It was a quiet Saturday night. I sat on my friend’s couch, aimlessly browsing through the Spotify app on his television and hoping something would catch my eye. Eventually, something did— a Spotify playlist entitled “Bedroom Pop.” I frowned as I tried to parse the title. Is this pop music made for bedrooms? Do bedrooms even listen to music? My curiosity was piqued. I pressed play and the room filled with the sound of off_brand_mac_demarco.mp3. I pressed skip, only to be greeted with chamber_of_dejection.mp3. I got about five seconds into wilted_lettuce_days.mp3 before I had to pause and reflect on what I’d just stumbled upon.
It would be an exaggeration to suggest that every song on the BedMac DeMarcroom playlist deserves a 20 year old asshole writing a snarky title for it. However, even outside of Spotify curated playlists, the sheer volume of songs that emulate DeMarco’s style is a little alarming. These tunes borrow a lot, from the reverb-drenched guitars with a hint of chorus, to the straight-ahead drum beats and almost-ironic retro synths, to the rhymes that would be lazy if they weren’t so fun. My first thought, therefore, is that the core elements of DeMarco’s style are all present. I feel like I must be missing something because I can’t see why I’d drink the cloying boy pablo flavored supermarket cola over classic Coke with a little cigarette ash in it.
If you’re still with me, you’ve probably had this thought before. If you’re not, then I urge you to push up your clear-frame horn-rimmed glasses, adjust your overalls and soldier on because I promise the second half gets better.
After I’d had my first thought, I realized that I really wasn’t upset by the formulaic nature of these tunes. Most music, at its core, follows some kind of formula, and some of my favorite albums are just variations on the same four chords for thirty-five minutes. I also wasn’t really upset that it was unoriginal— in fact, I’m not even sure if it’s fair to say it’s unoriginal. Each of these artists tells a story through the context of their own experience and, while they might all have the same lens of pastel and pretense, picking out the small differences and intricacies that separate these artists is crucial to appreciating their music. As I had my second and third thought, I realized more and more that what was actually upsetting me was more akin to jealousy.
I still don’t know exactly where the jealousy comes from. On some level, maybe I want to be in a bedroom pop band. Maybe I wish I could pull off yellow sweaters and baggy blue jeans. Or maybe I’m just jealous because these bands look like they’re having a better time than me. These songs are undeniably fun, and when I re-approached the genre with a bit more of an open mind, I found a few songs that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Gus Dapperton has managed to walk the fine line between catchy and obvious with his latest single “Prune, You Talk Funny.” In contrast with the song, the music video leans towards maximalism with elaborate set designs, over-saturated colors and even a brief animation. As Dapperton rides shotgun in a car full of people with his exact haircut, I find myself wondering if perhaps this scene was meant as an extended metaphor for the genre itself.
Furthermore, there is a subtle undercurrent of hip-hop influence in many of these projects, an influence that is especially prevalent in the music of Rex Orange County, fronted by 19-year-old Alex O’Connor. O’Connor collaborated with Tyler, the Creator and his affiliates on Tyler’s newest LP Flower Boy (2017), but even outside of O’Connor’s collaborations with established hip-hop artists, he pays a lot of respect to hip-hop through his lyrics. Vocally, O’Connor slips in a lot of triplets and rhythmic variations which are highlighted by the upbeat, almost-programmed sounding drums. Indeed, none of the instrumentals off his sophomore album Apricot Princess (2017) would sound out of place on a Chance or Tyler single, which is admirable considering how hard the music industry fought to stigmatize hip-hop just five or ten years ago.
With that being said, it’s difficult for me to see any staying power in the vast majority of these bedroom pop artists. There’s too many songs that sound alike, and too few reasons to listen to any particular artist over another. I don’t mean to say that this is a wholly uninteresting movement— the undeniable catchiness and lo-fi approach to recording is sure to lead to some interesting projects. It is important to keep in mind that in many ways this genre is still evolving, and many of the critiques of bedroom pop may just be growing pains as the genre enters a musical puberty. If we hold out a little for the hormones to normalize and the acne to fade, hopefully we see bedroom pop mature and find its own voice. I’d like to see it do that.
Written by Walker Spence