Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Records.
Last week, in a piece on the sports and culture site Grantland, Steven Hyden wrote about the current state of indie rock — or lack thereof. Specifically, he highlighted the band Haim whose fantastic new album Days Are Gone is a smash hit (it beat out Justin Timberlake to the number one spot on the charts in the U.K.) and will likely make superstars of the three L.A. sisters. (Readers of Refinery29 are already well-versed in the band's catalog of hair-care routines.)
Though often referred to as an "indie pop" band, Hyden argued that there is nothing particularly "indie" about them. He wrote, "The 'indie' modifier is instantly extraneous once you've actually heard these records — in sound and form, there's nothing that's weird, experimental, or potentially off-putting about them." He's totally right. Whereas "indie" first began as a term to describe music released on independent record labels like Sub Pop, it slowly spread to describe a style of music said to be somehow more "difficult" than mainstream tastes.
Listening to Haim, there's nothing about the band that isn't immediately appealing. Had its new record been released in the '80s it would have slotted in nicely between Cyndi Lauper and Pat Benatar. What's more, though Hyden only mentioned it in a footnote, is that Haim is signed to Columbia. Though plenty of majors have released experimental bands over the years, Haim is not one of them. The only "indie" thing about them is that they write their own songs. They opened for Rihanna, for Pete's sake.
During the '90s and early 2000s (and in the current wasteland of corporate radio), the term "alternative" was used to describe virtually all contemporary rock music that wasn’t explicitly heavy metal. Nickelback was deemed alternative, as was Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Filter, Beck, The Beastie Boys, The Foo Fighters, and 30 Seconds To Mars. If you can find a musical through-line between all those groups, you're surely smarter than this writer. Lumping together so-called "indie" artists creates a similarly confusing jumble. What do Sky Ferreira, Vampire Weekend, and Death Grips have in common? It sounds more like the setup for a joke than a legitimate question.
If we must lump all these acts together, the shared commonality is they're all consumed by a taste-conscious crowd through alternative sources (read: the internet). "Indie" is a stand-in for "critically acclaimed." But as a catch-all term applied to the plurality of current music, "indie" is weirdly dated. Don't get us wrong, the fact that high-quality acts like Haim, CHVRCHES, Solange, or Sky Ferreira exist is a great thing. Lets give them the dignity of calling them what they really are: pop.