Let us begin with an ancient platitude, from the sacred scrolls buried deep within the comment section of any Youtube music video.‘I listen to REAL music.’ The idea of music being ‘authentic’, staying true to a collection of imagined principles is still at the very core of its credibility. But what is this idea of authenticity? It’s kept Rock star music for decades has began to infect the women of pop and the multi-platform personas they are pressured into upholding. A distinctly 2018 pop phenomenon that’s resurrected questions of authenticity is Clairo, the bedroom pop musician whose webcam filmed viral hit ‘Pretty Girl’ racked up millions of plays out of nowhere. Except they weren’t out of nowhere.
Clairo had been a prolific soundcloud lo-fi musician with an already large following, not to mention the Reddit expose outing her as an ‘industry plant’ with a powerful father in the PR world. Since her viral success, Clairo has upgraded to studio produced pop songs, huge european tours and followers in the millions on twitter and instagram. So regardless of how she got there, Claire Cottrill has ended up on a similar plane of existence to any other pop artist: an aspirational figure with straight to the vein access to the teen market. I didn’t bring up Clairo to out her as a fraud – the bedroom pop/DIY labelling by music journalists can be frustratingly stifling (it took fellow DIY ladies Frankie Cosmos and Waxahatchee years to shake the patronising girl-with-guitar narrative) but the proven success of Clairo’s authentichumble-artist-turned-overnight-star story suggests the narrative of authenticity is still as magnetic as ever.
Gen-Z fans want to believe that a normal teenage girl can make a catchy song, record a low budget video with no makeup or flashy clothes and blow up out of complete obscurity because if Clairo can, why can’t they? Perhaps for gen-Z kids, pop artists’ curated lifestyles don’t have to ooze aspirational appeal – the mere fact they became a star in the first place is aspirational in itself. So if Clairo’s success lies in her ability to appear as ‘just like you,’ what about the women in pop who can maintain an otherworldly, hyperreal aesthetic while remaining ‘authentic’? Let’s examine Kali Uchis, the RnB star celebrated for her mood-board pristine sense of style. Unlike the aforementioned Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish, Uchis has chosen to completely disregard approachability and create an untouchable caricature of herself by gazing wistfully back into past eras. Perhaps Uchis’ presence helps gauze the wound left by the decline of Lana Del Rey – I’m sorry Lana but your grainy xerox copies of teenage tumblr poetry just doesn’t leave the girls ’n’ gays as shook as it used to. Just as Miss Del Rey mastered the art of fermenting a fervent nostalgia for nothing in particular, Uchis has expertly maintained eclectic retro influence in both her visual appearance and her music.
However, Uchis seems to acknowledge the extent of her militant personal branding with a knowing wink. In interviews she openly talks of her previous life as an internet fashion mogul and updates her Instagram with the agenda of a style influencer, rather than a musician purely promoting shows. Her aesthetic is just as well crafted as her music, with the singular creative vision of an auteur. Kali Uchis as we know her is a vaseline-lensed dream sequence. She’s anything but ‘real,’ but her unity of sound and public appearance is second to none in the pop world. Perhaps this is what it means to be an authentic pop artist in 2018. So where alternative music and Rock throughout its lifespan have concerned themselves with what constitutes ‘real’ music, women in pop have been extending this idea across every platform they represent themselves on. As frustrating as it may be to uphold a multimedia brand of oneself, women in pop now have the space to create their own realities extending beyond just their sound. In an age where creative expression is devalued, creatives in any art form have found themselves having to justify their validity. If the ‘authentic’ is considered synonymous with validity, then who better to redefine what it means to be authentic than creative women – who have been forced to prove their artistic worth since the very beginning.
Words: Ellie Bleach