Exploring the early-2000s roots of today’s indie-pop

Iconic sounds from early 2000s pop-rock have found a home in Gen-Z’s playlists and music

What we listen to, watch and spend time doing shapes us in both big and small ways. Artists of all different types both intentionally and unintentionally wear their influences on their sleeve, and some of 2021’s most popular artists are no exception. The resemblance between musical artists and those they have been influenced by is becoming a thread we can easily trace, partly because the sound of popular music shifted and swerved numerous times between the 1950s and the end of the 20th century.

Even though the early 2000s feel like only yesterday, they were literally a lifetime ago for the majority of Trinity students. However, there are identifiable traces of early 2000s pop-rock such as Natalie Imbruglia, Sheryl Crow and Avril Lavigne in today’s genre that is loosely-termed indie pop, which ranges from artists like Lorde and Olivia Rodrigo to Genevieve Stokes and Men I Trust. Here are just a few examples of current indie-pop artists who have either directly given credit to artists from the 2000s who inspired them or whose music bears distinct influence from 2000s pop-rock.

Let’s start with an easy one. Sophie Allison (born in 1997), probably better known as Soccer Mommy, is an alternative/indie artist who began self-releasing music on Bandcamp in 2015. Her first full-length release came in 2016, entitled “For Young Hearts.” In the five years between then and now, Allison has produced four more LPs, including her most recent, which was released in February 2020.

To promote the album, Allison joined an episode of the podcast Song Exploder. Created and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, Song Exploder stays largely true to its name: a musical artist discusses one of their songs, and they walk through the creative process, from the musical construction of the song to the lyrics to the production. Allison discusses the lead single “circle the drain,” and discusses the main influences for the song. She specifically mentions Natalie Imbruglia’s 1997 song “Torn” and Sheryl Crow’s 2002 song “Soak Up the Sun.” The song bears lyrical resemblance to “Torn” in the way the songs are almost painfully honest about the difficult emotional circumstances the speakers find themselves in. In discussing the production of “circle the drain,” Allison says her whole band recognized the song as possessing “that early 2000s, Sheryl Crow energy” and decided they “have to channel it.” “We wanted the song to shimmer,” Allison said, and the final product is definitely reminiscent of the sweeping, broad sounds of the early 2000s pop music.

Similarly, Lindsey Jordan (born 1999), who records under the name Snail Mail, directly credits Avril Lavigne, perhaps the ultimate early 2000s female punk/pop/rock star. Jordan released her self-recorded EP in 2015 and has only one full-length release, “Lush,” from 2018. While Snail Mail is less musically similar to the early-2000s pop/rock sound, the path of her lyrics undoubtedly begins with the likes of Avril Lavigne and Natalie Imbruglia. The brazen and unabashed nature of Lavigne’s songs found a home early in her career, including on her debut album, “Let Go.” The angst-filled lyrics matched the music which was similarly discontent and driven.

This marriage between the lyrics and music seems a little off in Snail Mail’s music; there is a dissonance between the sparkling sounds of Snail Mail’s indie-rock and the sharp-edged pain of her lyrics. The brighter sounds almost blur the darker emotions hidden in the words. The way Jordan draws the listener in with cloudless melodies hearkens back to the way early 2000s pop songs both make the listener want to cry and sing along at the top of their lungs.

Jackson Phillips is a California-based artist who releases music under the name Day Wave. His first EP was released in 2015, with his only full length album coming in 2017. His sound has stayed fairly consistent over the years, usually centering on slick guitar parts and shoe-gazy atmospherics. With documented influences like Joy Division and The Beach Boys, it might seem like a stretch to include Day Wave in an article about 2000s music. However, his overall sound shimmers just like Soccer Mommy’s “circle the drain,” which finds its roots in early 2000s rock music. Although Phillips does not regularly name early 2000s artists as inspiration, he has talked about his frustration with modern pop music, specifically taking issue with how sterilized everything sounds.

In this way, Phillips adopts a similar attitude to artists from the 2000s, one that loses no sleep over displaying the muddier, darker pieces of life. Day Wave’s big melodies are underlined by intricate guitar picking and bass lines, which is similar to the way Snail Mail somewhat hides the hurt and pain of her lyrics beneath ostensibly simple melodies. Additionally, Phillips creates an atmosphere of longing similar to the discontent of the early 2000s. Day Wave’s music is expectant, especially on songs like “Drag” and “Bloom,” where the music sits in the present but contains longing looks to the future.

It seems that listeners really do enjoy the sounds of the early 2000s because it’s not only current pop artists that are looking back; listeners themselves are reaching back to bring artists from the 2000s into the collective consciousness once again. The video-sharing platform TikTok has been known to make stars of certain indie artists, like Beabadoobee and Frances Forever, but over the summer, TikTok also reminded viewers of the band Mother Mother, bringing popularity to their songs “Hayloft” and “Oh Ana” from the band’s 2007 and 2008 albums. Gen-Z’ers seem to have found a piece of themselves in the disgruntled and disillusioned thread that underlies early 2000s sounds. See if you can pick out influences in your favorite artist’s work. Maybe even ask yourself what roots lie beneath the work you create.