Bedroom Pop Comes of Age

Design by Kris Qiu

It’s just as hard to identify the origins of “bedroom pop” as it is for me to remember why I first started listening to it. I believe at least the latter was an accident. At the time, I was a “prefrosh” who had just moved into her college dorm at Yale. The late August heat was as stifling as the reality of what I perceived to be a pretentious school filled with pretentious people. I didn’t know why I was there, and I didn’t want to find out. While others were putting on a facade of confidence, drinking, partying, and imagining their life ahead, I stayed inside and listened to Spotify. It knew me better than anyone else on campus. Who was I to forsake its wisdom for fake conversations and pleasantries? “What’s your name?” “Where’s home for you?” “What are you interested in studying?” 

No, I couldn’t forsake the constancy of Spotify’s presence: “Want a break from the ads? If you tap now to watch a short video, you’ll receive 30 minutes of ad-free music.” I was ill-prepared to leave home, and even less prepared for the social gauntlet that is the first few weeks of college life. I had spent the last two years in my childhood bedroom, building intimacy with my houseplants and writing when I felt like it. School wasn’t a concern, and neither was the outside world. They didn’t have to be. But I wasn’t there. I was at Yale—whether I liked it or not. The heat was stifling, and so was the anticipation in the air. When I think back on the first few weeks of my life at Yale, all I can imagine is awfultune playing in the heat, barely audible over the hum of the box fan in my window. 

Layla Eden, or awfultune, is a 23-year-old singer-songwriter known for their hits “I Met Sarah in the Bathroom” and “redesign.” Their work is frequently classified as bedroom pop, an honor they share with artists like Clairo, Girl in Red, and beabadoobee, and their recent album, “heavy hearted,” clusters their former hits with newer works like “i want to be your girlfriend.” In an interview with MAC in 2022, Eden described themself as “the little gay boy in high school, and really the only queer person out.” Ithaca, New York was Eden’s home for high school, but they left shortly thereafter, like many hopeful teens, to pursue their dreams in the music industry. Now living in Brooklyn with their three cats, Eden has finally found the community they were searching for (or at least it appears that way).

But Eden’s road to fame has been far from conventional. Eden publicly came out as trans in 2020 and began their transition in the public eye. In one post on Instagram they wrote to their fans, “i go under the knife in 20 mins so yall have 20 mins to delete the old version of me in your head >:)” Eden is honest with their fans, brutally so. If they aren’t feeling well and don’t feel up to livestreaming as promised, they say it. In my time on Eden’s Instagram, I discovered that there really isn’t anything they’re unwilling to share. Nudes—check. Poorly illustrated rainbow graphics—check. Updates on their dental procedures—check. But their fans love it. For better or worse, Eden’s life is their fans’ life. Eden blurs the line between their interiority and the world of Instagram. As long as Eden’s fans crave the intimate details of their life, it appears they will continue to provide. 

Whether intentionally or not, Eden’s Instagram serves as a kind of archive, documenting their journey with Hormone Replacement Therapy, a variety of colorful hairstyles, and their difficulty in coming to terms with themself. Eden’s archive works to document their voice that “swells with the complex measure of joys and struggles against annihilating silence,” as Morris writes. But like Elliot Page, Eden wasn’t spared the panopticon of the public eye during their transition. It is my belief that any trans celebrity who publicly comes out and begins to transition should have a two-year grace period where they are allowed to try out ugly haircuts and embrace the awkwardness of the many physical changes that accompany their transition. 

But Eden was never given this opportunity, and in late 2022, they began to stumble. Facing the pressure of an upcoming tour, past trauma (which they don’t hesitate to share with their fans), and an upcoming album deadline, Eden broke. In another post to their fans (again on Instagram) they announced, “due to personal health issues, i am heartbroken to announce that i am canceling my upcoming tour.” While their fans quickly responded with an outpouring of love and support, it was hard to ignore Eden’s difficult road ahead. 

The intimacy of their aesthetic had created a trap—Eden could withdraw from the public eye and risk alienating their fans from their music, or they could continue to spiral down their current path. After Eden canceled their tour, they began to go silent. The difference before and after was stark. When Eden would previously post once, or even twice a day, this frequency later dwindled to once a week, then once a month. Eden had encountered the tension inherent to a genre like bedroom pop. How could bedroom pop artists give listeners a sense of extreme intimacy while maintaining a separation between themselves and their fans?

Eden’s fame was a byproduct of the pandemic. It is less so that the pandemic forced artists like mxmtoon and awfultune inside their bedrooms—they were already there. The world just wasn’t listening. But as the death toll began to climb, and “social distancing” entered the cultural milieu, teenagers turned to TikTok, Instagram, and SoundCloud for the intimacy they were missing. And as artists experimented with softer beats, intensely personal lyrics, and daily live streams, fans developed an appreciation for bedroom pop both as a genre and aesthetic.

The tunes were catchy, soft, and largely harmless. But this inoffensiveness ultimately contributed to the genre’s demise. As Francesca Pavluk writes in the unpublished magazine article “The Rise and Fall of Bedroom Pop”, “bedroom pop was not a sustainable trend. We, unfortunately, grew out of the sweet simplicities that it had to offer.” There is indeed a limit to the quality of production one can replicate in their childhood bedroom. While Pavluk is correct to identify the relative simplicity of bedroom pop’s synths and melodies, it is the quality of lyrics and the shared intimacy of space that defines the genre and contributes to its ongoing appeal. And from a more practical point of view, bedroom pop got its name for a reason. The equipment required to mimic the aesthetic isn’t anything more than what one could acquire in an afternoon trip to Best Buy. Awfultune, in fact, admits to still using GarageBand to produce their records, despite having 41,300 loyal followers on Instagram.

Bedroom pop has served as a place of refuge in the pop and indie industries. But Eden’s story is also a cautionary tale: no matter how the music industry reworks itself, no matter what degree of intimacy or separation an artist chases, burnout will always be there. And the commodification of this struggle—of Eden’s failure—illustrates our culture’s drive to assimilate any facet of resistance into our dominant ideology. The trans joy Eden was able to express through their music and on Instagram was easily co-opted by the manic media machine. But Eden’s existence as one of the few trans artists in the profession didn’t just work against them.  It also enabled them to find a community in a genre they helped to create.

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