Through a combination of viral lo-fi tracks and the embodiment of the “soft girl” aesthetic, Clairo has cemented her status as the princess of indie pop. Finding internet fame for songs she wrote, sang and produced as a teenager, the 21-year-old has successfully capitalized upon her songwriting talents to secure a record deal and debut album.
The very personal emotions she vulnerably expresses on “Immunity,” and her performance prowess on the Immunity Tour, prove her artistry extends far beyond the label of bedroom pop.
Clairo, otherwise known as Claire Cottrill, got her start in the music industry by crafting music for her YouTube channel. In 2017, her single “Pretty Girl” and its accompanying video went viral on the streaming platform. Her endearing, wholesome personality shined through the screen as she playfully lip-synched the sarcastic lyrics and danced to the beat. The catchy tune and it’s fun feminist messaging quickly transformed Clairo into a certified phenomenon with a dedicated fan base.
After “Pretty Girl,” Clairo signed a record deal with Fader Label, released several singles and an EP, “diary 001,” which featured popular tracks like “4EVER” and “Flaming Hot Cheetos.” With her homemade, lo-fi beats and brooding lyrics, Clairo fit snugly into her niche of DIY, bedroom pop artists like Rex Orange County and Cuco. As a self-taught musician who writes lyrics about what she feels, she provides fans an intimate, realist glimpse into unpleasant problems in her life that they can relate to.
Clairo’s early music embodied the “do it yourself” mentality and adhered to the auditory tenants of bedroom pop. Her older tracks are full of randomly sampled noises one would find when scouring the internet for catchy soundbites. Moreover, they all heavily rely on keyboard sound effects. Rather than worsen the songs, the amateur aspect of her music makes it feel more genuine and relatable.
Just as homemade rappers have found followings on SoundCloud, Clairo amassed a fan base because of just how “real” her lyrics sound. Her music provides a welcomed break from mainstream pop’s reliance on teams of co-writers churning out mindless hit-makers based on whatever they think will sell. Instead, her fans receive an intimate expression of relatable, real-life concerns that evoke true emotion.
Her debut album “Immunity” is no different, despite more closely resembling the production level of a typical pop album. For the most part, gone are the quirky backing sound effects; identifiable, classic instruments like bass, drums, guitar and piano take the place of sound bites and keyboard effects. The album sounds fresh, but at its core it’s the same Clairo.
Rife with short, catchy riffs and brazenly open lyrics, “Immunity” features a more mature voice that still evokes her trademark style. Her first singles had a more playful tone and generally centered around relatively lighter topics, even if she was singing about heartbreak. “Pretty Girl” humorously and sardonically disses a rubbish ex, and “Flaming Hot Cheetos” and “B.O.M.D.” (Boy Of My Dreams) present whimsical and arguably immature takes on romantic relationships.
But “Immunity” features a grown-up Clairo. The opening track, “Alewife,” quickly sets the work apart from “diary 001.” By opening the album with an ode to a friend who saved her “from doing something to [herself]” when she was suicidal as a young teen, she primes listeners for something especially raw.
The final two songs, “Sinking” and “I Wouldn’t Ask You,” both highlight her struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and the chronic disease’s effect on her daily functioning and love life. By including deeply personal expressions of non-romanticized struggles, Clairo gives us completely genuine snippets of her experiences.
Clairo also opens up about her exploration of her sexuality and her realization that she also liked girls. Her initial discography focused on relationships with guys, but after coming out as “not straight” in 2018, she has tapped into the deep inspirational well of LGBTQ+ life. “Immunity” features multiple bi+ girl anthems that honor queer female love, including “Bags,” “Softly” and “Sofia.”
“Bags” references her first experience with a girl and the all too relatable dilemma of discerning whether her romantic interest was straight or not. “Softly” confesses love to another girl, and “Sofia” champions queer women for enduring the social stigma of a same-sex relationship. These songs reveal an essential part of Clairo, and her open discussion of her sexuality evidences her personal and artistic development.
However, Clairo hasn’t lost her roots in moody love songs. Nearly every track on the album references relationships in some capacity. From her platonic affection for her friend in “Alewife” to the several love interests she references in the rest of the songs, she builds upon her previous explications upon love with a more seasoned perspective.
Clairo’s sound has also evolved to incorporate some alternative rock since she first started mixing beats at home. Electric and acoustic guitar and piano take the place of engineered keyboard sounds, and she mixes indie pop and rock with her bedroom pop roots and personal lyrics to craft a style that is wholly her own.
What could be better than listening to Clairo’s sweet voice sing from the heart? Hearing it live, obviously. I had the chance to catch the Houston leg of her Immunity Tour at the House of Blues. The cozy room perfectly set the stage for the outpouring of honest emotion that defined the show.
Just like in “Immunity,” Clairo opened the show with “Alewife” to prime listeners for the vulnerability that was to come. Bathed in a bright spotlight and armed with a guitar and microphone, she braved the stage to tell her story. And she delivered a phenomenal performance.
She performed most of the songs from the album, as well as many of her older hits, but the live setting transformed their sound and enhanced the audience’s connection with the lyrics. Something about the simple band of a drummer, bassist and guitarist backing up Clairo with her guitar optimized the emotional impact of the songs. She masterfully crafted a deep, genuine connection with the crowd in an excellent display of her many talents.
If you get the chance, the Immunity Tour isn’t one you’ll want to miss out on. Clairo’s talent and transition toward wider success foretell an ascendancy of fans hailing her soft, emotional vibe and unflinching exploration of some of her most personal memories and traumas. With “Immunity,” Clairo stakes a claim for the crown in indie pop and proves she deserves it.