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How alternative bedroom pop has changed the face of music

Billie Eilish isn’t the only one mixing up the charts. Pop’s newest wave of artists are blending authentic intimacy with accessible sounds to offer something wholly unique.

Fame in 2019 seems to be an oddly attainable phenomenon.

You no longer need an agent, a network of industry insiders, or financial backing to make it big. Thanks to platforms such as SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, and Facebook, getting yourself heard by the masses is a more democratic process than ever.

The ability to gain the attention of millions with a viral post has had wide-reaching ramifications across the board, whether it be in political discourse, art in general, or our relationships with one another. Our idea of mainstream culture has become increasingly scattered in the information age.

Music hasn’t been immune to these changes – and Gen Z’s brightest stars are prime examples. Anyone can become an overnight success without being signed to a label, and anyone can listen to anything, anytime, anywhere.

Streaming services have allowed younger listeners to develop far more eclectic tastes than the average music fan from, say, the 1990s. As the boundaries between genres become less distinct, pop music in turn becomes less clean-cut. The days of Simon Cowell’s orchestrated market-friendly boy bands have been numbered for quite some time. If you go back to 2004’s X-Factor, it all looks horrendously outdated by today’s standards.

Rising stars of today don’t necessarily come straight from the headquarters of big business, instead finding a feverish fan base online through their own means. They aren’t told how to dress, how to style themselves, and they act on their own volition.

The most obvious example of this self-made pop is Billie Eilish, whose latest album has permeated the industry like no other recent record has. While it would be easy to dismiss her as another industry-friendly pop act, the reality is that Billie’s a self-produced Gen Z star, one born from her talents rather than the approval of a record label executive.

She made it big after posting her song ‘Ocean Eyes’ to SoundCloud, which eventually lead to an EP called ‘Don’t Touch Me’ that was released in 2017. Billie has since been catapulted to the forefront of the music industry – but, crucially, her beginnings were on a platform that anyone, anywhere can post their work on.

Similarly, twenty-year-old Clairo found fame through her homemade lo-fi YouTube video for ‘Pretty Girl’, an understated pop song that she made in her bedroom about striving to be the idealistic romantic partner.

60 million streams on Spotify later, Clairo has just dropped her debut album ‘Immunity’, which features poppy, acoustic strings and scratchy guitar riffs. It’s a well-realised work that feels like secret diary pages spilled onto gritty instrumentals. Her impact on the industry is slowly being recognised by big publications, too, having been featured as the main cover story for NME this week.

‘Pretty Girl’ and its accompanying video is refreshingly laidback and sincere, a stylistic preference that has found a growing audience in the last few years, whether it be on YouTube, SoundCloud or Spotify.

It’s not just a cherry pick of artists like Billie or Clairo, either. The ‘alternative’ bubble of bedroom pop has steadily simmered away just under the surface of chart-topping EDM, trap rap, and hip-hop for the last five years. As artists such as Cuco, Soccer Mommy, Yellow Days, Dominik Fike, and Rex Orange County continue to grow in popularity, so too do the bedroom pop and homemade indie scenes.

Unorthodox attitudes and more left-field approaches to pop music are welcomed and championed today, in ways that were not necessarily even a decade ago. We’ve seen older pop stars struggle to engage younger music fans in recent years – think Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Madonna, all of which have fallen short of truly captivating the teenage market that they dominated ten years ago. Alternative textures, sounds, and production have spilled out beyond the realms of obscure internet forums, instead producing self-made stars that speak to a generation accustomed to placing heavy rock songs next to glittery pop tracks on specially made playlists.

If there’s anything to learn from the rise of SoundCloud songwriters, trap artists, and bedroom pop acts, it’s that music has become a more democratic and interesting industry to follow. Where once radio and record labels dictated what we should be listening to, the power now lies solely in the listener.

Sure, there are still the well calculated public figures such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, and Shawn Mendes who use more traditional marketing strategies to take over the top 100. But for every well-groomed artist, there’s another that’s topping festival bills and generating buzz who started on social media with self-produced work.

That rise in authenticity is exciting and suggests the future of pop music is very bright indeed.