What was the deal with the ‘Indie Slur’ In self-produced music? And what does it have to do with this new trend of nursery rhyme music?
What Am I Talking About?
The indie slur, indie (girl or boy) voice, etc. refers to a sort of Scandinavian-adjacent accent commonly used by English-speaking indie music artists online. If you’ve heard it, you’ll know it – singers glide across ‘ee’ and ‘eh’ sound by turning them into ‘ay’s, syllable sounds that end with an ‘ah’ or ‘oh’ turn into ‘aiy’ and ‘oiy’ depending on placement, and by the time they reach the end of a lyric, they’re rasping out the words because they’ve run out of air to sound breathy. It’s sort of like Bjork, if she were trying to write music for the radio. It was also incredibly distinct and served as a signature for a couple of popular Indie artists in the aughts and 2010s.
Halsey used a toned-down version. It’s not so harsh as to be unlistenable, she doesn’t sound like she’s trying to imitate a European accent, and it adds some spice to her songs. She’s probably the most well-known user of this technique even though she’s not the most extreme example of it. After her came a wave of people trying to recreate that sound but better in bedroom pop. This is a totally normal trend – when a singer makes it big, other singers want to recreate their sound but better so they’re not known as knockoffs of the original. Or worse, mistaken as the original!
Halsey’s singing is unique both in tone and technique. Mimicking tone is a good way to end up in knockoff territory, so technique is what new indie artists pursued when they wanted to follow in her footsteps. Halsey, therefore, indirectly spawned a trend of online, underground music that used this indie voice as a way to differentiate (or her participation in a trend that was already beginning online lead to that trend blowing up – either way she popularized it). Unfortunately, the new era of internet users were familiar with websites like Soundcloud and Youtube, meaning that new singers had the ability to post music directly to the internet without beta-testing it in front of smaller groups of people first.
This lead to some really ridiculous results. In online spaces especially, ‘but better’ turns into ‘but more intense’; the indie voice is a really distinctive stylistic tool, and it can hide quite a bit of bad technique. Even mediocre singers sound kind of like Halsey if they slur all the way across the line! People who genuinely like the indie voice, people who are trolling so they’ll keep putting out music, and people who think the accent is because the singer really doesn’t speak English as a first language all lead to positive comments online in a way they just didn’t before the internet. Some of these singers stay entirely online because the environment is so much more nurturing than constant garage tours or open mic nights can be, so it became a sort of echo chamber. Anyone can win, anyone can post to media sharing sites, and anyone can build a fandom because the investment to do it online is so much less demanding than doing it the traditional way. There’s no soaring heights, but there’s no crashing and burning either. Eventually, the baseline indie voice got so watered down with all of the people doing it badly that it turned into a meme, and now it’s back into being a ‘sometimes’ tool for beginners.
Nursery Rhyme Alternative Music
But that’s not the only ‘sometimes’ tool this has happened to. In the same way the indie slur was used to hijack the recognizability of bigger stars, so too are nursery rhyme songs hijacking the recognizability of nursery rhymes. You know the phenomenon where you have to hear a song a few times to decide if you like it or not? Or how some people will say a song was played enough on the radio that it grew on them? This is a shortcut to that – you already know the ABC song, now you just have to decide if you like the tweaks made to make it ABCDEFU. On TikTok especially, indie singers with relatively small followings are trying to turn nursery rhymes into the backbone of some really bitter breakup songs. The one that first caught my attention on this trend was one by Leah Kate, called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little B****’ (warning for swearing).
The video I’ve linked features the hate comments, yes – but TikTok has no dislike button, hate comments are literally the only way people can make it known that they dislike the music (which is a discussion for another time). At 78K+ likes, Leah’s song has wormed its way into moderate success. This is such a unique trend because it’s not very hard to get into, just like the indie slur was. Even the parody songs that people are making in response to Leah Kate’s song sound like the real deal! Look at this one (warning for swearing!). The cursing, the belting, the lyrics themselves are so over-the-top bitter to compensate for how syrupy sweet the nursery rhyme it’s using is that it’s a parody unto itself. The parody might even be a smidge better, because the melody changes in her second line while Leah’s doesn’t stray outside of the original and repeats every other line just like the nursery rhyme it’s using does.
What makes this trend even more fascinating is that it’s following roughly the same pattern the indie slur did! Melanie Martinez may not be a regular feature in the top 40, but she’s undoubtedly popular in her niche, and her niche is a sort of American goth-lolita thing that looks to childish toys, ideas, and yes, nursery rhymes for inspiration. But only inspiration. The majority of her songs are not borrowing melodies from nursery rhymes, and the lyrics are not built to convey an entire song in the space of a TikTok. People want to be her, but more, but better, but even angrier and even more inspired by nursery rhymes, just like they did with Halsey. However, unlike Halsey’s music-writing fans, the memes and jokes are coming out at the same time the nursery rhyme songs are. Leah was getting these hate comments and parody videos as soon as her TikTok about it was posted. The online denizens of TikTok seemed to recognize the trend cycle taking shape and shoved a branch in the spoke before record labels could capitalize off of it. You’re probably going to see or hear a couple similar songs, but since it’s already becoming uncool, something else is going to have to take off in it’s place.