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  • Writer's picturemaya kotomori

Blog #01 - Why Indie Sleaze Isn't Real

Updated: Aug 27

Me writing this last night at 3am because they don't want me to be 24 and party to my heart's content because I'm somehow fucking up a lame's nostalgia for indie sleaze by breathing.

Ugh I hesitate to even give this term any more airtime especially because my whole point of this post is to talk about how indie sleaze isn't dead as a term because it was never really alive as a real taste in the first place, but I gotta explain. Also welcome to the blog, I like to think that people who know me in real life will read these in my voice and laugh to themselves because I also like to think that I write exactly like I talk. Yes, this aside included. The task at hand:

I think I first heard saw "indie sleaze" as a fashion/style term when I was in 6th grade. There was this point for like a year in Riverside, CA when the local CVS actually carried NYLON and I would beg my mom to buy me each new issue when we went to the pharmacy.

ASIDE: RIP NYLON print and also their digital tbh...I won't lie I've applied to a lot of jobs there in the past 2 years and have never heard back...I mean it makes sense not only do pubs quite literally not respond to/even look at applications generally so obvs regardless of skill/love of fashion journalism I haven't been lucky enough for so much as a rejection email...but also even if they did I'd have to hate from outside the club and say I'm not right for whatever fashion BPD bullshit they peddle under the guise of "reporting." Anyways.

Indie Sleaze. What does it even mean? When was the indie sleaze era? We simply don't know. Indie sleaze is only talked about via references that seem to span from Karen O party pics from 2006 to Terry Richardson photos from 2012, from The Go! Team to Uffie to Arctic Monkeys (pre R U Mine?) to (lowkey) Kreayshawn, from Skins (UK) to Spring Breakers (2013), from American Apparel to...more American Apparel. My point is that we're talking about 7ish years of a huge range of music, film, photo, and personal style that can all be perfectly described by one term. This is the definition of a style phenomenon, so like indie sleaze is real in that way. The perfect way to describe my larger point is that a group of people mobilized their nostalgia for blog-era times, but instead of making a blog, they made an Instagram.

Look at Grunge, New Wave, Mod. Each of these terms describe music, fashion, personal style, haircuts — but more than that, these terms describe time periods that defined themselves while these stylistic specificities emerged simultaneously. Example: there were a million Cobains before Kurt who wore flannel shirts, didn't shower, dabbled in heroin, and lived in/wanted to move to Seattle, and we didn't really care about them until someone decided to call that swag by a name. Most of the time, that someone is a cultural anthropologist wearing a journalist hat, who gives that thing that always existed a name for audiences to call it by. This is the core tenet of features journalism, essentially, a statement that says "Hey you, you didn't know about this, but you felt it! This is what we're calling it!" This is why I would beg my mom to buy me NYLON, because those terms are sexy, and they make you feel like you're the only one to understand what everyone feels, but can't identify in one term.

So there's something to be said about style phenomenons and why they're awesome, like New Wave's cultural memory of Western governmental unrest (lotta war, Watergate, Reagan) and excess from the late 70s into the early 80s, the Mod girl as a response to a specific flavor of English consumerism that wielded art and cigarettes as weapons, and yielded (heh) the uber-important miniskirt. These phenomena directly responded to world events, specifically politics and economics, because there was a need for specificity, subversion, subculture, there was a need to rebel aesthetically. Indie sleaze didn't really rebel, but it culminated. It responded to a time where dominant culture was racialized, which is why I think a lot of people on Twitter have adopted this idea that the term and what it represents is somehow racist (I don't agree, and generally hesitate to paint with broad brushes like that). Lemme explain.

Indie sleaze was labeled as such following, perhaps, the Blackest cultural point in history. Listen, Black people been running shit without respect, visibility, rights forever...blah blah however, once rap became super popular in the 90s, a Black aesthetic not only earned its own respect and visibility but it wasn't distilled into some vague Wigger-ishness, it was FUBU (literally). Black people were frequently on broadcast television influencing and creating some of the most lucrative and socially successful brands and images of the late 20th and early 21st century: Bad Boy Records, Beyoncé and Destiny's Child, TLC, Aaliyah (RIP), Jadakiss, Dilla, FUBU, Sean Jean, Rocawear, literally everything Kanye referenced/wore...Blackness on actual Black people hit critical mass. You could say this started fading out around 2009. Indie sleaze is said to reference a time period between 2006ish to 2013ish, which would encompass a point where dominant culture as a very palpably Black thing was at its peak. The oversimplified argument as to why indie sleaze is somehow racist: Blackness was so dominant in pop culture that an idea of rebellion automatically became a white-forward movement, influencing a coup against such "normie" behavior. Boiled down: because Black = popular, to embody a subculture/rebel must be white. I considered that argument for a minute and have realized I actually hate it so much. Here are some numbered reasons why:

  1. The assumption that style phenomenons like indie sleaze "start" and "end" is wrong. If the whole point of a style phenomenon is that it builds itself while labeling itself (almost with 20/20 hindsight), it transcends an idea of linear time, of start and end. Indie sleaze didn't "come from" any one previous movement, it was influenced in the same was it influences simultaneously. That's why it's called a phenomenon.

