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The Greatest Indie Pop Artists of All Time

The 1970s were a wonderful time for music with many genres enjoying the peak of their popularity in a time when the carefree attitudes of the swinging 60s merged with a more modern approach giving music lovers all around the world a delightful mix of legendary artists and songs at the peak of their powers. This was never more-true than with indie pop artists who really tore up the script with their emergence on the mainstream during this decade.

What is Indie Pop?

So, just what is indie pop? As you've probably already guessed, the word ‘indie’ is short for independent, a term first used within music in order to describe artists who recorded and released records on their own, rather than the traditional method of releasing music through a record label. However, the term now stretches far beyond the original definition.

These days, many indie music artists are signed to major labels, and the genre is more descriptive of an attitude, a sound, or an alternative way of making music. Due to this, indie music today is very rarely ‘indie’ in the original sense that it is truly independent of the structures of music, but more refers to an alternative style.

Like many genres of that time, the beginnings for indie pop can be traced all the way back to the late 1970s, when British bands such as Orange Juice and Felt decided to go for something different and to break away from the dark, abrasive sounds which defined Post-Punk by making music that was softer, more romantic and melodic. Although it was different it retained the spirit of previous genres, and other notable artists followed.

Two such bands of the early period included Dolly Mixture, and Marine Girls who are considered instrumental to the development of the indie pop sub-genre known as twee pop, due to the naive, unpolished and stripped-back nature of their songs, British indie pop bands in the '80s were influenced by '60s music, jangly guitars, melodic power pop structures and especially the music of The Smiths, who are considered the breakout artists of the genre and are still extremely popular today.

Early indie pop acts like Heavenly and The Vaselines were often more influential than successful, but few others, such as The Sundays and The Wedding Present, had minor chart hits in the UK and United States. The wide scale success of what became known as 'Britpop' largely kept indie pop underground in the UK for most of the 90s, with only more established artists such as Belle and Sebastian getting any significant coverage. They quickly became one of the biggest cult bands of the decade, but more success for the genre was to follow, leading to an upsurge in popularity aided by breakthrough artists that were tied to indie pop.

Perhaps even more 'underground' than the UK's indie pop scene was taking place across the Atlantic. The indie pop scene in the States was led by pioneering bands of the genre such as Beat Happening, The Magnetic Fields, and Yo La Tengo. Although popular with niche audiences, the indie pop scene had to wait for widespread commercial success and to be recognized by more broad fans of music.

The real turning point for the genre in terms of mainstream popularity has come at the turn of the Millennium, with bands such as The Hoosiers and Florence and the Machine helping to catapult the genre to a younger, more vibrant audience as well as appealing to the traditional fans of indie pop from way back in the early 80s.

Best Indie Pop Artists of All Time

The Pastels

What better place to start in our list of the best indie pop artists of all time than with The Pastels? This might be the ultimate indie-pop band. Everything about them, from their music to their look to their attitude, is a perfect presentation of what indie pop is really about.

Their music is a beautiful array of different shambolic tones that fly in the face of the traditional. Since 1981 they’ve been alternatively DIY as they use simple song structures and maintain an almost child-like quality to their songwriting. The band appeared on the legendary NME C86 tape, which cemented their reputation as the grandparents of the indie-pop scene.

Beat Happening

Taking indie pop back to its roots here with this entry. Often seen as one of the originators of the indie-pop sound, Beat Happening were an American three piece led by indie polymath Calvin Johnson. Their sound had a total disregard for the conventions of music production, being resolutely wayward with off-key singing and subject matter that at times pushed the borders of being benign.

However, this simplistic approach yielded brilliant songs. Beat Happening veered between fuzzy garage rock textures and a more plaintive acoustic sound, but they had a way with melody that led to many of their songs - such as ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Cast a Shadow’ - being covered by other artists. The band were also important in raising the profile of like-minded bands and had a huge overall impact on the indie pop music scene, meriting their place amongst the best indie pop artists of all time.

The Go Betweens

Like many in the early indie music pop era, this band benefitted from the early mystique surrounding the genre. Emerging out of Australia in the late ‘70s, The Go Betweens were initially purveyors of simple, straightforward pop in thrall to the likes of Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed. They sound carved out their own niche and unique style that garnered stunning results.

Their army of loyal fans were spoiled for choice in having very distinct songwriters, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, to choose from. The two had the classic indie pop relationship: Forster was the more arty, uptight one; McLennan the more flowingly-melodic, romantic one. It was a match made in heaven - and together they created some of the finest indie pop music ever made.

Their early success was to prove to be elusive in subsequent releases, however, with albums and tracks that followed never quite gaining the recognition it deserved. The band disbanded and got back together before threatening a return again in the early part of the century, much to the delight of a cult following. However, the story ended tragically when McLennan died of a heart attack in 2006, and indie pop was robbed of one of its great early pioneers.

The Smiths

You simply cannot mention indie music without mentioning The Smiths. The legendary band were the flag bearers for the genre for decades and are still revered today. Listen to almost any indie band from the mid-80s - certainly from the UK - and you can hear the influence of The Smiths loud and clear. However, given this it’s hard, listening to early Smiths records, to hear exactly what they themselves were listening to. The Smiths still, somehow, sounded nothing like anything we have ever heard before - instead, they sounded wholly original and still do to this day. The true undisputed Kings of Indie.

