The Beginnings of Bedroom Pop: How Self-Released Tracks Launched Young Artists’ Music Careers
It’s no secret that pop music has continually evolved since its inception and identification as a music genre in the early 20th century. Emerging from the industrialization of the 1800s, music writer Billy Lamb defined pop songs as the music “that is most in line with the tastes and interests of the urban middle class.” Since, pop has been routinely categorized into sub-genres: indie pop, dance pop, bubblegum, and the emerging style of our generation, bedroom pop.
Undoubtedly, bedroom pop is a product of its time. The term itself embodies the subgenre, namely, popular music composed with minimalistic means. Many bedroom pop artists produce and release tracks themselves, from their bedrooms. 21st century technology, specifically accessible recording software and social media platforms like Youtube and more recently Tiktok, have enabled bedroom pop to become a staple of playlists worldwide.
NBC writer Olivia Roos also notes, “Unlike other genres, bedroom pop isn’t differentiated by its sound. Bedroom pop artists tend to span a variety of sounds and mix different types of music. Some bedroom pop artists don’t sound anything like each other.”
This DIY approach to music continues to launch the careers of young up-and-coming artists. It’s important to note that many of these musicians had prior connections in the recording industry through family members and friends. However, this should not diminish appreciation for their origins or respect for their talent.
Claire Cottrill (she/her), more commonly known as bedroom/indie pop artist Clairo, says she owes part of her industry breakthrough to YouTube’s algorithm. While she had been self-releasing singles since 2013, her single “Pretty Girl” surpassed the popularity of her previous work, going viral in 2017. The video, which has garnered over 87 million views, depicts Cottrill sitting in her bedroom, singing along to her song, occasionally holding up Funko pops or donning sunglasses.
She discloses in the video description, “The reason I made this music video was to actually help myself. On the day I made this, my hair was greasy, my skin was bad, I had nothing to wear, and I didn't want to leave bed… I felt that the only way I could make this video was to have a lot of fun looking disgusting and not caring at all!”
By the end of 2017, Cottrill signed with Fader Label and has since released albums Immunity (2019) and Sling (2021). Her success exemplifies the power of bedroom pop as a medium and listeners’ appreciation for accessible, personal music.
Many mainstream artists like Clairo have origins firmly rooted in the bedroom pop scene. Norwegian songstress Marie Ulven Ringheim (she/her), aka girl in red, released her single “i wanna be your girlfriend” to SoundCloud in 2016. She recorded the track using a Blue Yeti Microphone, which retails for around $100. In March 2018, the single was put on Apple Music. The New York Times would later identify it as one of the best songs of the year. Her subsequent single, “we fell in love in october,” was also self-released in 2018, and would peak at number 14 on the US Rock charts. It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that Ulven Ringheim signed with a label, British distributor AWAL. Since then, she has opened for Clairo and Conan Gray.
The list of bedroom pop alums doesn’t stop there. 23-year-old Robin Skinner started releasing original music on YouTube and Bandcamp under the moniker Cavetown in 2012. His 2018 album Lemon Boy, also self-released, has over 60 million streams on Spotify. Skinner also collaborates frequently with other bedroom pop artists. He produced mxmtoon’s single “Prom Dress” and has toured with Field Medic and chloe moriondo.
Other artists like Cuco, Still Woozy, The Marías and beabadoobee are also products of the bedroom pop movement. While many bedroom pop alums eventually sign with record labels and “lose” the need to self-release, their music still resembles their bedroom phases, albeit with more bells and whistles.
Making music in your bedroom is not necessarily a new concept. However, the possibility of releasing this music online, going viral and breaking into the mainstream is something completely unique to the modern day. This accessibility is inherently optimistic. With a computer, a plug-in microphone and an empty room, who knows what you’ll create.
Story originally published in WECB Milk Crate's Fall '22 zine.