Clairo – More Than Just a “Pretty Girl”?

If you’re anything like me, sometime in late 2017, this video for Pretty Girl – Clairo popped up on your YouTube recommended tab. On first glance, it didn’t seem like much, but I clicked on it anyway.

As it turns out, till date, so did 50 million other people. Somehow, Clairo went from being a bedroom pop artist to a major pop artist.

Going from uploading dozens of EPs and singles to bandcamp and soundcloud to opening for major stars like Dua Lipa, Tyler, The Creator and Tame Impala, Clairo’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Here’s why she’s the next big thing.The video for “Pretty Girl” was filmed on photo booth. The song was made in garangeband. It features a messy haired Clairo mouthing along to the song in an oversized sweatshirt, dancing with a Gizmo figurines, with bad lighting. It’s the picture of imperfection.

And that’s exactly what made it so good. It wasn’t supposed to blow up, and Clairo was as surprised by its success as anyone. Talking to Pitchfork, she says,

“Over its first few days online, the video gained a few hundred views, then a couple thousand, then “it just… kept going.”

Personally, however, my favorite song from Clairo at this time was an even mellower, dreamier cut, Flaming Hot Cheetos (as it turns out, it was also someone else’s – but more on that later). Amazingly, it was built off just a Splice loop and some drums.

Soon after Pretty Girl blowing up, as is the case with many new (female) artists, rumors started swirling around that Clairo was an “industry plant”. A post on reddit, followed by major publications running stories – this was the claim – Clairo’s father – Geoff Cottrill was a marketing executive at Converse – behind the company’s now dead Rubber Tracks imprint, and also worked at Coca Cola and Starbucks . If you’re going to try and convince yourself a middle aged marketing executive had figured out how to crack the Youtube algorithm, all whilst ignoring the fact the Clairo had been uploading songs to SoundCloud and Bandcamp for years with little fanfare, go ahead. But just look up the backgrounds of some your other favorite indie artists and then come back to me.

I’m not denying that her father’s connections probably helped her out when it came to navigating the music industry – by nature, being white and upper class gave Clairo an automatic head start over many other artists – and having a family friend run the FADER label led her to sign with them.I have no doubt that if Pretty Girl hadn’t blown up she would still have ended up being an artist in the industry, thanks to her father’s connections, but that wasn’t what happened.

Following Pretty Girl, and a (now deleted) high budget video for Flaming Hot Cheetos, Clairo released a slew of other singles, before following up with her first EP, Diary 001. Taking her bedroom pop lofi roots and elevating them – collaborations with PC Music’s Danny L Harle and Irish rapper Rejje Snow (Hello) were good – but personally at least – fell a little short of the mark.

At the same time, in her personal life, Clairo revealed she was bisexual, in the most gen z was possible, via a tweet – one of the many themes she explored on her first full length LP, Immunity.

Remember the other person that liked flaming hot cheetos as much as I did? That was Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, and producer extraordinaire, producing for everyone from Frank Ocean to Carly Rae Jepsen (stream Dedicated B sides).

Talking to PAPER, he says,

“I think Claire has a subtly devastating singing voice. She sings with a lot of clarity and references a handful of vocal styles at once, but it’s effortless for her. I also think she has a deeply original songwriting voice. That line ‘girlfriend or girl that’s a friend’ seems simple, but there are layers to it. Her lyrics are deep.”

The two met and originally planned on making a 6 song EP, but they soon found themselves in the midst of working on an album, Immunity. Exploring personal themes such as her sexuality, relationships and her arthritis.

On working with Rostam, she says,

“He understood so many of my struggles, whether it was being a new artist and figuring out how to make my first record the way I wanted to, or dealing with learning about my sexuality.”

Clocking in at 11 tracks and just over 40 minutes, Immunity represented an unprecedented step forward for Clairo, away from the lo-fi, homemade textures of her early work into lush, soft indie rock and pop.

One of my favorite tracks on the record is “Sofia” – a Stroke’s influenced guitar cut. In fact, one can hear the similarities between Sofia and Julian Casablanca’s demo of “I’ll Try Anything Once”. The song’s distinctive electric guitar tone comes from Rostam plugging a Fender into an Antares vocal harmony engine, just one of the production choices that make the song.

Another favorite off the album is “Bags” – another one where Rostam’s production shines through – a mishmash of choppy synths, driving electric guitar and Danielle Haim drums. It’s a richness in sound that did wonders in elevating her beyond her bedroom pop roots.

My favorite part of “Bags” however, is the songwriting, and the references contained within it, from Call Me By Your Name to Joni Mitchell. The song’s vocals and instrumental combine for its powerful choeus, making it one of her best songs yet.

The album’s opener is perhaps her most emotional, personal songs yet. Alewife, where the Eliot Smith influences are apparent, addressees the time Clairo considered committing suicide in 8th grade, and is dedicated to her friend Alyssa who stopped her at the time.

Talking to Pitchfork, she says,

“The song is about a “a very difficult time” in Clairo’s life where she was “going through a lot of depression and anxiety” that hit a low point one night in eighth grade, she said. “When I was writing the guitar I just decided that it was time for me to talk about this experience, less about how sad it was and more about how grateful I am for Alexa,” she explained. When Alexa first heard a demo of the track Clairo recorded on her phone, “It took me back to the night that that song was about, which we don’t really talk about a lot but we know that it was there.”

People often say that Claito’s music sounds like background music – pleasant yet inoffensive. I was lucky enough to go see Clairo on her North American Immunity Tour and I heard something different. As I stood in the crowd, many people, myself included, related to Clairo’s music and her, in general, on a deeper, more emotional level. Songs like Bags and Sofia have a timeless quality about them, and they’ve soundtracked formative years of my life. An Instagram or Twitter search about Clairo shows hundreds of fan accounts, all adoring and idolizing her, and I think it’s clear to see why, they all see a little bit of themselves in her.

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