Bubblegum pop will never die, but we may soon quiet it into the annals of history. It has evolved since the late 90s and 2000s, when it was first gifted to us by women like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, into bestselling artists like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga. But a new kind of female artist has also emerged alongside these pop princesses. This artist doesn't put on sequined costumes, stage elaborate productions, rely on auto-tune, or writhe around with snakes to make a statement. She's less polished, raw, a bit snarky, and probably doesn't brush her hair. She's part of a new form of female musicianship, exemplified by alternative girl-power artists like Lorde and Sky Ferreira, that is taking over the airwaves and resonating with millennials. This new scene satiates what our generation craves most: authenticity.
Growing up, millennials were told that all our dreams would come true, that we would be given a pretty package of prosperity and rainbows. But the recession left us floundering and disillusioned. We desire music that reflects this change. Candy-coated pop, grandiose displays of showmanship, and over-the-top personas have become too hard to swallow in light of our abysmal unemployment rate, record amount of student-loan debt, and failure to snag even entry-level positions; these acts reek too much of falseness. We want something that gets us, something honest and straightforward, a little nostalgic, a little vintage, a little angry and sarcastic, and a little hip — but still a lot of fun.
Perhaps the group most notably hitting all these marks is pop-rock band Haim, made up of three sisters from Los Angeles whose debut album Days Are Gone sold 90,000 copies in its first week. Haim's music brings together multiple genres and styles (it's been described by Vogue as "stripped-back nu-folk–meets–nineties-R&B-pop" and BBC News as a "combination of Fleetwood Mac folk-rock with the intricate hi-hat trills of '90s R&B"). The group recently appeared on SNL for the first time, and their performance stayed true to their unique style: understated, imperfect, passionate, and really, really catchy. The sisters are goofy, contemplative, and ferocious, and display complex personalities that are hard to pin down with labels and let their music take center stage.
Another big player in the alt girl-power game is 16-year-old New Zealand it-girl Lorde, whose "Royals" continues to dominate Billboard's Hot 100 chart for the ninth week in a row. On 2013's Pure Heroine she captures teenagedom from a grown-up perspective and embodies the millennial spirit: moody, bored, and complicated. As with Haim, her live performances are no spectacle; they're just the artist and her mic, and it's clear she's truly feeling her lyrics as she sings them.
Sky Ferreira is another artist beyond her years. Her Night Time, My Time bridges "the gaps between '80s pop sparkle and full-bodied '90s grunge in a streamlined way," according to Pitchfork. Ferreira chucks the confused mishmash of sounds from her earlier EP and confronts her jadedness and disappointments with the music industry head on. Though she can often be found pouting or glowering, her oddness and eccentricity is a refreshing change from pop artists packaged to look like they have it all together.
The we-are-who-we-are, we-do-what-we-love attitude of these women hits close to home. It's a style that evokes nostalgia for the Laurel Canyon era, when making music was just for the sake of it, for stripped-down sounds and meaningful lyrics, for the feeling of collaboration. The style contents a hard-to-please generation, whose interests run amok from craft beer, to political fervor, to cat gifs and Boy Meets World reruns. Millennials are stuck in a limbo between childhood and adulthood, and we want our music to reflect this. We want music that articulates adult feelings, but maintains a bit of carelessness, brattiness, and playfulness.
Plenty of less-publicized bands are also tapping into this millennial alt-pop dynamic as well — like Grimes with 2012's Visions; The Mynabirds with their 2012 album Generals, described by Pitchfork as "openhearted, politically engaged, feminist pop that, miraculously, never veers into schmaltz"; Lucius' October debut album Wildewoman; and former M83 singer Morgan Kibby, known as White Sea, whose debut album In Cold Blood will drop next year — as are some established artist like St. Vincent, M.I.A., and Tegan and Sara, who are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with showy performances or anything-but-subtle personas; great female artists throughout history have made statements with their music, donned intricate costumes, and impossibly belted out note after note while dancing complex routines — look at Tina Turner, Shania Twain, Donna Summer, Madonna, and Beyoncé. But a growing demographic is begging for something less loud, less shiny, and less choreographed. And alt girl-power artists are rising to fill that niche.