Artistic Development: Clairo

Christy Clark

Singer-songwriter Clairo became popular in 2017 after the music video for her single, Pretty Girl, went viral. Over the years however she has experimented with an array of genres and styles. Christy Clark explores her development as an artist and some of her music highlights. 

When Clairo wrote “There’s things that I know could get in the way” in Sofia, it seemed she was talking about a fleeting high school crush. But look a little further, and you’ll see a career often threatened by such obstacles. Whether it’s her status as a nepotism baby, reliance on social media platforms to find fame, or Twitter backlash over dating a man (as a bisexual woman), a lot for just five years into a career, she’s knocked it on the head.

You may know Clairo, or Claire Cotterill, as an indie singer. Or lo-fi. Or even folk. Or maybe she’s just a TikTok artist, profiting off catchy choruses and a widespread relatability. In such a short of career, she’s already experimented with a number of genres and lyrical themes to a variety of audiences. From virality to utterly the opposite: making folk music in a log cabin without a word of promotion (arguably similar to Taylor Swift’s 2020 musical escapades). This is the story so far.

In 2017, Clairo’s music video for Pretty Girl garnered millions of views, catapulting the singer to international fame and further popularising the bedroom pop genre. She attracted the attention of the Fader Label, for which she went on to release the 2018 EP ‘diary 001’. The project leant further into the bedroom pop genre, featuring Pretty Girl and similarly lo-fi hits 4ever and Flaming Hot Cheetos. Whilst Pitchfork’s Sasha Geffen claimed, “there’s more to her overnight success than one lucky hit”, and a review on Sputnikmusic hailed it “as a goodbye to her bedroom-pop chapter” with “good moments”, there was still much doubt around the singer and her talent, fuelled by the nepotism baby label (her father has been a top marketer for companies such as Cola-Cola). Did Clairo deserve to be there? Was she talented enough? As Joe Coscarelli wrote, “Clairo’s ‘Pretty Girl’ Went Viral. Then She Had to Prove Herself”.

And with her next record, ‘Immunity’, she did. The album marked a noticeable segue from the lo-fi pop influences of her previous music, with a more indie sound. Rather than rely on YouTube to attract listeners as she had previously done, Clairo benefitted from the rise of TikTok as Sofia went viral (it has since gathered nearly 500 million streams on Spotify). Alongside hits such as Bags and Softly, this made ‘Immunity’ an indie monster. It featured in many year-end album lists, placing fifth on The LA Times’ and making the top ten in several others. In a few words it was successful, cool, vulnerable. An astounding success. Indie music seemed to be Clairo’s calling. Or at least we thought so.

the emotional vulnerability of ‘Immunity’ was to be outdone by her next record

But come 2021, it became clear that she wasn’t sticking, and that somehow the emotional vulnerability of ‘Immunity’ was to be outdone by her next record. In July 2021 ‘Sling’ was released, an album ‘intimate but never austere’, ‘a generous, cinematic delight’. Unlike its predecessors, there was no hit to promote it, the lead single Blouse being nothing of the sort (released without even a music video). Clairo wasn’t searching for popularity, she was searching for her artistic self. Take away the bright lights of social media, and what do you get?

A pretty damn good album, that’s what. Sling’s themes of motherhood, mental health, and intimacy are worlds away from the spriteliness and focus on teenage love found in ‘Immunity’. And with more grounded themes came more adept song writing. Lines such as “If touch could make them hear, touch me now”, “I sip and toast to normalcy, a fool’s way into jealousy” and “I see the end before it begins, no use to work, no use in anything” showcase a lyrical maturity not present in her previous projects. As unsuitable and foreign as this album was for Clairo’s TikTok following, it earnt a reputation of being a formidable folk album, drawing comparisons with song writing greats Joni Mitchell and Carole King. What can’t she do?

With a more diverse musical catalogue than some artists achieve in entire careers

So, Claire Cotterill. From an unfancied, over-popularised star all over the phones of Gen-Z, to an understated, revered songwriter hiding away in her fire-lit cabin. From a singer relying on the online algorithm, or maybe her father’s wealth, to one existing rightfully as a formidable artist. A creator who originally found fame through a music video, and now existing solely without them. With a more diverse musical catalogue than some artists achieve in entire careers at just twenty-four, it’s anyone’s guess where the Atlanta born singer-songwriter will go next. But she’s overcome enough hurdles for us to assume it will be special.

Christy Clark

Featured image courtesy of Maksym Kaharlytskyi via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article images 1, 2 and 3 courtesy of @clairo via Instagram.com No changes were made to these images.

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