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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Genre Deep Dive: There’s more to bedroom pop than meets the ear

Examining the artists and history behind today’s homemade hits

Spotify’s bedroom pop playlist is massive. 

The five-hour playlist is packed with up-and-coming artists, many of whom started making music within the last decade. The dreamy sound of bedroom pop has blown up, seemingly out of nowhere, racking up millions of streams on streaming platforms everywhere.

While bedroom pop has sprung onto the scene as its own genre recently, its airy sound has developed over the past few decades. 

The origins of bedroom pop

The beginnings of what’s known today as bedroom pop starts with ‘lo-fi,’ or “ the production or reproduction of audio characterized by an unpolished or rough sound quality.” Unlike other music production styles, ‘lo-fi’ is heavy on sampling, with unpolished production that gives the composition an unfinished feel.

It was the Beach Boys who recorded what are now considered the first two ‘lo-fi’ albums. 

These releases were 1967’s “Smiley Smile” and “Wild Honey,” which they made in frontman Brian Wilson’s makeshift home studio. Critics and fans were initially turned off by the simpler, and seemingly incomplete sound, so reviews at the time were negative

Yet nearly three decades after “Smiley Smile” and “Wild Honey,” came an artist named Beck, with a song called “Loser.” Recorded entirely in his bedroom, the track became a radio hit in Los Angeles around 1993 and then a national phenomenon. 

The slide-guitar and pounding percussion of the song sound anything but unfinished and homemade, so it’s easy to understand the sheer impact that Beck had on artists who didn’t have studios and expensive production equipment. “Loser” served as an inspiration to potential “do-it-yourself” artists worldwide. More artists using this ‘lo-fi’ sound soon followed, such as The Mountain Goats and Guided By Voices.

Bedroom pop’s genre expansion

Still, even through the ‘lo-fi revolution’ of the 90s, the sound hadn’t quite become mainstream. It wasn’t until the early 2010s that bedroom pop finally burst into Spotify playlists everywhere and became a distinct genre.

It’s important to note that unlike the 90s — where Beck’s new style seemed to kickstart a wave of other artists doing the same thing — modern bedroom pop wasn’t the work of one trailblazing artist. Rather, it was the culmination of multiple young artists releasing distinct music around the same time on websites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and even Tumblr.

One example of an artist who rode the bedroom pop wave to fame is Clairo, who started posting music to Bandcamp in high school before her song “Pretty Girl” exploded in popularity on YouTube. 

The Massachusetts-based lo-fi star told The Fader that the song was made “using the resources around me,” including a “little keyboard.” Following Clairo’s initial success, she has released two critically acclaimed studio albums:Immunity” and “Sling.”.

Around the same time Clairo was uploading her first covers to Bandcamp, Alexander James O’Connor (better known as Rex Orange County), released his debut mixtape, “Bcos U Will Never B Free.” 

While he was previously making bedroom pop using just a guitar and Apple’s Logic Pro software, it wasn’t long before prolific rapper Tyler, The Creator offered to fly the young English singer out to California for a collaboration

From there, Rex Orange County was thrust into the mainstream. Today he has released three more studio albums and has over five billion streams on Spotify.

Bedroom pop today

These are just two of the artists that started receiving widespread fame during the 2010s and resonated with young people across the world. 

Marie Ulven Ringham, better known as girl in red, recorded her first breakout songs in her bedroom from 2018 to 2019. Her music has especially resonated with the LGBTQ community, and the phrase "do you listen to girl in red?” later became a way for queer youth to identify each other. 

Other prominent bedroom pop artists that have sprung up in the past decade include beabadoobee, Still Woozy and Conan Gray. 

While their music differs in many ways from artist to artist, what unites the creators and contributors of bedroom pop is their ability to make memorable music with nothing but their own resources and experiences. 

It’s a hallmark of this growing genre that if one does brave Spotify’s massive bedroom pop playlist, they just might find an artist that speaks to them.

This article was edited by Marina Zaczkiewicz, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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