Selling 124,000 copies, “Contra” is the best-selling album in the country. Released by XL, an independent record label, “Contra” is only the 12th independently distributed album to reach the coveted top spot on the Billboard 200 since such data has been recorded.
Why is that a big deal, and what does being “indie” mean?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines indie as “one that is independent; especially: an unaffiliated record or motion picture production company.”
However, indie has taken on new meaning.
Esoteric lyrics about Oxford commas and Nicaraguan rebel groups usually don’t sound like they would have mass appeal, but Vampire Weekend managed to make their sophisticated, high-brow songs infectious and saleable. Because of this, Vampire Weekend exemplifies what indie has come to mean.
The album cover exudes the band’s sensibility and culture. On it is an overexposed Polaroid of a presumably bourgeois blond, white girl wearing a preppy Ralph Lauren Polo. The girl’s deadpan expression and the novel medium of a Polaroid are synonymous with the band’s hipster style. As such, indie has become associated with hipsters. Like the genre of punk music, its consumers define and identify themselves with the music they listen to and the behavior of those who create it.
As far as indie goes, its artists and listeners are likely to be wearing skinny jeans, deep V-necks (exposing ubiquitous chest hair on men), Chucks and thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses. On a Friday night, you can probably see them watching local bands in basement shows, consuming copious amounts of cheap alcohol – Steel Reserve 40s or PBR – and smoking Parliament cigarettes. That, or they’re at the Vid. Sound like any group of people or culture in particular? It should; these are the disaffected hipsters, and as such, indie can now be used interchangeably with the label hipster.
As annoying and detestable as hipsters can be, their growing population is helping green-light, little-known talented bands. Indie record labels are the last bastions for pure creativity in the music industry. With Disney- and American Idol-manufactured artists, Vampire Weekend’s success provides a refreshing reprieve from the shallow, corporate stars who usually top the sales charts. Former Union Board Concerts Director and Secretly Canadian intern Caitlyn Kuhs said she prefers indie music and the labels that distribute their content.
“Artists on indie labels have a lot more influence on their material, and they have a lot more creative control,” Kuhs said. “They also have a bigger percentage of sales.”
Student Jameson Burton summed up why indie music is superior to major label content. Indie means the artists “sound more natural and less money-oriented,” he said. So the next time you see a hipster, instead of being tempted to slap him or her, smile and realize they’re the ones who are green-lighting indie music.
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