentials in some contexts will render sexual contact illegal. Sometimes it won’t. But that doesn’t mean that it was ethical. That doesn’t mean it was respectful.”
As for unwanted sexts like those that Stella alleges Butler sent her, Brodsky says, “There are forms of sexual harassment that are so normalized that it is hard for people to realize how wrong they are.”
Sarah and Fiona (both pseudonyms), two women interviewed by Pitchfork, characterized their interactions with Butler in terms of the exploitation of a power dynamic. Each claims that Butler responded to Instagram messages about their love for his music with casual conversation that shifted in tone when he began requesting and then demanding to be sent increasingly explicit sexual videos. Sarah was 23 and Fiona was 20 at the time their alleged interactions with Butler began, in 2018 and 2017, respectively. For both, the transactional nature of the interactions took an emotional toll, they said.
The women describe a strikingly similar set of alleged demands: for certain poses and sex acts, lines spoken to the camera, and outfits and sex toys that he urged them to purchase. Both provided screenshots from early in their correspondence with Butler that show him urging them to keep their interaction a secret. “Just promise me it’s private and you won’t tell people I messaged you or screen grab it or anything!” an alleged message to Fiona reads.
Butler began messaging Sarah in September 2018, screenshots show. One screenshot shows Butler apparently asking Sarah to FaceTime after she had repeatedly told him she was not ready to video chat with him. “I did everything because it was him,” Sarah told Pitchfork. “I don’t like doing any kind of video stuff, especially sexual stuff. I remember being so nervous and so ashamed that I did it. I’d be like, ‘I don’t feel well.’ And he’d be like, ‘Send me a picture right now.’ He used me, basically, as his personal therapist, and easy way to get sex over the phone. The FaceTimes would be strictly: he gets off, hangs up. I felt sick every day after I did it.”
Sarah’s mother told Pitchfork that she noticed earlier this year that her daughter wasn’t saying anything about Arcade Fire’s new album, or about buying tickets for the tour, which struck her as strange, because Sarah had been a devoted fan in the past. “What really struck me was her depression,” Sarah’s mother said. “I was noticing her spiraling and more troubled than I’d seen her in a while, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.” One night, Sarah’s mother said, they were parked in a mall parking lot when Sarah told her about her alleged interaction with Butler.
Butler has a different view of his interaction with Sarah. “I love our fans but this was an unhealthy fandom,” his statement reads. “We started sexting and talking a lot, but I became increasingly uncomfortable when she started coming to all my DJ events and showing up to my restaurant multiple times, to the point I had to tell security to make sure she didn’t get too close.” Sarah says that after they began talking, she went to two of his DJ events—one in Montreal in August 2019, and another in Los Angeles in September 2019—and attended them with friends. She said she went to the restaurant because her boyfriend worked there: “We got free food and drinks. Who wouldn’t go?” Security never spoke to her, she said.
Fiona’s sexual interactions with Butler also began with sexts and video calls, after they connected on Instagram following a Montreal Arcade Fire concert where Fiona was in the front row. It eventually grew to include in-person sexual encounters. Butler acknowledges the relationship. “This was consensual. We would sext and eventually slept together a couple times. The first time, I realized she had a tattoo of my band, which honestly felt a little weird.”
One in-person sexual encounter took place in Fiona’s bedroom in Vancouver the night before Arcade Fire played a concert in the city in October 2017. Afterward, Fiona claims, she attempted suicide by swallowing a large quantity of extra-strength Tylenol. “I felt incredibly low,” she said. “The toll of having to keep everything secret, constantly pushing my needs aside in order to appease him, lack of boundaries, and the guilt of being the other woman was getting too hard to ignore.”
A friend of Fiona’s said she told him about the sexual encounters and the suicide attempt the following day, and that she’d shown him sexual messages from Butler, including a photo of his genitals. Another friend said they recalled Fiona becoming emotionally “distant” at around the same time.
Butler’s statement says, “Almost a year later she reached out to me again and said she missed me and wanted to sext again, which we did.” Fiona said she did not reach out to him at that time, nor sext with him. None of the 65 screenshots that Butler provided to Pitchfork of their DM conversations show an interaction between them dated in 2018 or 2019.
“Later, she messaged me after saying that the experience of hooking up with me had been difficult on her mentally, which was really surprising and very sad to me,” Butler’s statement goes on. “We immediately talked on the phone and although she indicated her depression was not related to me, I left that conversation committed to never sleeping with someone again that I fundamentally knew so little about. It really shook me. Although she repeated it was unrelated to me, she was suffering from mental illness, to which I am very sympathetic. After this we wrote for pages and pages like the friends we had become and the feeling I had was that something had been healed in both of us. We talked about getting coffee next time I was in Vancouver, which I intended to do before I heard of these accusations.” In response, Fiona said of her depression, “It was absolutely related to him.”
