BY SAMIHA FAROOQI//
In the 1970s and 80s, to be “indie” would mean nothing more than to release music independently from a major record label, like the big four: EMI, Universal, Sony, and Warner. Today, it has somehow morphed into its own genre. To define what it actually means to be “indie” would be a difficult feat in and of itself, given how fluid the label has become. Not to mention, various different sub-genres have come out of it, such as indie pop and indie rock. I, for one, am confused and would like to get to the bottom of this. What does it actually mean to be “indie”? Is it actually a genre? Does indie music have a particular sound, or do artists still need to be independently contracted to be considered indie? Is the entire genre actually a farce created by major record labels in an attempt to sell fabricated authenticity? Perhaps the answers I’m searching for will never be uncovered, or perhaps I just need to do a little more googling. At any rate, I’ll be researching one artist every other week in an attempt to investigate what it actually means to be “indie.” By the end of this experiment, my hope is that I will be able to, at the very least, define the genre, and maybe even discover some new artists along the way.
Let’s begin with the popular band Wallows, whose members include Dylan Minnette, Cole Preston, and Braeden Lemasters. To say they’re everywhere would be an understatement. Even if you haven’t heard of Wallows, chances are you’ve heard one of their songs on Tiktok, or on one of Spotify’s many indie playlists. Their album Nothing Happens peaked at 75 on the US charts, and their most recent EP Remote peaked at 129. Not to mention, their single “Are you Bored Yet” is certified platinum, meaning it has sold at least a million copies. In short, to say Wallows is successful would be an understatement, and they’re often one of the first bands that comes to mind when thinking of the “indie rock” genre in particular; though, many may classify them as alternative rock. So, what exactly classifies them as “indie”? Specifically, what classifies them as “indie rock?”
The answer to this may lay in their roots. Wallows had been independently releasing music for years, but they began to gain more attention with the release of their single “Pleaser” in April of 2017. They released a number of other singles in this time. Soon after, Wallows was signed to Atlantic Records. Meaning, by the time they released their first album, Nothing Happens, in March of 2019, they were already under a major label. And so, this, again, begs the question—with an exception for their first string of singles—what actually makes Wallows “indie?”
I believe we have reached the crux of this issue: the fact is, in the 21st century, indie is no longer just a term to describe independent artists. It seems to have transformed into its own genre, and as such, its definition isn’t so strict. Nowadays, artists don’t simply gain or lose the “indie” label when they sign to a major record label. To be “indie” is more about an artist’s sound, or even attitude. It means to simply exude authenticity and to play more into counter culture rather than the traditional mainstream. And so, it would seem Wallows doesn’t actually have to be independently releasing music to be called “indie”: all they have to do is continue as they are, releasing music that doesn’t quite fit the traditional mainstream genres.
Moving forward, I will continue to explore how the term indie has changed since its original debut, and how this label has seemingly transformed itself into a whole new genre/sound.