This year is promising to be a big one for Clairo. At this very moment, the 20-year-old singer/producer is preparing for her tour of the Oceanic countries, kicking it all off with a visit to Auckland for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. Following quickly will be sets at some of the world’s biggest festivals; Lollapalooza, Coachella and The Governors Ball Music Festival. A hectic schedule for anyone, let alone someone who is currently still a sophomore at Syracuse University. With all this coming after a year where she played her biggest show yet, opening for Tyler the Creator to 7,000 people in Los Angeles, 2018 was the moment of her viral hit song “Pretty Girl” (30 million views and counting).
Clairo, born Claire Cotterill, began as many who have come before her, jamming in her room trying to learn her favourite songs. An interview with Pitchfork reflects on Claire’s very brief attempt at taking guitar lessons: “My teacher wanted me to do ‘Hot Cross Buns,’ but all I wanted to learn was ‘Island in the Sun’ by Weezer.” After posting a cover of Maroon 5, she began to recording using the Garageband app on her phone, making most of her tunes using an acoustic guitar and a second hand drum machine. Young Claire took influence from the likes Brockhampton, Frankie Cosmos and Norah Jones, After uploading her songs onto her Bandcamp, she expanded to Souncloud where she began using the moniker Clairo. Simultaneously her alter ego, DJ Baby Benz, posted regular mixes inspired by her love of trap, old school hip hop and Sade.
And then came “Pretty Girl”.
Written about a past relationship in which she felt as if she need to change for the person she was with, it was fitting that the accompanying video was one which dispelled this idea through a very real and true representation of herself.
“I woke up, it was like a terrible day. My hair was disgusting, my skin was so gross, I didn’t even take off my make up the night before. It was bad, but I decided that it was the perfect day for me to the make the music video, and kind of portray that I don’t need those things to make myself who I am.”
The song was immediately labelled bedroom pop (with a hint of 80s thrown in).
The DIY tag immediately placed on Clairo was challenged by many who thought it was a disingenuous claim. Her father, Geoff Cotterill, is the Vice Chair of Musicares, a philanthropic organisation that aids musicians in need of urgent help and assistance. And there’s no denying that she’s benefited from the experience and connections at her disposal because of this. But it was Clairo who created the video alone one morning in her childhood bedroom. It was Clairo who came up with the concept for the song independently. Having a well-connected father definitely has its advantages – but it doesn’t detract completely from the talent it nurtures and promotes. Clairo’s original success didn’t come from heavy financial backing. It came from a free app, a cheap synth from a flee market in Boston, a webcam, and the will to express her feelings about her life, despite being an a self-proclaimed awkward person. It takes courage for anyone to do that. And it takes even more courage for a young woman to do so.
It’s pretty common for young women to be torn down on the internet, and some have found it tempting to see Clairo’s success as just another rich girl profiting of daddy’s connections. Shouldn’t it be possible to recognise that Clairo is undeniably talented and also that her privilege has played a role in bridging the gap between bedroom lo-fi DIY vids and sold-out gigs? In an industry that’s full of gatekeepers, it’s no wonder people are angry at a lack of accessibility. But it’s short-sighted to make one young girl emblematic of industry-wide inequalities – maybe it muddies the indie-kid image, but can any of us really say that if we had the talent and the desire, we wouldn’t make the most of our opportunities?
Words by Thomas Fleury
Thomas is a recent graduate from South London. His work spans anything from music, to film, to theatre. It has also been said that he has an unhealthy obsession with 90’s alternative R&B. He can be found on Instagram at @fleury.t