• Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

What Happened to Bedroom Pop?

ByElla Manoff

Nov 14, 2022

Bedroom Pop is most commonly associated with a particular brand of lofi indie pop, one that gained traction in the late 2010s and spread across the internet like wildfire throughout the pandemic. But what exactly is it? The movement soundtracked many quarantines and made for a large chunk of viral TikTok audios. However bedroom pop is more than just a musical fad. It started as a DIY movement that proved you don’t need expensive equipment or a single industry connection to produce high quality music, nor do you need to step outside your bedroom. 

The internet takeover of 2020 emerged from a void of public spaces where we normally hear music. In the absence of clubs, parties, over-stimulating Zara speakers and everything in-between,  listening to music became a universally  solitary affair. Most of us wanted something quieter and more meditative to help reckon with chaos rather than upbeat club bangers to remind us of what we were missing. Quarantine conditions offered luxurious time to deep-dive into the endless pit of content available online, while algorithm-driven streaming services seemed to understand that celebrities weren’t quite who a lot of us wanted to hear from. Instead, it platformed ordinary voices from people who weren’t sending out waves from an ivy tower but were sitting in their bedrooms, reckoning with turmoil and anxiety, just like the rest of us. Through personalised playlists and algorithmically driven recommendations, Spotify steadily promoted bedroom-pop. This facilitated its rise from a niche indie sub-genre to one of the most distinctive sounds of 2020, and finally, into a more all-encompassing movement. 

In the absence of a middleman to impose any limits on creativity,  bedroom pop became a liberating space for alternative people, POC and LGBTQ+ people who didn’t feel they fit an industry mould. The movement did not happen in a void. Norwegian singer Marie Ulven, recording under alias Girl in Red built a brand around articulating love and relationship experience through an explicitly queer lens. In a fuck you to patriarchal censorship of women’s bodies, Ulven used images of exposed nipples as her album covers on songs that celebrated lesbian love. Such did her brand become synonymous with queer visibility that a joke circulated the community that the question “Do you listen to girl in red?” may as well be a code for asking if a girl was gay. 

There isn’t a single leader of the bedroom pop movement. Yet the name most often associated with it is Clairo, who was a crucial player in making the homegrown DIY aesthetic seem cool rather than cheap. The release of single ‘Pretty Girl’ in 2017 may have been a pivotal moment in the bedroom pop’s upward incline. Clairo, as we knew her then, summed up the essence of the emerging style,  with dyed hair and androgynous thrifted clothes, understated singing and stripped-down production. On ‘Pretty Girl,’ everything about the track screamed y2k, the first line referring to ‘a polaroid of you/ dancing in my room’, appealing to Gen-Z nostalgic sensibilities as well as cashing in on vintage trends making their way to the mainstream. She also carried the ethos of bedroom pop in her reluctance to be bought up by big record labels when she first gained attention online, neglecting to sign to a major label when first offered in 2017. Maybe this explains the heated outpour of scorn she received when allegations of the dreaded ‘industry plant’ label began to circulate. The revelation that the hero of DIY pop had been secretly selling a manufactured image was a total betrayal to her fans. It was the antithesis of everything bedroom pop was meant to represent.Yet the truth was, she wasn’t doing much different from many of her contemporaries. 

There is clear appeal to an organic, farmer-to-table-esque, transaction between artist and listener. Every aspect of a typical bedroom pop record, from the album covers to the music videos all look and feel DIY. They are distanced from associations with mass-produced studio products, yet packaged in a highly stylized way that appeals to our need for aesthetics. In fact, most of it is not particularly countercultural or alternative,yet it can look and feel as if it is. 

For most breakout bedroom pop artists, the style of their breakout function more as an early career stepping stone. Beabadoobee changed directions with 2020’s 90s inspired alternative rock record Fake it Flowers. While King Princess has just released LP Hold on Baby which experiments with subversive indie rock. Are our bedroom pop heroes really just mining the homegrown aesthetic to gain a cult audience before chasing either radio success or deeper critical respectability? Maybe. But they have already done their job.

Image “Clairo @ El Rey 04/11/2019” by jus10h is licensed under CC BY 2.0.