Maia, a 19-year-old who plays the ukulele, is one of the rising stars of the music industry even though she has chosen to stay on the sidelines.
Just two years after uploading her first song to the internet as “mxmtoon” (pronounced em-ex-em-TOON), she has sold 24 shows across the United States and racked up millions of views on YouTube and TikTok with its indie. folk-pop music.
And it all started in a spare bedroom at her parents’ house in Oakland, California. The setting gives authenticity to the musical movement defying the genres with which it is associated: bedroom pop.
“Anyone can make music, and I think that’s the ideology behind chamber pop,” said Maia, who has never revealed her last name to fans. “Bedroom is more of an idea, of a person sitting in a small space and using whatever resources you have to create songs that you are proud of.”
Many musicians have found success starting on the Internet before signing with a record company to cement their rise to stardom. But bedroom pop has emerged in recent years as a music movement shaped and established by the Internet, powered by online platforms, easy access to high-quality music software, and algorithm-based recommendation systems that can take an artist from obscurity to glory.
Maia, for example, garnered over 75,000 views in just a few days for her latest clip. Marie Ulven, 20, a Norwegian pop artist best known by her pseudonym “Girl in Red”, has over 3 million listeners on Spotify.
It’s the kind of success that may surprise even some of its own artists.
“I never saw it coming,” Maia said. “I was definitely determined to go to college to study architecture. “
Unlike other genres, chamber pop is not differentiated by its sound. Bedroom pop artists tend to cover a variety of sounds and mix different types of music. Some bedroom pop artists don’t sound like everyone else at all.
Bedroom pop recently made its way to the Grammys when Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas, won Song of the Year for “Bad Guy.” While Eilish isn’t necessarily considered a bedroom pop artist, many of the themes she sings on and the genre hybrid music the siblings make speak to bedroom pop.
“We’re just making music in a bedroom together. We always do… ”said Finneas in his Grammy acceptance speech. “It’s for all the kids playing music in their rooms today. You’re going to get one.
The originality and openness of Eilish’s music attracted a large fan base among the Gen Zers – including Maia herself.
“Anyone who listens to her music also has a really good idea of who she is or at least what she puts on in the world,” Maia said. “We are dedicated to her because she is a whole person and we want to support her.”
The independence and individualism of bedroom pop means that its artists have the freedom to explore their more personal and intimate experiences. The result is music often imbued with the identity of the artists, giving the genre a strong representation of people of color and the LGBTQ community.
“As a woman of color and who has a lot of different intersections in a lot of marginalized identities, I have a lot of things I could say all the time,” said Maia, who is Chinese-American. “And I think the internet has really made a place for people who have stories to tell them.”
The term bedroom pop first appeared in the mid-2010s as a way to benchmark artists who had gained little followers online. Their music would be considered “lo-fi” compared to big label releases, but still sounded like it was professionally made, thanks to high quality music software that had become common among amateur musicians.
Ulven, with her indie rock on guitar, started releasing music only on SoundCloud in 2017 and was thrilled if her songs got any stream. Then, on January 4, 2018, the YouTube channel “Lost Soul”, which promotes independent music and art under the radar, reposted its song “I Want To Be Your Girlfriend”.
Almost immediately, she started receiving fan messages on Instagram from people who heard her song.
“I remember that day so clearly, because it’s the first time I’ve received the messages,” Ulven said.
Other chamber pop artists have had similar stories or success almost overnight. Clairo’s song “Pretty Girl” reached 1 million views on YouTube in one week. A week after the YouTube algorithm started recommending Boy Pablo’s song “Everytime” in October 2017, the song was seeing 40,000 to 50,000 views per day. From Rex Orange County and Cuco to Peach Pit and Phum Viphurit, the viral origin story is common in chamber pop.
“You can reach anyone now,” Ulven said. “You can reach the whole world just by making music in your room. “
In early 2018, Spotify had created an official pop playlist, garnering more attention and recognition from the movement.
Jamie Oborne, who founded indie music label Dirty Hit in 2009, said he sees a lot of similarities between chamber pop artists and independent artists of the past. The difference, he noted, comes from the internet-infused world they thrive in.
“I don’t really see a difference in ethics,” Oborne said. “Maybe the difference is more about the times we live in and the changing market and an artist’s reaction to that rather than a difference in values.”
Room to grow
Maia often spends hours listening to old demos, playing with musical arrangements on her computer, and playing the same chord progression over and over again until she annoys her parents. It may sound and feel like a broken record, but she said it’s the process required to produce a sound of its own.
The personal nature of chamber pop has been part of its success. According to a 2019 Spotify Music Culture Report, 50% of Gen Z and Millennials connect best to music that shares deep and genuine feelings, such as loneliness or sadness. The unwavering honesty of bedroom pop fits into the musical desires of Gen Z.
The phrase DIY – do it yourself – is synonymous with pop in the bedroom.
“No matter where I go with the music, it’s always going to have that DIY feeling because I’m in control,” Ulven said.
16-year-old Cassandra Deguzman said she has been a fan of Maia since her debut on SoundCloud and enjoys listening to the full range of chamber pop artists.
“I feel like these artists are telling a story in the lyrics and the music they create,” Deguzman said. “It’s like fans have a connection to these bedroom pop artists since their music is so relatable, especially since I’m a teenager growing up and discovering myself.”
While Eilish continues to create her genre-individualistic music, her awards and multi-million dollar deal with Interscope Records put her in a more mainstream space.
The artists who remain in the pop chamber have chosen a more independent path.
Most bedroom pop artists, Maia and Ulven included, sign with record labels after independently establishing their music on the Internet. However, they choose transparent labels that exist more as partners of the artist, aiding in the promotion and sales activity, while giving the artist complete and total creative control.
Maia may have signed with a record and is starting her second tour in April, but the guesthouse at her parents’ house is still creating zero for her music. The same goes for Ulven, who may be performing at Coachella before embarking on his spring tour, but whose Instagram bio still says “I do songs in my bedroom.”
“I’ll always bring my bedroom pop, quotes, ideas with me to make meaningful music for me,” Ulven said.