To win over fans in the age of the internet, just making good music seemingly isn't enough. Artists are viewed as brands, and the more exaggerated the character, the more likely it seems that they'll catch the attention of the masses on the internet. With that in mind, it can be tempting to take on a role, make it as ridiculous as possible, and share it with the world.
19-year-old singer/songwriter Clairo isn't playing a role though, she's just being herself. When she made the music video for the song "Pretty Girl," she didn't think many people would see it. She made it on a day when her hair was greasy, her skin was bad, she didn't have anything to wear, and she didn't want to leave the bed. She felt "really ugly" but wanted to have fun and not care. "It's okay to have flaws and it's okay to embrace them and it's okay to be silly and stupid," she explains in the video's description. "You all might already know this, but I'm happy that I know this now."
That video has over 1.5 million views. Set to the charmingly lo-fi sounds of a song she wrote in her bedroom, "Pretty Girl" blew up, and now Clairo has fans across all platforms, hundreds of thousands of plays on multiple songs, and has managed to build herself a brand that involves nothing other than simply being herself.
First of all, can you introduce yourself?
I'm a 19-year-old artist from Boston and you can find some of my stuff on SoundCloud.
What's coming up for you?
I've been working on a lot of new stuff but I probably won't release a song for another couple months. For now, I've just been riding the wave of the last song I put out called "Pretty Girl."
Can you tell me a little about the YouTube videos you make? When did you start making those and was that always a part of how you connected with fans?
YouTube was always a secret space for me. I'd randomly post videos of me singing with guitar, or sometimes I'd post some half-finished film projects I'd made. Before "Pretty Girl" was released, I didn't really talk about my YouTube channel or show anyone. I didn't expect any of my videos to blow up like "Pretty Girl" did. SoundCloud is the place where I invest most of my time and the place where I connect with listeners most, so it was pretty weird realizing that my biggest following was where I least expected it to be. Really cool, though!
How did "Pretty Girl" blow up? Did someone cover it or did it just spread on YouTube?
I'm still not entirely sure how "Pretty Girl" blew up the way it did. It wasn't really meant to. The song was originally meant for a compilation tape for a magazine called The Le Sigh, and I made the video in about 30 minutes. I only expected about 5,000 views at most! Getting a million views on a video I made is still hard for me to wrap my head around. Most of my friends back home still have no idea that any of this has happened.
Your sound has a really intimate, bedroom type of feel to it. Do you make it all in your bedroom? Do you plan to expand into a bigger sound or is this exactly what you want to be making?
I do make it all in my room! Right now I'm making it in my dorm at school. It was never my intention to make "bedroom pop" sounding music, I just used the resources I had available to me... and they weren't very high quality. I do plan on expanding my sound from lo-fi into something cleaner with better materials.
Can you tell me a little about "Flamin Hot Cheetos"? That's my favorite.
I wrote that song about a past relationship I had. I felt like I had romanticized a lot of things that weren't actually that great and looked at my relationship unrealistically at times. The song was sort of a struggle between one side of me trying to "snap out of it," and the other side of me still wishing that things were how they used to be. The song title itself was kind of a mistake. I had named the demo "flamin hot cheetos" because I had just eaten some. I didn't really think much of it. When I uploaded it to SoundCloud, it kept the demo title and I just thought it was funny. It's been entertaining to read some people's theories and confusion about why I called it that. I do get free bags of Cheetos now which is always a plus!
Since you've started taking off, any notable followers or feedback from other artists?
Goldlink DMed me on Instagram about my music before I got to school. He's is one of my biggest inspirations. There are no words to describe how good it feels to be recognized by an artist you look up to. That's when you know you might actually be doing something right.
Are you worried about how to make the transition from internet success to IRL success? Is that something you're even thinking about, like performing live or anything?
I've played a few shows, and I'm definitely still getting used to performing in front of crowds. One drawback with getting attention on the internet is that you don't ever see your audience in real life. It's hard to imagine what my audience looks like or sounds like when I've never gotten the chance to meet them. I think it'll take time for me to be fully confident but I'm definitely headed in that direction.
Can you run me through the early days of releasing your music? You just decided one day to start uploading music to SoundCloud? Were you planning on doing covers only?
I started putting up songs on SoundCloud when I was 14. It's what my friends used to put up their music, and I really liked how the website itself worked. I would sit on my floor and use the Voice Memo app to record a cover, add some sort of random effect, then upload it. I never really put too much thought into it. I knew I loved singing, but I didn't know how to write things on my own yet. I definitely didn't think it'd become what it is today. I only dreamt of doing shows and having other people know my songs by heart. There are plenty of talented artists on SoundCloud that are finally getting the recognition they deserve, and I feel very lucky to know so many of them.
A lot of artists today who start off really calculated, with a defined brand and professional photos and a specific look and feel to all the visuals. With you, it feels very personal and candid. Why did you decide to go that route? Do you put a lot of thought into the pictures you share and the videos you make or is it spur of the moment?
As for having a defined "brand," I don't really know what I'm doing. Sometimes I wish I'd spent more time thinking about it, but I'm happy knowing that my audience has a realistic view of how I really am.
The internet is weird, but what you're doing seems wholesome. Have your fans been supportive and positive? Have you encountered any weird or creepy shit yet?
I'm from a really small town, so if anyone pursues anything out of the ordinary it's immediately shot down. I always knew that music was what I wanted to do, and it was really hard putting myself out in the open while living there. Even though most people in my town weren't too supportive of me, I received the most support from online fans. While the internet is mainly a scary place, I don't know if I would have the confidence to do half of what I do without it. I owe a lot to the internet. I want more kids to realize that they can do it on their own. You don't need a lot of connections to become successful. If you want to sing or start a band, don't be afraid to do it!