Furry Weekend Atlanta draws ire as it books outside talent for musical shows
Before the coronavirus shut down many furry conventions around the world, a strange thing occurred at Furry Weekend Atlanta in 2019. The popular electronic dance group Mystery Skulls performed a musical set at the convention. This is a pretty mainstream group, well-known for their singles such as Money and Ghosts.
When in-person events started happening again, Furry Weekend Atlanta's new headliner was again more known for their mainstream work than for their ties to the fandom. FRND, also known as Andrew Goldstein, is not quite as well-known as Mystery Skulls. After having worked with many mainstream musicians (such as Maroon Five's Beautiful Mistakes as a co-writer), he started to work independently and created his own singles.
Now in late 2022, FWA is giving a wink toward Little Nas X, a very well-known rap artist, born and raised near Atlanta. He's known for stirring up moralistic controversy with his music videos. I guess that's how you know it's real rap.
As FWA's drive towards mainstream musical talent has continued, furries have become a lot more pointed in their questioning of the convention. But whoever's been in control of FWA's social media account has continually dismissed such criticism. For instance, during the FRND announcement, they responded to one critique by posting a gif of Clauhauser calling the critical poster "cute". At the time, this post only drew more attention to the critique. FWA later deleted the tweet and apologized for their behavior. In response to the threads that appeared after the Little Nas X announcement, they have started to use their social media tools to limit responses to no one but the artist in question.
In this article, we'll be going over what defines a work as furry, why this is separate from how furry music is defined, and how Furry Weekend Atlanta may be able to help mitigate future concerns for their furry attendees and the musically talented within the fandom.
What makes something "Furry" in most art
The late Fred Patten would regularly ask what it means for a written work to be furry in his book reviews. He would even go so far as calling stories where the protagonists could be easily replaced with human counterparts as "zipper backs". In essence, furry written works and comics should have some foundational basis beyond aesthetics to incorporate animals with human characteristics, if they are to be really considered a part of the furry subgenre.
Outside of such an ideal, this may be seen by some as gatekeeping. Could Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny be replaced with human characters? In some instances no, but in others such as the Looney Tunes Show, where Bugs and Daffy live in a house and not in a rabbit hole or pond, then yes, they could be replaced by humans.
But in spite of this desire to separate "zipper backs" from true anthropomorphic works, most of furry fandom does consider Looney Tunes and the Looney Tunes Show to be furry. You simply need to have the main characters be animals with human characteristics, regardless if the characters are just humans in animal clothing. Also, this furry definition holds true even if the work is developed from outside the fandom, through a mainstream publisher. Warner Brothers created the Loony Toons, yet their animal characters are still considered furry characters.
This is how we define furry in its art, animation, and written works. However - what we find in the music scene turns out to be quite the opposite.
What makes music "furry"?
This is an exceptionally dangerous question, maybe far more so than when discussing writing or art. There are furry fans who have dedicated themselves to the craft of creating music, and they tend to be treated with dismissal even more than furry authors. This, in turn, creates a feverous passion and territorial demeanor within the fandom's musical spaces. Their passion and fanaticism was piqued by FWA continuing to bring in musical talent from outside the fandom.
Ironically, when it comes to defining what furry music is, the rule that we use to distinguish a written or artistic work as furry is the opposite when it comes to music. If a furry writer writes the next fantasy hit that has predominantly human characters, most furries will most likely say that while the artist is a furry fan, their popularized content is not within the furry subgenre, and thus the art itself is not furry. Furry music, on the other hand, seems to be defined purely by whether the artist who created the piece is a member of the fandom or not, exclusively.
Not knowing this will probably catch some furry convention leaders off guard, when they invite a musician who uses a Koala character to define their brand, but who themselves are not a furry fan who plays as a Koala character (for example, FRND). Despite their branding, the content creator is not a self-defined furry musician, and therefore their music will be seen as not-furry.