None of the people interviewed for this story about their alleged experiences with Butler knew each other until recently. On July 21, 2020, Stella made a post on her Instagram Story that mentioned Butler by name. “I want to share one of my stories that I’ve kept secret for so long,” she wrote. “Sexual predator—from when I was an 18-year-old fan girl, he would constantly try to coerce me into sexual encounters and sending nude photos of myself and sending unsolicited nude pictures of himself after I repeatedly told him I was not interested.”
Sarah saw the post soon after and reached out to Stella, then uploaded a screenshot of Stella’s post to Reddit earlier this year. Within days, Lily, Fiona, and a woman who allegedly had a consensual interaction with Butler responded in the comments, giving rough accounts of their stories. Pitchfork interviewed and reviewed screenshots from the woman who claims she engaged with Butler consensually, and several details—including the specific language he allegedly used to request sex acts, as seen in Instagram DM screenshots and videos—are similar to accounts provided by the people who say he was inappropriate with them.
Another woman, unconnected to the others, described an in-person sexual interaction with Butler that she felt blurred the lines of consent due to the power dynamic between them. A friend of hers recalled seeing Butler’s nude images on the woman’s phone. ”It’s this really complicated thing,” the woman said in an interview with Pitchfork. “Yes, it was consensual, but also, there’s a side to it that was almost like, I couldn’t say no.”
When Fiona first came across the other allegations on Reddit, she said, she was shocked, and her mental health took a downward turn, leading her to seek immediate professional help.
Lily said Butler’s response to their story, which apologized but also challenged their recollections point by point, was frustrating. “Apologies are things I’ve come not to expect from people who perpetuate harm,” they said. “But if he could sit back for a moment and realize what he has done enough to understand that he has to change his behavior, then maybe that would be enough to protect other people moving forward.”
Statement from Win Butler:
I love Régine with all of my heart. We have been together for twenty years, she is my partner in music and in life, my soulmate and I am lucky and grateful to have her by my side. But at times, it has been difficult to balance being the father, husband, and bandmate that I want to be. Today I want to clear the air about my life, poor judgment, and mistakes I have made.
I have had consensual relationships outside of my marriage.
There is no easy way to say this, and the hardest thing I have ever done is having to share this with my son. The majority of these relationships were short lived, and my wife is aware – our marriage has, in the past, been more unconventional than some. I have connected with people in person, at shows, and through social media, and I have shared messages of which I am not proud. Most importantly, every single one of these interactions has been mutual and always between consenting adults. It is deeply revisionist, and frankly just wrong, for anyone to suggest otherwise.
I have never touched a woman against her will, and any implication that I have is simply false. I vehemently deny any suggestion that I forced myself on a woman or demanded sexual favors. That simply, and unequivocally, never happened.
While these relationships were all consensual, I am very sorry to anyone who I have hurt with my behavior. Life is filled with tremendous pain and error, and I never want to be part of causing someone else’s pain.
I have long struggled with mental health issues and the ghosts of childhood abuse. In my 30s, I started drinking as I dealt with the heaviest depression of my life after our family experienced a miscarriage. None of this is intended to excuse my behavior, but I do want to give some context and share what was happening in my life around this time. I no longer recognized myself or the person I had become. Régine waited patiently watching me suffer and tried to help me as best as she could. I know it must have been so hard for her to watch the person she loved so lost.
I have been working hard on myself – not out of fear or shame, but because I am a human being who wants to improve despite my flaws and damage. I’ve spent the last few years since Covid hit trying to save that part of my soul. I have put significant time and energy into therapy and healing, including attending AA. I am more aware now of how my public persona can distort relationships even if a situation feels friendly and positive to me. I am very grateful to Régine, my family, my dear friends, and my therapist, who have helped me back from the abyss that I felt certain at times would consume me. The bond I share with my bandmates and the incredibly deep connection I’ve made with an audience through sharing music has literally saved my life.
As I look to the future, I am continuing to learn from my mistakes and working hard to become a better person, someone my son can be proud of. I say to you all my friends, family, to anyone I have hurt and to the people who love my music and are shocked and disappointed by this report: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain I caused – I’m sorry I wasn’t more aware and tuned in to the effect I have on people – I fucked up, and while not an excuse, I will continue to look forward and heal what can be healed, and learn from past experiences. I can do better and I will do better.
Statement from Régine Chassagne:
Win is my soulmate, my songwriting partner, my husband, the father of my beautiful boy. He has been my partner in life and in music for 20 years. And for all of the love in our lives, I have also watched him suffer through immense pain. I have stood by him because I know he is a good man who cares about this world, our band, his fans, friends, and our family. I’ve known Win since before we were “famous,” when we were just ordinary college students. I know what is in his heart, and I know he has never, and would never, touch a woman without her consent and I am certain he never did. He has lost his way and he has found his way back. I love him and love the life we have created together.
If you or someone you know has been affected by inappropriate sexual behavior, we encourage you to reach out for support:
1 800 656 HOPE (4673)
Crisis Text Line
http://www.facebook.com/crisistextline (chat support)
SMS: Text “HERE” to 741-741
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.