Indie pop (also typeset as indie-pop or indiepop) is a music genre and subculture that combines guitar pop with DIY ethic in opposition to the style and tone of mainstream pop music. It originated from British post-punk in the late 1970s and subsequently generated a thriving fanzine, label, and club and gig circuit. Compared to its counterpart, indie rock, the genre is more melodic, less abrasive, and relatively angst-free. In later years, the definition of indie pop has bifurcated to also mean bands from unrelated DIY scenes/movements with pop leanings. Subgenres include chamber pop and twee pop.
|Cultural origins||Late 1970s, United Kingdom|
Development and characteristics
Origins and etymology
—Nitsuh Abebe, Pitchfork
—Emily I. Dolan, Popular Music
Both indie and indie pop had originally referred to the same thing during the late 1970s. Inspired more by punk rock's DIY ethos than its style, guitar bands were formed on the then-novel premise that one could record and release their own music instead of having to procure a record contract from a major label. According to Emily Dolan, indie is predicated on the distorted music of the Velvet Underground, the "rebellious screaming" of early punk, and "some of rock's more quirky and eccentric figures", such as Jonathan Richman. Pitchfork's Nitsuh Abebe identifies the majority of indie as "all about that 60s-styled guitar jangle". Indie pop borrows heavily from Western pop song conventions and structures with extensive use of, for example, major chords, hooks, common time and a "consistent and noticeable rhythmic element" ie. the beat.
Indie pop was an unprecedented contrast from the gritty and serious tones of previous underground rock styles, as well as being a departure from the glamour of contemporary pop music. Distinguished from the angst and abrasiveness of its indie rock counterpart, the majority of indie pop borrows not only the stripped-down quality of punk, but also "the sweetness and catchiness of mainstream pop". Music critic Simon Reynolds says that indie pop defines itself against "charting pop". Abebe explains:
One of those things was the idea that rock music was supposed to be cool-- 'cool' meaning sexy, tough, arty, fiery, or fantastical. ... The charts had 'cool' covered-- these kids, in their basements and bedrooms, were trying to hand-craft a mirror-image of it, a pop world where they were the stars. ... and a little bit of a raspberry blown at the larger musical world, which (sensibly) went right on preferring something more interesting than average white kids playing simple pop songs.
Simon Reynolds has said that "what we now know as indie music was invented in Scotland," with reference to the emergence of Postcard Records in 1979. However, some have posited that concept of indie music did not crystallise until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Brisbane band “The Go-Betweens” were an early influential indie pop band, releasing their first single “Lee Remick” in 1978. American indie pop band Beat Happening's 1985 eponymous debut album was also influential in the development of the indie pop sound, particularly in North America. In the early 1990s, English indie pop influenced and branched off to a variety of styles. The US, which did not have as much of a scene in the 1980s, had many indie pop enthusiasts by the mid 1990s. Most of the modern notion of indie music stems from NME's 1986 compilation C86, which collects many guitar bands who were inspired by the early psychedelic sounds of 1960s garage rock.
Names that indie pop fans use for themselves are popkids and popgeeks, and for the music they listen to, p!o!p, twee, anorak and C86. Abebe says that the Scottish group the Pastels typified the "hip end of 'anorak': Their lazy melodies, lackadaisical strum, and naive attitude transformed the idea of the rock band into something casual, intimate, and free from the pretense of cool".
Disputed significance of C86
Everett True, a writer for NME in the 1980s, believes that C86 was not the main factor behind indie pop, arguing that Sarah Records was more responsible for sticking to a particular sound, and that: "C86 didn't actually exist as a sound, or style. ... I find it weird, bordering on surreal, that people are starting to use it as a description again". Geoff Taylor, a member of the band Age of Chance, added: "We never considered ourselves part of any scene. I’m not sure that the public at large did either, to be honest. We were just an independent band around at that same time as the others."
Bob Stanley, a Melody Maker journalist in the late 1980s and founding member of pop band Saint Etienne, acknowledges that participants at the time reacted against lazy labelling, but insists they shared an approach: "Of course the 'scene', like any scene, barely existed. Like squabbling Marxist factions, groups who had much in common built up petty rivalries. The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were the biggest names at Alan McGee's Living Room Club and couldn't stand the sight of each other. Only when the Jesus and Mary Chain exploded and stole their two-headed crown did they realise they were basically soulmates. Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire remembers that it was the bands' very independence that gave the scene coherence: "People were doing everything themselves - making their own records, doing the artwork, gluing the sleeves together, releasing them and sending them out, writing fanzines because the music press lost interest really quickly."
Many of the actual C86 bands distanced themselves from the scene cultivated around them by the UK music press - in its time, C86 became a pejorative term for its associations with so-called "shambling" (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music) and underachievement.
Twee pop is a subgenre of indie pop that originates from C86. Characterised by its simplicity and perceived innocence, some of its defining features are boy-girl harmonies, catchy melodies, and lyrics about love. For many years, most bands were distributed by Sarah Records (in the UK) and K Records (in the US).
Shibuya-kei is a Japanese style from the 1990s that was embraced by indie pop enthusiasts, partly because many of its bands were distributed in the United States through major indie labels like Matador and Grand Royal. Out of all the Japanese groups from the scene, Pizzicato Five was the closest in achieving mainstream success in the US.
List of indie pop artists
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- Dolan, Emily. "…This little ukulele tells the truth': indie pop and kitsch authenticity". Popular Music. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/s0261143010000437. JSTOR 40926945.
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- noogatoday (11 July 2015). "Record Bin: The jangling pop brilliance of The Go-Betweens' "16 Lovers Lane"". NOOGAtoday. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
- Abebe, Nitsuh. "Beat Happening - Beat Happening". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
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- True, Everett (22 July 2005), Plan B Magazine Blog, archived from the original on 1 May 2007, retrieved 12 January 2016
- Taylor, Geoff, Interview, ireallylovemusic vs Age of Chance
- Bob Stanley, sleevenotes to CD86
- Wire, Nicky (25 October 2006), "The Birth of Uncool", The Guardian
- Reynolds, Simon (23 October 2006). "The C86 indie scene is back!". Time Out!.
- "Twee Pop". AllMusic.
- Ohanesian, Liz (13 April 2011). "Japanese Indie Pop: The Beginner's Guide to Shibuya-Kei". LA Weekly.
- Marmoro, Gianfranco (12 January 2010). "The Ocean Tango". Ondarock (in Italian).
- Fonarow, Wendy, "Empire of Dirt, The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music" July 2006
- Hann, Michael Fey City Rollers (The Guardian, 13 October 2004)
- Pearce, Kevin A Different Story: The Ballad of the June Brides(Tangents, March 2001)
- Rogers, Jude Smells like Indie Spirit (The Observer, 8 July 2007)
- Stanley, Bob, Where were you in C86? (The Times 20 October 2006)