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Youth Culture in Bedroom Pop (research essay)

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Over the past few years, the bedroom pop music genre has gained a significant following in younger listeners in their teens and twenties. The genre is defined by dreamy lo-fi sounds and gained its name from do-it-yourself artists who make music in their homes rather than in a studio with the help of a producer. This method is now possible with teenagers’ accessibility to low budget recording equipment such as a laptop and GarageBand. Cheap yet high-quality music software and online tutorials have made is easy for amateur artists to create studio-like sounds from the comfort of their bedroom.

In 2018, Spotify created a ‘bedroom pop’ playlist that has gained over 500,000 listeners within the past two years. Popular artists in the genre, such as Clairo, mxmtoon, Surfaces, and Rex Orange County, have accumulated millions of streams on Spotify and YouTube. These artists have inspired countless teenagers to arm themselves with a microphone and laptop and post their music on YouTube and Soundcloud in hopes of becoming the next rising star. The bedroom pop genre exemplifies society’s growing taste in underground art not ran by big businesses, or in this case major record labels, while also displaying Generation Z’s creative do-it-yourself mentality.

The term bedroom pop has not been prevalent in the music industry for a long period of time. The phrase started being used by journalists in the 2010s to classify any music that sounded ‘fuzzy’ or artists who had gained a small online following. However, the lo-fi sounds—or recordings that contain deliberate imperfections such as distortion, hum, or background noise—and do-it-yourself qualities that define the genre began being romanticized in the 1980s. This lo-fi music gained a following on independent radio stations in the late 1980s and 1990s. Media scholar and musicologist Adam Harper wrote in “Lo-Fi Aesthetics in Popular Music Discourse” that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the term ‘lo-fi’ in music suggested a poor sound quality that was unsophisticated or unpolished and characterized by minimal production. Harper goes on to analyze that lo-fi has undoubtedly become a crucial, transformative, and defining aesthetic element in music that has gained much appeal in more recent years. The genre’s imperfections became its selling point after lo-fi effects in music became ‘considered to be in the domain of the artist’s creative agency’ and tools that should be put to use. This aesthetic element is what helps define bedroom pop today.

Bedroom pop is commonly seen as a cultural response against big-budget record labels; the genre expresses society’s admiration of independent artists who do not need a high-status label to produce how they are feeling in a song. Scholar Robert Craig Strachan discusses this Generation-Z ideology in “Do-It-Yourself: Industry, Ideology, Aesthetics and Micro Independent Record Labels in the UK.” Craig highlights that in the ‘DIY independent scene,’ the big-budget recording industry is seen as restricting artists’ creativity and taking advantage of their finances, often through undercutting them in money made from their music streams. He states that bedroom pop musicians “…seek to separate themselves from the corporate recording industry by attempting to establish an alternative, self-sustaining, autonomous network based upon ideals of collectivity and fair exchange.” This autonomous attitude is seen in DIY bedroom pop artist Clairo, who built her brand through recording music on her laptop and posting it on Soundcloud. Clairo’s music video for her self-produced GarageBand song “Pretty Girl” was filmed on Photo-Booth and has racked up over 48 million views. Her viewers fell in love with the intimacy and relatability displayed on their screens of a girl singing heartfelt lyrics in her bedroom. Additionally, Craig recognizes that the recording industry has specific roles in its industrial process, and that the creative workers in this process are usually subject to quick change and are seen as nonessential in comparison to those working in finance or manufacturing. This point clearly distinguishes corporate music heads as placing more focus on an artist’s financial value than on their creative vision and inventiveness—the latter two being what society admires most about the independent bedroom pop artist.

Using the bedroom as a recording space enhances creativity and comfort throughout the music production process. Media scholar Anders Kile Groenningsaeter studies the effects of recording in a formal recording studio versus a bedroom studio in “Musical bedroom: Models of creative collaboration in the bedroom recording studio.” In a formal studio, there is a separation between the live recording room and the control room where producers design sound and talk to the artists through speakers. Groenningsaeter argues that this isolation evokes the producer or engineer to have more power over the artist and limits the experimental quality of collaborating in the same room. He states that in the bedroom studio, artists do not feel pressured to finish a project quickly under the thumb of a studio’s hourly rate and are more relaxed, fearing no judgment from others in case of mistakes. The bedroom pop recording method is growing increasingly popular as teenagers with little production experience can explore their originality without the critique of a professional. Scholars McRobbie and Garber extensively researched the “culture of the bedroom” and described it as a ‘personalized safe space, and an important site of girls’ cultural identity.’ Generation Z sees the bedroom as a site of culture where teens can establish not only their relationship with music and media but also cultivate the private self and construct their personalities. This is why bedroom pop has become such a popular mode of music; the youth seeks individuality in their quest of music production—a process that has become easily attainable in the solitary of their bedrooms.

Bedroom pop is a flourishing phenomenon that has attracted most of its listeners on account of its relatable lyrics and the intimate setting in which its produced. It is clear that the dreamy music is much more than just a genre—it is a symbol of youth culture and tendency to express creativity and emotion through self-made media. The music’s cheap sonic production value marks a do-it-yourself movement against major record labels that hinder the imaginativeness of the bedroom pop artist. A teen icon inventing lo-fi sounds on a laptop in their room is an inspiring scene to be admired and duplicated for generations to come.

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