Bedroom Pop: On Leaving the Bedroom or Staying In
By Claire Jungmann
“Bedroom artists” are known for their dreamy, soft sound and underproduced, casual vibe. This inventive new cohort of artists start making music young and hone their skill without any formal training. Their songs fit into a genre that, with the access to simple recording and producing technology like iPhones and GarageBand, can be readily made. Technically, their music is sonically immature, yet this sound is in high demand. Soft sounding music similar to the likes of Mac Demarco is bringing up-and-coming artists such as Mellow Fellow and Zack Villere to the forefront of new music.
Even without mainstream appeal, some of these humble bedpop beginnings have morphed into a full-time music career. Steve Lacy, the golden child of this homemade music movement, started to make beats on the Garageband app on his phone. His DIY approach to song making only requires an iPhone, connector cable, his bass, and if he’s feeling fancy, a pop filter. He connects his electric bass to his phone, plucks out a bass line, and sings over it into the phone microphone. Now, his songs and beats have been picked up by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Solange, and Mac Miller. Despite his rise into the mainstream music scene, he sticks to his roots. He still posts songs on his SoundCloud using his simple materials even though high-quality sound and equipment are available to him. Using professional sound-making tools, his distinct muted aesthetic would be lost.
Bedroom pop is a genre that resonates with young listeners because of the relatable lyrics describing teen angst, with a warm sonic quality to match. Steve Lacy calls his music “plaid,” evoking the soft flannels that he picks up from thrift stores. It’s hazy, moody, and slightly muffled due to his simplified technique of making at-home music. Garageband tracks overlap like a DIY collage of sounds. As thrifted outfits are in vogue, à la “plaid,” young listeners are looking for the same gentle vibe in their music.
Lyrically, bedroom pop aims to tackle the teenage psyche — confused, often melancholic topics are explored like in Villere’s lyrics, “I’ve always wanted to be cool/but I’m not that cool” and Clario’s understandable question, “If I’m in love then why is my heart hurting?” in her song “2 Hold U.” The juvenile topics are often set to mixed music that may or may not include a simple demo drum beat setting on Garageband. These singers bring their music right down to the listener’s level. Instead of discussing topics like being rich and successful, as pop songs often do, their song lyrics empathize with the confused adolescent years. Instead of masking the loneliness of teenage years, these young musicians lean into it. This music isn’t rebellious in the traditional sense — no rock-and-roll is found here — but announcing and validating the true feelings of teens is a rebellious act in this time of feigned perfection. Young listeners hear themselves in these songs and feel a little more understoo
The authenticity in lyrics and production comes from the no-strings-attached independence that these artists have. They have the ability to create something without having access to resources people have needed in the past. This equalizes the playing field, allowing a larger variety of voices to be heard. Record labels are no longer required as they once were. Artists can post for free on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, can self-publish on Spotify, and do-it-yourself music videos can be uploaded to YouTube. These social media and streaming platforms allow music to spread to its target audience easily, forgoing any media coverage or record labels. This way, burgeoning artists have the freedom to create the music that feels authentic to them.
As bedpop becomes more established, it is in danger of moving away from its roots. Some artists are shifting away from the underproduced sonic quality that attracted listeners from the beginning. Fans are content and resonate with the underproduced bedroom sound, while some artists want to branch out of this genre at the peril of losing their fanbase. With growing popularity, these artists now have access to means antithetical to the sound of their original music. Now that bedpop artist Clairo has come out with her first album 001, she is ready to leave her bedroom and transfer her music to mainstream audiences. She wants a sound that is “meant to be heard.”
The danger is that Bedroom Pop artists may be becoming less relatable as they rise in popularity and climbs the ladder of the music industry. They may be able to reach a larger audience who appreciates her for their new music, but their die-hard fans may be turned off. Fans who have followed Bedpop from the very beginning may lose interest as the style morphs and changes. Former Bedpop stars may lose their authenticity as they feel pressure to cater to what the greater public want to hear. That’s the curse of rising out of obscurity: your audience grows and can easily influence your work. In particular, Clairo is getting older and leaving her teen years behind, as well as the teen angst that she sings about. One can’t blame her for leaving behind the subject matter that is no longer part of her life, but we will lose this era of Clairo as she grows and changes as a person and an artist. The artist is intrinsically linked to their art, and changes in their life should be reflected in their music. Her teenage audience will grow along with her, linearly relating to her new life experiences as she grows and changes as an artist and a person. As Clairo isn’t a shy girl recording in her bedroom anymore, her die-hard listeners aren’t angsty fourteen-year-olds anymore. Even if she strays away from her beginnings in Bedroom Pop, her maturing audience will follow.
Through the genre of bedpop, more voices are represented and the music we listen to is pushed to the limits to create something totally new and never heard before. Though these amateur music makers may seem silly and mediocre to some, their immaturity is appreciated by many and may grow into something a larger audience will listen to. We may benefit by letting these burgeoning artists have their time to learn and create. Bedroom Pop should be given a seat at the table, but not boxed into a strict formula. It deserves acknowledgment and the allowance to morph and change as its artists change.
Steve Lacy’s Process:
Clairo’s “Pretty Girl” music video:
Bedroom Pop: Has it Got to Stop?