A new wave of self-made artists born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this bunch have effortlessly shifted the pop-sphere as we know it
Clairo, aka Claire Cottrill, is a true hero for the digital age. Her debut album ‘Immunity’ is out today, and as the star of this week’s NME Big Read, she discusses how via sharing offline life – “I could never write a record that wasn’t about something I’d experienced” – she has become a viral presence with mega-hits to boot. She’s not the only one, though. Cottrill resides within the cream of a new wave of self-made artists born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – Generation Z. Let us present to you The Z-Pack.
Here we have a group of artists that have effortlessly shifted the pop-sphere as we know it. Growing up in the internet age, the Z-Pack are (obviously) adept at utilising their social media platforms, to the point where this lot managed to make it big sans an industry push. For the majority of The Z-Pack, all they needed was SoundCloud or YouTube account, talent and a shit ton of charm to capture the hearts of millions of teenagers. Soccer Mommy wriggled her way into the limelight by posting demos to Soundcloud. Omar Apollo took a similar route, uploading unassuming clips to YouTube. Conan Gray was once a vlogging phenomenon.
But what The Z-Pack all have in common is that they have led their own journeys to viral stardom, whilst remaining completely unbeholden to genre. And that, you could say, is revolutionary in itself.
From: Boston, USA
Sounds like: Mellow, plaintive bedroom pop that boasts a dream-like, scuzzy haziness. Clairo churns out sweet songs with a serrated edge, exploring self-love and identity in a frank, open-faced manner.
Best Z-Pack pal: Snail Mail
What they say: Clairo is the star of this week’s NME Big Read. In the piece, she gushes about the impact that herself and her peers are having on their collective audience, “Billie [Eilish], Cuco, Omar Apollo and the rest speak for the kids”.
Check out: ‘4EVER’
What’s next: Clairo is currently supporting the king of gleefully inoffensive R&B, Khalid, on his North American mega-arena tour, which just so happens to include a stop at Madison Square Garden. No biggie, then.
From: Los Angeles, USA
Sounds like: Billie Eilish takes no prisoners. She channels the aggressive tempo of hardcore and pushes it to the nines, and mixes in spikes of crunching electronica to create bolshy, in-your-face pop anthems.
Best Z-Pack pal: Conan Gray
What they say: “People underestimate the power of a young mind that is new to everything and experiencing for the first time,” she told NME in 2018. “We’re being ignored and it’s so dumb. We know everything.”
Check out: ‘bury a friend’
What’s next: Where to go now? Earlier this year, Eilish broke the record for the youngest female solo act to top the UK charts. If that wasn’t enough, she is also currently the most streamed female on Spotify, with 51 million monthly listeners at the time of writing. She’s smashed records, she’s packed out venues, she’s got the world at her feet.
From: Hobart, USA
Sounds like: Buttered-up indie pop that’s just as heartfelt as it is carefree. Staccato bass lines meet soul wave grooves, resulting in pop bangers that are DIY in attitude but future smash-hit material in effect.
Best Z-Pack pal: Cuco
What they say: Apollo revealed to NME last month that he doesn’t feel restricted by creative boundaries, saying: “When I write, I don’t think about it. But when I’m done with it, the song just makes complete sense.”
Check out: ‘Ugotme’
What’s next: This self-taught singer-songwriter’s career blossomed off the back of a few low-key, lo-fi Soundcloud ditties. A few years on, he’s releasing tunes at a furious rate, and whispers of an album have started to do the rounds.
From: New York, USA
Sounds like: Mildly introverted but positively romantic, King Princess waltzes with suburban queerdom through her playful story-telling. Her feather-light cadence draws you in, but her whip-smart lyrics make you stay.
Best Z-Pack pal: Clairo
What they say: King Princess is, undoubtedly, a queer icon in the making, but she is conscious that the voices of other minorities need to be heard. “It’s about time that we had some game-changers hoisted up from the gay, trans, black, immigrant communities. It’s really important that these people find their voice now, she told NME in 2018.
Check out: ‘Cheap Queen’
What’s next: The Brooklyn native’s debut album is expected to drop before the end of the year. If all else fails, she is set to play her biggest headline shows to date across a tour of North America this autumn.
From: Ellicott City, USA
Sounds like: Tear-stained, gloomy indie-rock to make hearts swell. Supported by the distorted guitar lines of her band, Snail Mail, Lindsay Jordan details teenage heartbreak, isolation and vulnerability with gorgeously rich conviction in a manner not dissimilar to the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy. Pass the tissues, will you?
Best Z-Pack pal: Clairo
What they say: Jordan speaks for the rest of her contemporaries when it comes to discussing adolescence, telling NME: “It’s such a transitional point in my life that it’s impossible to feel a certain way one day and feel the same a year later.”
Check out: ‘Pristine’
What’s next: Last month, at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, Jordan brought out her fellow sad-bop icon, Clairo, to perform a duet of ‘Speaking Terms’, taken from Snail Mail’s 2018 debut, ‘Lush’. We’re certainly crossing our fingers (and toes) for a future collaboration.
From: Hawthorne, USA
Sounds like: Cuco blends his strikingly candid lyrics with a sleek R&B bounce. Much like his unruffled contemporaries, has no regard for genre; he draws equally on dreamy jazz inflections and psych-flecked synths.
Best Z-Pack pal: Omar Apollo
What they say: Cuco is a leader of his generation, and he knows it, too. “I’m representing, influencing. Creating a platform for kids like me,” he told NME earlier this year.
Check out: ‘One and Only’
What’s next: Cuco is currently riding the waves of success of his breezy debut, ‘Para Mi’; don’t be surprised if you eventually spot him sitting pretty in the upper echelons of albums of the year lists.
From: San Diego, USA
Sounds like: Impossibly catchy lo-fi bops that capture the disquieting feelings of his Gen-Z devotees. Gray glosses over millennial ennui with an innate, laid back charm; dreams are made and hearts are broken as he navigates the woes of adolescence with wistful nuance.
Best Z-Pack pal: Billie Eilish
What they say: When speaking to Coup De Main in February, Gray opened up about his connection to his audience, saying: “I hope that when people listen to my music, they know what I’m feeling. I hope they relate”.
Check out: ‘Crush Culture’
What’s next: The former YouTuber is currently working on his debut album. If it’s anything like his debut EP, the endlessly nourishing ‘Sunset Season’, expect plenty of breathy vocals, slinky basslines, liquifying synths – he’s got ‘em all.
From: Nashville, USA
Sounds like: Soccer Mommy emotes on a big scale. Her debut album proper, 2018’s Clean, still feels primed for lonely nights with its many bittersweet, bluesy pop gems that prove to be equally affecting and comforting.
Best Z-Pack pal: Snail Mail
What they say: NME spoke to Soccer Mommy last year, where she shed light on her songwriting process: “I always write songs when I am conflicted with myself or conflicted with all of my emotions because I am not very good at just expressing it”.
Check out: ‘Your Dog’
What’s next: Just like her pal Clairo, Soccer Mommy (born Sophie Allison) also joined Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail onstage at last week’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Maybe, just maybe, if we ask them all nicely, we could have a potential supergroup on our hands? Please?