You know the ones – sweet voice with maybe a hint of defiance, lyrics that are playful but actually say something, girl-next-door approachability, quirky personality. Maybe this trend has been going on for some time and I’ve been oblivious, but I feel like recently there are a growing number of artists who fall into this category. They write their own music, find fans online, and forge ahead without the help of big record labels or shows like American Idol, doing the thing they love on their own terms. Personally, I don’t love all of their songs, but I respect what they are doing and how they are doing it.
Here are 5 examples (in no particular order):
The Malibu, California native – whose Myspace profile catapulted her to fame primarily due to her hit song, “Bubbly” (which I think I remember hearing was the number one song used at weddings in 2007) – is the first one I noticed. Her mellifluous voice has a tiny bit of raspiness to it, which is something I’ve always dug in females singers. I’m sure her critics probably write her off as just another feel-good annoyingly saccharine pop artist, but I think she’s pretty solid.
Here is another Cali girl who I just realized that I went to college with. She sang in the kick-ass a cappella group, Awaken, there. Actually…now that I think about it, I remember her performing at our annual talent show, where another up-and-coming act, Kara’s Flowers (now Maroon 5) also showcased their skills once upon a time. The story behind Sara’s hit, “Love Song”: Her record label, Epic, requested that she write a marketable love song to which she responded defiantly with a song saying “I’m not gonna write you a love song cause you ask for it”. Ironically, it turns out to be…well, quite marketable. Then again, having it featured as the free download of the week on iTunes in June 2007 certainly didn’t hurt either. After that her first major album shot to #1. There is something intoxicating about her voice – that husky lower register and crystal clear tone when belting the high notes. If you watch her in the “Love Song” video, watch for my favorite parts: her confident key-banging piano-playing style, how she stares right into the camera boldy as if she’s saying “what?”, and that mischievous glimmer in her eye.
Best known for her songs on Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill, as well as that Old Navy sweater song, “The Way I Am“, the New York native is an excellent example of another artist who self-produced her albums and found fame on the internet. Her sound is edgy but simple, her lyrics are honest and unapologetic, and even her look is quirky and just real.
One of my favorites is this English singer-songwriter, another Myspace darling, but that might be because anyone who sings with an accent automatically gets a ton of street cred and extra stars in my book. Her hits, “Smile” and “LDN” are deceptively catchy and sweet tunes, but the lyrics give you a little insight into the girl and her somewhat rocky history.
Another international import, Russian-born Regina Spektor is classically trained in piano and initially gained recognition in New York’s anti-folk scene, where “the music tends to sound raw or experimental, and generally mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream music scene and also mocks itself.” Her music is diverse, from the light girly sound of songs like “Fidelity” to her more edgy and whiny sound in “Us“.