September 30 2023: LS Dunes and AI: A Masterclass in Alienating Your Fans
By Leo Romance | 10 minute read
LS Dunes is a supergroup comprised of members Anthony Green (vocals, Circa Survive), Frank Iero (rhythm guitar, My Chemical Romance), Tucker Rule (drums, Thursday), Tim Payne (bass, Thursday), and Travis Stever (guitar, Coheed and Cambria). With one studio album, two singles, and multiple headlining tours under their belt, LS Dunes is set to return to the stage this November, as an opener for Pierce the Veil’s the Jaws of Life Tour. Barely two weeks since celebrating their first birthday as a band at Riot Fest, they’ve also found themselves grappling with their first controversy.
This past Monday (9/25), the band shared a teaser for the accompanying music video for their new single, “Old Wounds”, created using generative AI by “artist” @IAMMETHISISI. The trailer was met with more than a thousand comments from fans and artists expressing their disappointment and arguments against AI generated art. So, what's actually wrong with AI art, why all the backlash, and will LS Dunes come back from this?
The issue with AI art specifically lies in the program itself, Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image model released by parent company Stability AI in 2022. The way Stable Diffusion, as well as other programs like ChatGPT and Dall-e 2, works is that it’s essentially fed datasets of images and content from all over the internet by programmers to train the engine. This means that users can then input a prompt and generate an image in the style of a certain artist, whose art has been fed to the engine without their knowledge or permission. There have even been lawsuits over this, from Getty Images going after Stable Diffusion for using their copyrighted images without consent, to a class action lawsuit from artists against Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dream Up as their copyrighted art was included in the LAION database without their consent and without compensation. If you occupy any corner of the internet, there’s a good chance you’ll run into an artist or two who’s had their art style ripped off by generative programs, making the discussion surrounding AI impossible to ignore. And of course, the automation of any craft inevitably means the AI issue is a labor issue; With the prominence of AI in the creative industries, there’s less demand for the artists themselves as publishers turn to AI art to circumvent the costs of hiring an artist, and studios turn to ChatGPT to write scripts. The WGA and SAG even outlined industry regulation of AI in their striking demands, with the WGA finally reaching an agreement with the AMPTP and ending the 148 day strike, as well as winning the battle against unregulated AI content in the industry...for now. In short, artists, creators, and fans all take issue with generative AI due to the amount of art and human-made content it scrapes for its database, and the threat to every creative industry it poses.
For any other band, creating an AI generated music video would be no big deal, right? Even Linkin Park seemingly got away with releasing an AI music video. However, LS Dunes isn’t any other band, their fanbase making this a very special case. The average LS Dunes fan is somewhere between 15 and 30 years old, has dyed hair, and most likely devotes a lot of their creative energy to creating fan content for them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it sets the stage for the perfect storm. In my extremely subjective opinion, which is not based on fact but on my own observations, the average LS Dunes fan has this belief that LS Dunes, and Frank Iero specifically, is a punk band with typical punk beliefs. It’s not hard to see how they’d make that conclusion. On paper, Frank Iero is your typical punk kid from New Jersey who grew up in the hardcore scene and punched Nazis at horror conventions. His music has always leaned heavier than MCR’s, and he even had a hardcore side project called LEATHERMOUTH. Not to mention, the rest of LS Dunes is composed of hardcore legends, and Anthony “in too many bands to count” Green. The band is vocally supportive of the LGBT community, with Anthony being bisexual himself, and are generally believed to be a group of nice dads who like to make music with their friends. All this being said, they are older male white liberals, whose real lives don’t match up with the image their fans have of them. This usually doesn’t matter, but when the majority of your fanbase holds you to these expectations, they’re going to notice when you step out of line. And then there’s the issue of just how impersonal an AI music video is, especially for a band like LS Dunes; They exclusively tour small, intimate venues, (previously) connect with their fans via art, and their last video was a wonderfully involved stop motion project. The video for “Old Wounds” could’ve been another creative project with a stunning final product, since they have thousands of artists at their disposal, and many fans would’ve done the video for free out of their love for the band, and yet they opt for a lazy, impersonal video that has functionally alienated everyone who loves the song itself.
