Music is a constantly changing and evolving art, and for the most part, mainstream radio and television does not care to reflect its dynamic nature. Throughout the last century, though, there have been huge shifts in what fills our ears. The Beatles brought on the rock, The Sugarhill Gang brought hip-hop from the Bronx and Nirvana let everyone know it was OK to not like metal. Now the indie-pop movement is increasingly becoming less and less … indie. With The White Stripes, Deathcab and Modest Mouse already in the mainstream, can artists like The Shins, The Arcade Fire and Bloc Party (all with anticipated sophomore albums either out or soon to be released) break out into the mainstream and bring their confusing and all-encompassing genre along with them? Is 2007 the year of indie-pop?
People ask this question every year and every year it seems like the answer is yes. A couple of bands get brief airplay (i.e. The Dandy Warhols), but are soon forgotten and reduced to car commercial soundtracks. The only way for an indie/underground act to get “big” has been by building a reputable career and fan base to prove to marketers and The Man that they deserve it. The long process has landed some major label contracts and Kidz Bop compilations (be it for better or worse). But, with the Industry still recovering from the invention of the Internet, small labels and artists are now able to get the exposure they deserve without sacrificing their souls to the major label gods.
Virgin and Capitol Records recently merged to consolidate losses, a sign that majors are near extinction. Now the tiny, furry independent bands and businesses can crawl out from under rocks to take the Industry away from the dying dinosaurs. They can take mainstream music and let it evolve into something unseen since the rock renaissance of the late ’60s.
Obviously, not everyone will be receptive to these artists (country music is the highest grossing genre in the U.S.) but rock-pop is in a dire state and rap music doesn’t make money (it’s the most pirated genre on the Internet), therefore indie bands are the obvious cure to ailing sales. While still on an independent label, The Shins are currently number two on the charts. They may not be “life changing,” but they’re an indication that the times definitely are.
Carlye: No Way!
Call me cynical (it’s fine, I’ll admit that I am), but I just don’t see it happening. In the past, it has taken a few specific qualities to “make it big” in American mainstream music and the last time I checked, The Shins weren’t a hot girl with a huge rack, didn’t rap about “grinding all up on girls at da club” and weren’t a group comprised of a hot, sunglass-wearing, douche bag guitarist with a backup band of nobodies who like to “rock the fuck out!!!”
When it comes down to it, to be on the top of the charts these days, you have to be one of four things:
1.) Previously featured on American Idol (reject or winner, it doesn’t matter, as long as you were in the top 12);
2.) A guy who sing-raps about getting some ass;
3.) A skinny, female solo artist; or
4.) A compilation/soundtrack album.
Every single album in the top 10, except for one, fell into one of the aforementioned categories. Every one proved me right, except for Nickelback. And I hate them anyway, so they don’t count.
This is why I believe that indie bands like Clap Your Hands and Bloc Party won’t be able to find their niche in the mainstream. They just don’t fit in there. If anyone can make it to the top and stay there, it’s The Shins, but I’d have to credit that success with Garden State’s pop-culturalization of their music, instead of a random mass appeal that grew over time.
Sure, I’d thoroughly enjoy seeing of Montreal on the cover of Rolling Stone but I just can’t imagine a single off their new album on the charts between Akon’s “Smack That” and the Hannah Montana soundtrack. Hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong.