Remember the pre-streaming days when a high schooler’s taste was dictated by what played on the radio? When the best gig of all time was a Jingly Bell Ball in some cavernous arena featuring performances from whoever was popular on Capital FM at the time? As kids, our favourite musicians were often the ones that we found right in front of us, but the beauty of streaming platforms – and Generation Z’s obsession with them – is that it’s opened new doors for everybody from inquisitive listeners to the fresh-faced talents making the stuff they're listening to.
The natural byproduct of the teeny bop juggernaut falling from grace – or disbanding, like One Direction did – is that the young men and women who once looked up to stereotypically handsome heartthrobs have found new, more progressive idols: gawky teens with guitars and women musicians with more agency than the run-of-the-mill daytime radio lot. Both groups are making their big breaks not with label assistance, but from the comfort of their own homes.
And so, enter the bedroom pop renaissance. It’s been nearly 10 years since artists like Owl City and nevershoutnever! benefited from the rise of YouTube and MySpace, and now their successors – underground talents with a penchant for overly emotive pop songs – have taken their place. Self-made stars like Cuco, Boy Pablo and Yellow Days are winning fans with their frank lyrical discussions of heartbreak and mental health, while the likes of Billie Eilish and Clairo are proving that young women aren’t toys for the music industry to mess with.
Their teenage fans are rejoicing in that moment too. Up and down the UK, these artists are winning supporters in droves, acting as the antidote for the manufactured pop that cool kids like to rebel against. If the 90s youth musical mutiny was staged by the likes of Nirvana, these days everybody’s worshipping at the altar of a shorts-wearing Chilean teenager who barely looks a day over twelve (Boy Pablo, fyi), who's selling out thousand strong venues without even a hint of national radio play.
So to get a greater understanding of exactly how British Gen Zers are forgoing mega stars in favour of these relatable teen idols, we asked some of them to tell us just how much their bedroom pop obsessions – however unwavering or fickle – mean to them.
Ezra, 17, Bristol
“I was a peak Clairo fan at the beginning of 2018, and was actually supposed to go to the recent show in London. I first heard her feature on a song with Cuco, and liked her voice because it wasn’t anything crazy; like she wasn't trying too hard to impress. After that, I found the ‘Pretty Girl’ video and I realised I liked her a lot because being into her stuff was just something that felt so easy. I guess people my age were into that crowd because it made them realise that they could quite easily start doing something similar, and it’s nice to see people of a similar age doing their own thing.
But I think that is why we also grow out of it. Recently, I’ve been branching out. I don’t listen to any of them anymore really, because I feel like they’re targeting their music and image towards teens. You can grow out of the phase you fell into in the first place, just as easily.”
Austin, 17, London
“Going back, I guess my appreciation of bedroom pop stemmed from my love of lo-fi hip hop and that chill genre, which kinda evolved into bedroom pop over time. Earlier this year, I discovered Boy Pablo on the Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify; that's where I found others like Cuco too. I reckon I got into Boy Pablo's stuff because I could easily catch onto the tunes and learn the words, especially with songs like ‘Limitado’ and ‘Losing You’.
He talks about gooey relationship type stuff, and [up until this point] in pop it's usually just been from a girl's perspective or about ‘that hot girl' from a man’s. But with bedroom pop, we get a realistic representation of anxious interactions from both sides of the spectrum. Before Cuco and Clairo, all I heard was either relationships going good or terribly – nobody was ever really finding that middle ground.”
Maegan, 15, Swindon
“When artists like Rex and Yellow Days write songs, it feels like a piece of them. People my age are facing problems that we’ve never been faced with before, and being vocal about it – like those two – is an important way to show we care. Depending on what songs they’re singing, they amplify whatever mood I’m in too. I’m doing my exams at the moment, so I find myself turning to them as a form of stress relief. I guess a lot of people in my year at school just don’t really know much about bedroom pop artists because they only really listen to the charts, but not many people think that I listen to these guys to be cool – they just think it’s stranger that I don’t know what song is number one!
I’d like to think I’ll still be listening to the music they’re producing in future because it will always take me back to these years of my life. But because they’re so honest, and they’re facing the same issues and experiences at the same time as me, in 10 years time I guess I’ll relate to whatever music they’re releasing then too.”
Oliver, 17, Manchester
“I was first introduced to the bedroom pop scene by Clairo, but back then I wasn’t a massive fan of the genre as a whole and was sure it was just gonna be a passing fad. That was until I watched the video for Gus Dapperton’s “Prune, you talk funny”. From the first chord I was hooked; his psychedelic feel and meaningful lyrics really resonated with me.
In my opinion, Gus is sorta pushing gender boundaries, wearing bright eyeshadow, colourful clothes and dangly earrings – it’s almost like his outfits and his music are giant art pieces. The way Gus expressed feelings through that art really shows that pushing those norms is a good thing, and for me at least, he really pushed the boat out for guys who want to wear makeup and paint their nails. Now, he inspires me to push the boundaries of my own music and push me to be myself too.”
Molly, 18, South of England
“I see that so many people my age have started to take interest in the much more vulnerable and open guys, rather than the ones that put up a front for the limelight. I think that's why some artists such as Rex Orange County – who may not have been as popular when growing up – are now some of the most popular artists today. When I saw him at Hammersmith in October, it was one of the safest, dreamiest, happiest gigs I’ve ever been to! It had such an inviting atmosphere it felt kinda surreal.
The openness portrayed with bedroom pop is spreading more to other genres and artists as well, with people being so much more aware of an artist's behaviour – even if it's just treating people badly. Lots of people call out the behaviour of stars more often now, and the vulnerability of the individual seems much more important across the board. We want to be able to feel as if we can trust those we listen to and look up to; that’s what bedroom pop gives us.”
George, 18, Kent
“As a queer person, there are a lot of artists I don’t relate to that other people my age love. I’ve listened to Drake, but I can’t get on the same wavelength, but with bedroom pop musicians, there’s a special kind of vulnerability and fluidity to the songs. Like with Yellow Days: I came across his new record on Apple Music and was immediately struck by his dreamy guitar chords and his unique voice.
It was really intriguing to me; like love songs with an unconventional twist. In most tracks like that, the lyrics are always about how much you love someone, but in the song ‘A Little While’, he sends a clear message that he’s falling for the wrong person. It’s not stuff you really find elsewhere. Anyone can empathise with that. Anyone can put themselves into the shoes of whoever’s singing songs like that – regardless of the gender they’re attracted to.”
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