In response to the backlash, Anthony initially defended their use of AI in the comments, notably being the only band member to do so. After reading through thousands of comments explaining the problems with AI, he said that he’s “...reading about stable diffusion right now which I admittedly should’ve done more of before we started working on this video…I completely understand why people are upset.” In later comments he admitted “...there’s a lot about the process I really didn’t understand but I thought that I did.” Given Anthony’s responses, many fans felt that the band would listen, learn, and not release the video. The exact opposite happened. The next day, LS Dunes released a statement on Instagram captioned “To whom it may concern…”, more or less amounting to the band doubling down on their decision to use AI and that “love it or hate it, the choice is yours…We know we aren’t going to please everyone all the time.” Their statement amassed more than two thousand comments, almost all of which were full of outrage and disappointment, featuring Anthony doubling down once again in defense of AI. So basically, it’s a huge mess.
Here’s where it gets unimaginably messier: For some goddamn reason, Frank unintentionally started perpetuating antisemitic rhetoric in his only response to the AI drama. Another band tagged him in the comments saying “I heard that @frankieromustdie is a reptilian.” to which he responded “You got me…sadly not the kind that’s part of a new world order, I can however save you 15% or more on your car insurance.” How does any of that add up to antisemitism? It’s just a Geico joke, right? Well, if you’re ever talking to someone and they bring up a new world order, reptilians disguised as humans, or a mysterious “elite” controlling the world, they are almost certainly talking about Jewish people. It doesn’t help that he said this the day after Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Sure, he wasn’t intentionally being antisemitic, but when confronted about his comment on Twitter, he responded with emotion instead of logic. “Fuck outta here with that shit! Not even a little bit…a stupid geico joke equals what now?!? Y’all are reaching haaaaaaaaaard. Find an actual enemy.” To make matters worse, he Tweeted soon after, saying “This is literally insane…I love all humans and reptiles. I made a joke in response to a comment about weekly world news headline shit. If anyone could possibly take that and think that I am somehow a person that holds hate in their heart it pains and confuses me deeply.”
And the tone-deaf cherry on top? They released a new Halloween merch collection, thankfully designed by an actual human, a fact that they passive-aggressively made sure we’re aware of.
This brings us to the aftermath of a deeply frustrating week.With their latest music video gaining a mere 6,000 views (at the time of writing this) after its Friday release and the majority of their dedicated fanbase no longer supporting them, this begs an important question: Will LS Dunes ever recover?
Financially, I think they’ll be fine, but I think this is the kind of thing that makes or breaks your reputation as a band, especially when you take a look at who’s replacing ex-Dunes fans. If you take a quick scroll through their comment section, you’ll find a new demographic of LS Dunes fans, commenting things like “I’m just here to read all the copy paste comments from all the activists,” and “The colored hair girls are so furious right now,” and “Fuck these trolling keyboard babies!” Musk fans, right wingers, misogynists, transphobes, and even antisemites are at the forefront of LS Dunes’ remaining supporters. Frank’s comments on Twitter brought antisemitic conspiracy theorists out of the MCR-Dunes fandom woodwork in support of him, and the band’s association with @IAMMETHISISI introduced his bigoted audience- the “artist” can be found liking transphobic comments under his own posts- to Dunes’s comment section. This is not the kind of thing you can recover from at all, and I have a hard time imagining they’ll ever be able to recover their original fans if they continue on this path of inaction.
On a personal note, I didn’t approach LS Dunes with an expectation of them to uphold my own political beliefs, even if generative AI is fundamentally against my values as a writer, artist, and programmer. At the very least though, I approached them with the reasonable expectation of knowing their audience and cultivating a positive environment. The way they’ve handled the situation is downright embarrassing, and frustrates me to no end. How am I supposed to feel about a band known for their support of the LGBT community suddenly aligning themselves with right wing trolls? How are their fans supposed to feel after they’ve shown how little they care or take their voices into consideration? Hell, in the days since the controversy, resale ticket prices for the Jaws of Life tour have been dropping steadily. How are artists, queer fans, Jewish fans, and anyone who’s bought tickets to see them supposed to feel safe when they start attracting bigots to their shows?
I don’t think they’ll make it to 2024. I hope they don’t, to be honest, because the only way I can see them recovering from this is by sweeping it under the rug like they’ve been doing and just going out on tour like nothing’s wrong, and everyone moving on and thirst posting about them when the next photoshoot comes out. I also hope that this situation brings about some fundamental change within the LS Dunes fandom and causes people to rethink how they interact with celebrities they idolize. Artificial intelligence, antisemitism, and alienation: That’s how you destroy your reputation in one week.