Fashion, Indie Pop and Resistance
Heathor Baron Gracie mournfully closes her eyes that are caked with charcoal eye shadow, singing with a cadence that is paradoxically haunting and light hearted. She is the lead singer and guitarist of the band Pale Waves, my latest discovery and love on the pop scene.
What especially sticks out about them, for me, is their style; more specifically, how a band’s sense of style can deftly compliment their lyrical content. Pale Waves' music wrestles and dissects ideas of regret, vulnerability, confliction, confusion, hesitation, obsession, heartbreak; and yet all the songs are upbeat, electric riffs, nostalgic synths and categorically pop. This is further juxtaposed by their goth, alternative sense of fashion.
Heather and Ciara Doran, the group's drummer, seem to both be drawing from styles that were central to rock from the past: all black ensembles that often incorporate silk, patent leather and thick wool; leopard print knee length coats; thick, striking goth make up, hairstyles that starkly imitate Bette Page, every bone white finger adorned with an intricate silver ring. The two male guitarists in the group, Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood, are much more traditionally British in their approach to style. While similarly channeling a retro aesthetic with oversized plain shirts casually tucked into slacks, they would also look at home in a Fred Perry advert, donning a lot of fitted polo shirts and quaffed, sculpted hair.
People watching them on YouTube apparently disagree. In an interview with NME Ciara mentions that people often tell them they don’t dress how they sound. “That’s so ridiculous. Why do you have to dress a certain way, for a certain type of music? That absolutely baffles me…You dress how you want to dress. People expect me to be screaming down the mic ” Heathor interjects, burying her face in her hands.
And while I utterly agree that an artist’s identity is what it is, I do think it’s an interesting moment for the pop zeitgeist. Drawing on traditionally rock aesthetics, putting a new spin on 80’s power ballads and using dream pop as a foundation for your sound is distinctly current in indie pop music. Through this fusion it also seems to be attempting to create a hybrid between the mainstream and the alternative; given artists like David Bowie, The Beatles and Prince, this is not a new artistic approach. And the current climate of indie pop, (extra eye roll on the use of the word indie) is already there. In terms of aural and visual aesthetics, Pale Waves are merely taking a seat next to MUNA,The 1975, Lorde and HAIM.
So I suppose the question is why has pop found itself in the same arena as rock? Is it a new wave of nostalgia for the early 00’s when rock was everywhere? I would say that was all it is if, lyrically, Pale Waves didn't straddle the two genres quite how they do.
Within this hybrid between current pop and rock of the past, it would seem the aggression and angst that defined the sound and fashions of the early 00's has morphed into sadness. Screamo and pop punk is dead in 2018, nowhere near the mainstream - but the mourning remains. the eye shadow remains. The black clothes, the alternative hair cuts, the nostalgia infused attempt at keeping rock alive through underground pop music.
This may be because in the fashion and music industry, along with all other creative fields right now, there is a whisper of resistance of the current affairs that dominate the narrative. The division of Brexit and the weight of Donald Trump have dictated a tense, fearful climate in the western world. And to quote Tony Morrison, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work”.
In terms of fashion, the current styles and discourse are rooted in alternative modes of resistance. In this month’s issue of British Vogue there is a six page spread on ‘Radical Chic.’ Studded biker boots from Alexander McQueen, a tassled leather jacket from Versace, Black berets from Topshop (a comeback trend from the 70’s that Vogue credits to Beyonce’s 2016 Super Bowl performance that was inspired by the Black Panther Movement). If you will recall graphic t shirts came back into style last year, the thought behind this trend was attributed to Katherine Hamnett's infamous photo with Margaret Thatcher, where she wears a graphic tshirt in protest of pershing missiles.
Equally, rock and punk have historically been mediums for political and social resistance. Rock is a genre that examines the rejection of what we’ve been told we’re supposed to be; generally, I would say that this sense of sadness, this anger mirrors quite well the feelings and thoughts of millennial's. It is a special millennial tendency to be politically engaged and to be dissatisfied with the way things are. It is a millennial tendency to feel sad, angry and just a little narcissistic. So it would make sense our music and our fashion has commodified this outlook.
While rock is dead, the feelings are still alive, now setting up camp in indie pop and a sector of the fashion industry. I think adopting this attitude through fashion and then flipping it on its head by producing sweet love songs instead of a rougher, grittier approach, seems kind of radical from a fashion perspective. Only time will tell what this means for fashion and for music; for now, I'm content in simply questioning it's validity and motivation. And of course, enjoying this great new sound.