For the past few years, the mainstream has veered so much into the indie direction that it’s hard to find even the most North Face bejacketed, neon shirt/tempo short wearing blonde girl on the quad in Tuscaloosa who hasn’t heard of Mumford and Sons, Phoenix or — if those ironic glasses have any lenses in them — Radiohead.
There was a time though, children, when Kings of Leon was “underground” and could only sell out in Europe. Adele was only reviewed in Pitchfork for her debut album. Katy Perry sang songs about drugs & her hipster boyfriend and played side stages at Coachella. I promise.
The indiefication of Top 40 has been going on for a while. I don’t say pop music because I’m saving that for it’s true meaning tonight — the sound of genuine pop music. Not just what’s popular. Sometimes those world’s don’t collide. And you get a Robyn. She’s made the climb but it has sincerely taken her 15 years to become a “breakthrough star”.
Chloe Howl is in that mold.
As a girl, she is a beautiful and gamine ginger with a pixie cut and freckles galore. She just turned 18, which in European years is fully adult (they start college at 16, can buy alcohol at 18 but start drinking around 13-14). She began, however when she was younger, writing songs about her daily life as a teenager. A real one. And the best part? It’s not primarily about boys. The songs that do deal with complicated teenage romance are edgy, vengeful & full of a sort of sage quality as if she is floating overheard the situation, all-knowing. “Fuck your no strings, come on come on am I imagining things?” is her refrain. “Sometimes you’re so immature, I don’t know what kind of trip you’re on / you don’t even know if I’m the right sex… do ya?” I was floored by the stark honesty of her lyrics. Her voice is very much East End, in the street-wise way of Adele and Kate Nash. Her backing sounds seem torn from a page of fellow red head La Roux. Her deeper and slower tracks though, are reminiscent of her being “the people’s Fiona Apple”. The lush sounds of electronic production but with vernacular as opposed to cramming as much verbosity in as Fiona.
Everything she does is accessible. I’m 27. I’ve lived in the South all my life. I picked it up immediately but I bet so would my teenage cousin or Rob Gordon from High Fidelity. He could probably list the reasons she’s appealing.
I hope I’m not projecting. I relate to her very much because I’m not THAT removed from feeling the exact same way about daily life as a pseudo-adult. She’s the kind of girl that would intimidate most hard-nosed “Southern gentlemen”. Her hair is too short. She’s too opinionated. They couldn’t date someone who curses or talks frankly instead of corny & coded about physical sex and not the lofty sexist ideal of it. “They kept her prisoner growing up / Told her Jesus was enough”. That’s racy stuff down here in 1950s, USA. Get em Chloe.
She prides herself on having no Katy Perry-esque persona and “just trying to figure out how to be like herself”.
A real teenager. Definitely preferable role model material (if you subscribe to that concept) to what we’re force fed on the VMAs.
I’ll close on a quote given after her first set at Glastonbury when confronted about leaving a male artist’s dressing room late at night by a UK newspaper:
“No, I’m not going to purposely seem all angelic and be like Taylor Swift, like l’m so perfect and clean cut. I’m not overly naughty; I’m not overly well behaved,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “It’s just normal teenage behaviour.”
You can hear her short but rich in emotions EP Rumour below.