I DIY With A Little Help From My Friends
By Allison Foster
Is bedroom pop culture turning into an easily attainable aesthetic for up and coming musicians to exploit?
Picture this: You’re sitting on the floor of your childhood bedroom, embarrassingly outdated posters on the walls, surrounded by a thrift store Casio and a (probably acoustic) guitar your parents got for you. A genuine dedication to music, a computer with GarageBand (or not), and a Bandcamp account were all you needed to step foot into a new world, your own world, with the power to take it anywhere you desired.
For some, this relatively modern avenue of recording and self-producing sent several artists into spinning stardom, like popular groups Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest, both groups frequently outspoken on their homegrown sounds. Authenticity and talent shine through their work, often low-quality and occasionally unfinished. Also referred to as “lo-fi”, it’s a musical style working to be imperfect. Besides typically having a closer, more authentic sound, what does it mean to be an artist in this genre? The truest of bedroom, DIY, and lo-fi artists work from the ground up, entirely on their own to reach career milestones. Professional styling, record deals, shows, and tours - just to name a few - can take years to achieve for self-made artists. It’s a dedication of heart and soul, resources and time, fueled by a genuine passion and effort.
Bedroom pop has become almost a gimmick, an easy way for a hopeful artist to slip their way into the music world. With the popularity of social media, it’s become increasingly easier to attain lifestyles observed on Instagram or Twitter. Becoming a bedroom pop artist is one of these lifestyles, modeled after the aesthetic of relatable 20-somethings such as (Sandy) Alex G, Greta Kline (of Frankie Cosmos), and even smaller artists like Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan. In a number of ways, the dawn of such means of constant exposure can be a blessing and a curse. An overwhelming amount of the art created as of late has been innovative, political, and unique — but not all of it.
For some, it’s easier to draw influence to the point of near replication. For years, artists in many genres have claimed to have been “ripped off” by another, typically someone with a popular song or sound that is too similar to ignore. There are even cases of blatant musical plagiarism, with artists like Kanye West coming under fire multiple times for passing off samples as his own (For example, Aphex Twin’s popular song “Avril 14th” is featured on his song “Blame Game” with no credit given.)
The most recent scandal involves overnight sensation Claire Cottrill, who goes by the stage name Clairo. Cottrill has come under fire with accusations of being an industry plant and faking her sound, a theory that has blossomed exponentially thanks to Twitter accounts like @HotMusicTakes_. The evidence? Her father, Geoff Cottrill, was Converse’s Chief Marketing Officer, with significant ties to big business. Signed to The FADER label only months after posting her viral “Pretty Girl” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mngtcfcaVrI) music video, Clairo’s beginnings may not be so humble.
The most damning of the accusations comes directly from the artist claiming plagiarism, Charlotte Ercoli, who uses the stage name Charles. With writing credits and backup vocals for boyfriend Ariel Pink’s song “Feels Like Heaven,” Ercoli has a decent amount of musical experience. Charles uploaded her music video for her single “Nun Lover” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVw-VFvgQpw) in August 2015, amassing a mere 84,000 views. The resemblance to Clairo’s “Pretty Girl” is almost uncanny, both using Photobooth video footage with pink lettering, and of course, a backing track with a near identical beat and ethereal vocals.
Charles isn’t unaware of the attention. In a tweet replying to music critic Anthony Fantano, Ercoli said,
“...and yes she absolutely ripped off me schtick and melodies but I think her style of music is embarrassing so it’s okay! But yeah sucks I don’t get credited as a pioneer of bedroom pop considering I’m the real deal”
The honest and sometimes brash rebuts from Ercoli show her frustration with the industry and lack of credit received for the sound she claims to have established. Bedroom pop is to be made in a bedroom and not a studio like Clairo, as she explained on Twitter (@charlesdecrema).
For some, the quest for the “aesthetic” of a bedroom pop musician is one that never seems to end. Clairo’s pursuit for musical relevancy began with her rather unsuccessful DJ/Soundcloud project, DJ Baby Benz. Her sudden rise to fame seemed odd to fans and critics alike, and spiked public curiosity. Loose ends led back to Charles and her long established sound, adding more fuel to the fire. Regardless of scandal, the future for Clairo still seems bright. She just finished her tour with Dua Lipa, and recently collaborated with surf rock artist Cuco on single “Drown.” If her father learned anything from his marketing career, he knows how to divert bad press -- especially for his daughter.
The world of DIY (and music in general) is changing drastically in the age of Instagram and like-baiting. The authenticity remains in artists who devote themselves to their craft and sound, and it shows. As the subgenre becomes more marketable, supply and demand both skyrocket. Keep up with your local music scene, support hard working small projects, and encourage their dedication.
If you’d like to hear alternatives to Clairo, Retrograde recommends Charles (cactusmilk.bandcamp.com), Ruru (Spotify), or Crumb (Spotify).
Images taken from Clairo’s music videos for “Pretty Girl,” “Flamin Hot Cheetos,” and Charles’ music video “Nun Lover.”