It must be noted that no committee came together to define these strange rules. Like most things in any community, they just organically happen. It's important to write down or make note of these behaviors when they're seen, in spite of how the writer or organizers feel about them. It creates awareness, which helps other people to better understand the needs and thoughts of sub-groups within the community, and leads to less precarious decision-making.
Speaking as a writer, it's odd that the furry music genre is purely defined by its composers and not by their music's content. But since I'm not part of the fandom's musical scene, that oddness is not up to me to define, nor a convention's board.
Concerns about the future of furry music and FWA
Furry attendees at FWA have cited a concern that the con could become more about the mainstream event than a fandom event, attracting people with no interest in furry creativity or culture. If such a thing does occur, it could lead to furry music fans to call for a boycott, for slighting them in preference of outside talent.
On the other side, the leaders of Furry Weekend Atlanta may themselves be huge fans of music, and will continue to welcome fandom-friendly outsider talent.
It seems like neither will budge on their positions, which might lead to a reckoning in the growing conflict between these two perspectives.
The fears of FWA bringing in outside, mainstream talent are more than just fandom ethno-centrism. Furry fans who just want to go to FWA to do normal furry things, and not go there to see a big main stage act, worry about the costs of running the convention, and these being passed down to their registration fees, when they couldn't care less about Mystery Skulls, FRND, or Little Nas X. There's also the issue that it's seen as greatly unfair to furry performing musicians, volunteering at the con, to see non-furries compensated for their stage performances.
But is there a way to listen to these fears, take this problem, and transform it into an opportunity? If handled correctly, this situation could be changed into something that some furry musicians may have never had before: a gateway to introduce our own musical talents to the world at large, at an in-person event. In prior articles and comments, I've noted that conventions may need to begin to specialize in order to draw in particular furry fans from around the world. And FWA seems to have a talent for booking musical talent, even if it's not from within the fandom. If everyone's talents could work together, Furry Weekend Atlanta could be a music-focused furry convention.
But how would FWA to do such a thing without further raising the ire of furry fans, and what would be some of the logistical issues?
A fair's view to deal with unfairness
The pragmatic solution I propose comes from a non-furry gathering I'd go to while growing up in Upstate New York. In Syracuse, NY, there's an annual event called The Great New York State Fair. There are many reasons why people attend it, and one of them is that they bring in musicians and performers to entertain the crowd at the end of the day. However, to see the evening headliner act, you'd buy a ticket that was separate from the one to attend the fair itself.
Note that this is how it was when I was a kid. Since then, it looks that Chevrolet now sponsors the evening show to cover the costs, so all attendees can enjoy it regardless. But before the sponsorship arrangement came into being, the separate tickets are what kept the costs lower for the regular folks who just wanted to hang out with the family on the midway, while those who really wanted to see the star performers would pay the extra to attend their concert.
Likewise, Furry Weekend Atlanta could take advantage of their ability to bring in outside talent, and raise more funds for the convention by doing the same thing the New York Stat Fair. They could sell a music-lover registration pass that would let the attendee see the main stage act, which would be separate from the regular convention pass.
And if they have extra money left over afterwards, FWA could use it to help out the musicians within furry fandom, compensating rooms and travel. Which it should, if done right. Using the mainstream interest to support and highlight the up-and-coming talent within the fandom would help motivate more home-grown musical performance. If they wanted to take it further, the convention could make their primary furry guests of honor be furry musicians, presented alongside the mainstream guest talent. Preferably of a similar genre to the headliner.
External, non-furry musicians may bring in non-furry music fans, who would then be able to enjoy the musicians to be found within furry fandom, at no extra charge. This could give our fandom's talent a wider audience they might not have otherwise had, growing beyond the fandom's niche audience by introducing new fans from outside. It may also lead to a furry musician being able to communicate with more mainstream acts, relating to them as colleagues and not enemies for stage time. (Or as a FRND instead of an NME?)
If done correctly, with care and focus, Furry Weekend Atlanta could transform a situation of fannish ire into one that will give both parties what they want. A convention that attracts more furry attention toward music, and also attracts some mainstream music-loving attention towards our hard-working furry musicians.