Felt

Felt never did things by the playbook - the true hallmark of a great indie band. The band always followed a stranger path than many other indie-pop bands. They were unusual, edgy, and always kept their fans on the edge of their seats. Ten albums in ten years, two of which were entirely instrumental, containing many songs that essentially sounded exactly the same. They even did an entire album without Lawrence, who was only on song title duty. Some of the band’s ideas are widely copied today as others seek to build on their mysterious reputation and take the indie pop genre to the next level.

Florence and the Machine

We just had to have Florence and the Machine in our list. It's hard to put Florence and the Machine in any one category and, rather than an insult, this is testament to the greatness of the band. Some will argue it’s a rock band, while others believe they are true indie pop artists, but whatever your view, no one can dispute their greatness since emerging on the scene 15 years ago.

Formed in 2007, Florence and the Machine are a band we can’t afford to ignore for two reasons – their global success and the powerful performances of their lead vocalist, Florence Welch. At the peak of their popularity, Welch’s voice was practically inescapable. It blasted from apartment windows, echoed through grocery stores, and through our headphones. The band have registered some remarkable achievements, scooping award after award as everything they touch turns to gold.

The Chills

New Zealand band The Chills have been delighting lovers of indie pop music for almost two decades. And true to their moniker, listening to their simple, earnest, and yearning lyrics sent chills down the spines of their devotees. Their unique sound has earned them a cult following in their homeland and that popularity has spread to parts of Europe and mainstream success in the U.S.

The line-up of the has changed over the years but it was formed and led by Martin Phillips and still is up to this day. In 2015, they released a remarkable album entitled Silver Bullets that was reminiscent of the quality seen in their original indie music.

Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey first rose to prominence in 2013 with her hit songs, “Summertime Sadness (Remix)” and “Young and Beautiful.” Similar to other artists today, her music often crosses over into other sub-genres of pop, but she still maintains her credibility as one of the great indie artists. The controversial artist has attracted critics at times but there's no denying her talent. So whether you love or hate her, there is no denying that Lana Del Rey is a name that will go into the history books as one of the best indie pop acts of her generation. And to think, she's just getting started.

MGMT

Tell us, what is a list of the best indie artists without a mention for the iconic MGMT? The group - formed by Andrew VanWyngarden (lead vocals) and Benjamin Goldwasser - stood out in an indie generation boasting of acts such as Passion Pit and Yeasayers. The band hit the ground running with their 2007 debut album (Oracular Spectacular), which produced 3 of their greatest singles – “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel.” Truly, what a band.

Arctic Monkeys

UK band Arctic Monkeys are to indie music what Elvis Presley was to Rock n Roll - simply untouchable. No list of the best indie pop artists would be complete without an entry for this legendary band. Arctic Monkeys are arguably the first indie artists to get their breakthrough thanks to the internet. They unwittingly became internet sensations and never looked back since. In June of 2005, they signed with Laurence Bell’s independent label, Domino, shunning major labels. Their first album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” made history as the fastest-selling debut album in the UK charts and the band has proved time and time again ever since that they are an indie music hit record machine.

Top Indie Pop Albums Ever

Indie pop music has spawned some of the greatest artists and songs that have ever graced the music industry, but what of the albums? There are so many iconic albums to choose from within this genre - many of them stopping up award after award and breaking records all over the world for album sales. We couldn't mention them all by name (there's just too many), but here's just a few that will live long in the memory of all true indie pop music fans everywhere.

Beach House - Teen Dream

The Field Mice - For Keeps

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days

The Pastels - Illumination

Broadcast - The Noise Made By People

Real Estate - Days

Belle and Sebastian - If You’re Feeling Sinister

Various Artists - C86

The Go Betweens - Before Hollywood

Marine Girls - Lazy Ways

McCarthy - I Am A Wallet

Orange Juice - You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder

The Wedding Present - George Best

Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth

You may not agree with all these choices, or are simply wondering where your favorite indie pop music album is on this list, and that’s okay! The great thing about indie music is its versatility and the choice it offers to the audience. No one indie artist or album is the same as another and this unique genre has proved time and again that it makes its own rules.

How Popular is Indie Music?

How popular is indie pop music? And perhaps more importantly, why? That is the question when you consider the brilliance of the songs and artists that frequent the genre. In the past, indie pop music has often been looked down upon by fans of the more, shall we say, traditional music genres. Indeed, although some music fans have long been keen to disregard indie as an individual music genre and instead see it, in its plainest sense, as a classification for music produced independently, indie has largely held a position distinct from the popular.

Arguably, indie music was most prominent in the public eye in the nineties with the likes of industry giants Oasis and Blur, but it seems we might have been witnessing its mainstream revival in more recent times as observers say the peak era for indie music is yet to come.

When it comes to indie pop music specifically, this can perhaps be traced to the younger audience it now spawns and this coincides with the social media age. From Instagram to TikTok, it has never been easier and more readily available for indie pop musicians to get their material out there, with even established musicians using the platforms to grow their following and giving sneak previews of their upcoming single or album releases.

This is true across the board in the music industry - but few appear to have taken advantage of this exposure like indie pop artists have. That said, it wouldn't be right to say platforms such as TikTok are responsible for casting indie back into the spotlight as the brilliance of the songs and artists mean that the recent surge in popularity is not just a fad but testament to a truly brilliant genre that isn't going anywhere soon. How popular is indie pop music? Very! Indie Pop Artists |  turntablelive.com

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