There was a time when the only things coming out of a teenager’s bedroom would be a creeping atmosphere of existential despair, the dying gargles of video game bosses, ‘Disintegration’ and the stench of new mould-based forms of penicillin, mixed with weed. Now, press your ear to the same ‘Ravenclaws Only’ sign and you’re less likely to hear the furtive fumbling of denims than the skilful manipulation of samples or bass tracks.
While so many traditional models of music making collapse around it, bedroom pop is the single shining example of the cheap and accessible artistic freedoms the internet promised us. As it explodes, it’s as raw, unconstrained and unknown as the formative rock’n’roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but faces exactly the same challenges: this relatively new form of youth creativity currently has only stale old structures to ascend into. Sure, you can rack up a couple of hundred million streams for a track you sang into a hairbrush – ker-ching! Order the PS5.
But that streaming dollar is still peanuts compared to the merch, sync, publishing and live income that a public profile can get you if you surrender yourself to the industry’s clutches. And, like a repurposed tyre factory struggling to manufacture nanobots, the industry only knows how to mould you into the same tired old pop shapes.
Since charts, radio and streaming algorithms exist in an ouroboros cycle, eating its own tail in its desperation to bombard us with mathematically popular mainstream chaff at every waking moment, it’s no wonder that the initial wave of bedroom pop stars have produced hazy and emotionally damaged slants on R&B, soul and electropop. The charm of it is in the DIY rough edges, its proud authenticity and the fact that it’s clearly never been within a thousand miles of a focus group.
But just as The Beatles of 1961 were encouraged to ditch the leather jackets and uppers and make nice, safe girl-meets-boy pop songs that the stalls at the Royal Variety Performance can rattle their jewellery to, brilliantly individual acts such as Eilish and Clairo are only a few minor studio ‘refinements’ and a misguided session with fame pop producers Stargate away from becoming sullen Katy Perrys. If they let their principles slip in the face of cheques the size of the Cayman Islands, bedroom pop just becomes the next X Factor; a crowd-sourced pool of raw talent for the money men to turn into identikit pop gonks before our very eyes.
Enter Beabadoobee, the bedroom pop Sgt Pepper. She idolises Elliott Smith, Pavement and L7, wishes she could live in the ‘90s and claimed, in her NME cover story, that she dances around to Verruca salt in her “ugliest underpants ever”; endearing when she does it, public decency violation and grounds for divorce when I do, apparently. It’s not just her devotion to retro grunge that sets her apart: it’s her entire confrontational leftfield mindset. By home-making lo-fi guitar pop that’s both defiantly at odds with what YouTube thinks you want to hear next and acclaimed and successful anyway, she marks the birth of a new, algorithm-viable alternative scene.
Potentially, the arrival of Bea’s debut album ‘Fake It Flowers’ last week is as pivotal a development in internet-era music as the breakthrough ‘60s psychedelia records were to the dawn of alternative rock. She may count like-minded acts such as Viji, Molly Payton and Baby Queen amongst her core peers, but bedroom pop is legion; there are vast swathes of home-made releases from DIY acts hitting the very back of the ‘net every week, in a billion different styles and forms that, like Bae, don’t fit the industry’s idea of a surefire Drake-botherer.
The vast majority, however brilliant, will go largely ignored beyond the dedicated indie sites, the means of mass publicity closed to them. Like freak pop unabombers, their tracks will fizzle rather than blow up and, in the current circumstances, their only long-term option is to retrain for cyber.
But if the success of a DIY grunge pop record on a cult label – in Bea’s case, Dirty Hit – makes a few big radio programmers stop chasing streaming figures for the next Lewis Capaldi for 10 minutes and go scour the bedroom pop playlists for the next Baebadoobee instead, the mainstream might start to grow some depth, breadth and balls again. Now go to your rooms and turn that racket up…