Alternative and indie music is leaving this decade looking a hell of a lot different than it did entering it, and thank god for that. With how much music has changed over the past ten years, it’s easy to forget just how synonymous the word “indie” was with a very specific brand of white, snobby music fan circa 2009. And while unfortunately there’s still plenty of narrow-minded, privileged snobbery to go around in the world of music fandom, what did change was the number of perspectives and experiences represented in the artists we listen to.
With indie’s much-needed upgrade having the entire genre looking bigger and better than ever, we’ve decided to pay tribute to some of the artists who have became the faces of indie’s latest incarnation over the past decade by helping to break open and redefine its many subgenres into spaces that champion the diverse perspectives they represent.
The project of Korean-American musician Michelle Zauner burst on the scene with 2016’s Psychopomp, but it was with Zauner’s expansive and confident follow-up album just one year last, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, for which she truly made her impact known. Soft Sounds broke the genre of shoegaze out of its long-stagnant prison of reverb; with the album elevating her vocals beyond the superficially-soothing trappings that shoegaze usually confines them to. By placing her singing and songwriting front and center, Zauner’s presence successfully reframes the themes of alienation and outsider life often associated with the shoegaze sound to reflect a fresh, intersectional perspective.
While indie pop has always approached traditional ideas of masculinity with at least some degree of subversiveness, Mike Hadreas, under the Perfume Genius moniker, spent the decade releasing a series of albums that reviled in their increasingly exuberant redefinitions of male identity and queer expression. The project’s continued challenging of indie pop’s tropes culminated in 2017 with the release of No Shape, an arty exploration into endless forms that love (and the songs we write about it) can take.
As the leader of Antony and the Johnsons, ANOHNI entered the decade already on the radar of the indie-inclined, but it wasn’t until the release of 2016’s Hopelessness, her first album since coming out as trans, that she truly tried her hand at transforming the genre into one that’s not only more inclusive in the voices present, but in the ideas that are allowed to be expressed. Despite dropping a good six months before the November election, the album – with some bombastic assistance from the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke – serves as the perfect collection of protest songs for our apocalyptic times, providing listeners with a roadmap to a zeitgeist made up of equal parts rage and hope.
On last year’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, the PC Music innovator sheds her once-mysterious persona for an earnestly-explosive mediation on identity that’s been manicured for today’s age of online personas and gender fluidity. SOPHIE, joined by Montreal vocalist Cecile Believe on a number of tracks, smashes together pop and prog, rave and cabaret, to produce a collection where the defiance of categorization stands as an inspirational metaphor, one that tells us in a delightfully-danceable fashion that the best way to carry ourselves is simply by embracing who we want to be.
Coming a long way from her initial breakout, 2014’s lo-lo-fi Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski has quickly risen to become one of music’s most distinct and intriguing (not to mention influential) voices in the mere seven years that she’s been pumping albums out for. Her crowning moment came on last year’s Be the Cowboy, where Mitski tackled the entire cannon of alternative music head-on to prove that the whole genre – and possibly even all of music – is so much bigger, in both sound and perspective, than the tradition of dudes whining about women they can’t have that we’ve relegated it to for too long
Indie pop and neo-soul have seemingly been on a collision course for years, but Steve Lacey – as both a member of multi-genre molecule-smashers The Internet and as one of the first artists to hop on the current wave of bedroom pop revivalism – has successfully shaken off the gimmicky coating that covered most of the early attempts at blending the two sounds (here’s looking at you, Homeshake) by infusing his craft with depth and distinction that’s rare in his contemporaries, while also reflecting with respect his identity as a queer person of colour.