  2. Boiling the indie sleaze aesthetic down to a white opposition to visible Blackness oversimplifies the ways in which Black people make their own choices...almost like we're individual people? (Gasp). Bro look at Santigold, M.I.A, like 4 members of The Go! Team, Antwon, Kid Cudi...I can't enumerate the sheer amount of electroclash and DIY blog-era musical acts that had Black people in them.

  3. Running with that: when white people push this indie sleaze racism take, they push the idea that when Black people exist in white spaces/subcultures typically known to be white-dominated, it automatically means we're subjugated. More than a bullshit pseudointellectual take in the vein of a savior, you lot limit Black people to what you can identify as media-coded Black things (see: any music video from a Black artist 1998-2009) as the only way we can be happy. To them, it has to be only ok sis, wearing the color yellow, shea butter, Black girl magic. Anything else is a symbol of our oppression. They don't want to hear that we were rocking perms, side swoop bangs and American Apparel catsuits, because we're not doing the dance we're supposed to.

Ok. So indie sleaze isn't racist, but it existed ostensibly "after" (see point #1) a time where pop culture was identifiably Black, and celebrated for being such. Effectively, indie sleaze represented a net zero of subcultures — neither here nor there, not kitsch, not goth, not scene, not skater, not nerd, but always partying all together, to the point where specificity blurs with all the bass and sex and Cobra Snake's flash. America was awesome for the so called "beginning" of indie sleaze, the economy crashed, we got Obama, and shit got multicultural real fast. Indie sleaze didn't rebel against that idea of hope or optimism, it encompassed it. It represents not only when America began embodying the nomenclature of a "melting pot," but when style itself melted down into an inclusive glob.

Apart from the mental gymnastics I just did to dance around where indie sleaze emerges as a style phenomenon, the reason why I don't think indie sleaze is real is because it treats this inclusivity, this melting pot style phenomena as if it possesses the same discerning eye that taste does. Indie sleaze is not a taste, because taste = rules, in/out, exclusivity, and indie sleaze = no rules, and an inclusivity that ostensibly reads: you're invited to this party if you bring the blow. The specificity of a style phenomenon doesn't mean there are any rules to it, it means that there were a bunch of kids just doing some shit, and a journalist created a name for it. Indie sleaze means nostalgia attached to a specific aesthetic, and when journalists get bored, it'll be another one in its place. It's wildly complex in its simplicity, and vice versa.

That's another reason why I rebuke an idea of an indie sleaze "revival." The only indie sleaze revival comes from Millennial journalists who were adolescent/young adults when the phenomenon was full swing, who felt invigorated when they found Le Hipster Portal a year and some change ago, who decided to start calling everything by that name because they needed to remind everyone that they're in their 30s. Indie sleaze isn't "back" because the trends naturally cycled back to that time, indie sleaze is back because Millennial journalists are psychotic. Take a photo with a flash? Indie sleaze. Colored tights? Indie sleaze. God forbid you're young and trying on some nostalgia for the first time, what you're doing actually must have a label to these people. You make music inspired by clubby blog-era electroclash? You're trying really hard to be indie sleaze, and you're failing at it because a swagless writer was in high school when that song you said inspired you came out, and you will never understand indie sleaze because they are older than you. If you're 27 and younger and are having fun publicly in whatever scene you're a part of, odds are a journalist is going to refer to what you and your friends are doing as a misguided attempt at indie sleaze, which is just really dumb? Like you invented that word, and now you're bringing it back just to point out that people in their 20s have fun, and that they're having fun wrong because you have a cultural memory of this thing...that you resurrected...but you're "just reporting" right? STFU

Alright so I'm exhausted, I've done the mental gymnastics on this one so you don't have to. I also totally fell victim to referring to "indie sleaze" as if it's a real thing that affects me. At my old job I think I even referenced it in a newsletter some time in March 2022. The style phenomenon is totally real, but the ways in which is term is just thrown around is more synonymous with a bitterness toward young people having fun than the aesthetic markers, music, photography. God, like why do you care?

I was having this conversation with my friend yesterday. It feels like everyone decided to stop being a hater all at the same time, and in this really phony way that became so objective, that no one really had a point of view, everything became "fire" and a "vibe." There's something to be said about acceptance, like not coming up with an objective argument to hate someone/something just because it isn't your personal taste. But we've overcorrected: speaking ill of something from a completely subjective place makes you a hater and, if you have a more particular knack for insults, a bully (speaking from personal experience). When we talk about indie sleaze, we must either know it as a totally fire vibe or as some bullshit for x,y,z reasoning, we must either blindly accept it or drink the Haterade.

What we've lost is taste. Personal taste is knowing what you like and what you don't like, and not being afraid to own it. You don't need to explain why you like or don't like something, because it's completely subjective. The problem with this type of thinking is that it requires a lot of security that people simply don't have anymore — everything must have a reason beyond "idk I just feel that way." Sometimes it's that deep, most times it's not. Any journalist who's tossed indie sleaze around either with blind acceptance or unnecessary ire is remarkably disingenuous. Looking to blindly accept something is just as bad as finding an objective reason to hate it. Taste is discerning via an argument, not a label. Maybe the kids just feel the way they do, it has nothing to do with you, and the words you use to describe them and are more revelatory of your personal insecurities than their objectively fun behavior.

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