Earlier this month, the Recording Academy announced that Arcade Fire’s WE was nominated for the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album. The band is also billed as a headliner for a summer 2023 music festival in Spain, alongside Florence and the Machine and the Strokes.
The new allegations, like the ones before them, have surfaced in the context of a post-MeToo articulation of consent, rooted in factors like power imbalance and emotional manipulation. Sabina is unequivocal in her characterization of the alleged interactions. “It was an ongoing abusive relationship,” she said. “Emotionally abusive, manipulative, toxic, and using his power dynamic to exploit my body at times that were convenient for him. He met me when I was so vulnerable.”
Sabina met Butler in the summer of 2015, when she was 22 years old and he was 35. She had recently divorced and left a strict religious group, and was working as a waitress at a cafe in Montreal while pursuing studies at a local university. “When I first moved to Montreal, I literally had $40 in my bank account,” she said. Butler, at that point, had sold millions of albums, won a Grammy for Album of the Year, and played to sold-out crowds around the world. Sabina didn’t recognize him when he came into the cafe, but a coworker pointed him out. Eventually, the two talked about the medieval poet Dante, whose work Butler was reading. “I thought I was being so intellectual,” Sabina said.
In early September 2015, Butler invited Sabina to a dance party he was hosting, with an offer to put her on the guest list. She attended with her boyfriend, and spoke for a while with Butler at the party. The next morning, she saw on Instagram that Madonna had also been in attendance, which gave her a clearer sense of the scope of Butler’s celebrity. The two stayed in touch. She saw it as a friendly correspondence; he occasionally seemed to cross that line. “He knew I had a boyfriend and didn’t care,” she said. “He would reference my boyfriend and be like, ‘Have you broken up yet?’”
One night, Butler invited Sabina out for a drink. They flirted, and eventually kissed, an experience she recorded as “jarring” in a diary entry viewed by Pitchfork. “We were sitting and talking about probably Simone de Beauvoir or something, and I remember being alarmed that it had progressed to kissing,” she said. She left abruptly.
Despite her alarm at the first kiss, Sabina was attracted to Butler, and felt that they were forming an emotional bond. In the fall of 2015, at Butler’s Montreal studio and jam space, Sabina and Butler had sex for the first of several times, she claims. They continued texting afterward, exchanges that Butler would frequently direct toward sex and requests for photos. In spring 2016, Sabina and her boyfriend broke up.