What Does It Mean To Be An Indie Artist?
What does it mean to be an Indie artist? Since indie music is said to be produced independently from commercial record labels, since we are told it has this DIY approach, we have this false idea that indie artists all have a modest upbringing and have to struggle to make it. It may be the case for some artists, but it’s difficult to ignore the parents of a lot of young artists in the so-called indie genre. I am not talking about the rock and popstars’ progeny, I am not talking about the Sean Lennon, James McCartney, Jakob Dylan, Sophie Simmons, Lulu Simon, or Ziggy Marley of the world, these kids are both privileged and doomed from the start. I am talking about some young artists who are currently popping up in the indie scene, sometimes out of nowhere.
Even though I don’t listen to the radio very often anymore, I heard a song by Gracie Abrams today, the type of gentle pop ballads with emotional vocals and a sweet hook that are quite popular these days. I had never heard of her, but her father is Hollywood big director-producer-filmmaker, J.J. Abrams. I am not saying Gracie doesn’t have any talent, but it’s difficult to ignore the ‘Mission Impossible/StarWars’ money
Clairo is another artist whose name is popping up a lot lately – she has 2.9 M followers on Instagram! While I find her latest release a bit soporific, she has a few interesting songs, but again there’s no mystery: her father has had top positions at Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Converse.
I remember seeing Frankie Cosmos at a music festival a few years ago, and everyone seemed to know who she was except me. I barely remember her music, but it was probably nice and gentle like the one included in the playlist below. Again her parents are quite famous, as Greta (her real name) is the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates.
King Princess is quite huge, with her genderfluid status and killer act, didn’t she play SNL? She (real name Mikaela Mullaney Straus) happens to be the daughter of recording engineer Oliver H. Straus Jr. and the great-granddaughter of Isidor Straus, a U.S. Congressman and co-owner of Macy’s.
The same could be said of the quite popular Charlotte Lawrence: she is the daughter of actress Christa Miller and television producer Bill Lawrence, while one of her ancestors on her paternal side was a real estate mogul
I have seen Pearl Charles a few times, and I actually like her effortless vintage Americana style; her songs have the layers of a real singer-songwriter’s compositions, and she is also the daughter of Larry Charles, ‘Seinfeld’ writer, and ‘Borat’ director.
We are not exactly talking about middle-class families, and if financial help looks obvious, all these artists have probably benefitted from some excellent connections: more than money, connections are valuable to get attention and opportunities. Can we still call them indie?
Phoebe Bridgers’ fulgurant ascension is also quite puzzling, and without questioning her talent, she went from an opening spot at a Monday night residency at the Echo from everyone-is-talking-about-her in a record time. Her mother Jamie Bridgers is said to have had a series of jobs, including executive assistant, while she also is a comedian, but one thing is certain, Phoebe got the right connections very early on: big gun Tony Berg produced her debut album ‘Stranger in the Alps,’ while you can spot a few other famous names (John Doe, Conor Oberst, Mark Kozelek, Mike Mogis, and film composer John Williams’ grandson Ethan Gruska) among the persons who have contributed to her album. Very few people can gather such a team for a first album: Tony Berg produced Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, X, Aimee Mann, Bette Midler among many other artists. I am not saying she comes from a rich family but either she got extremely lucky or she had the right connections. Even though her recent collaboration with Jackson Browne is presented as the logical result of her success, it’s a strange coincidence that her brother Jackson was named after the famous singer-songwriter.
On the other hand, some artists have been trying to make it for years; there are some talented musicians who have been playing the same small-size venues for many years, while ascension seems so easy for others. There is probably nothing new there, if talent and hard work are key to success, good money and connections have always played an essential role.