Indie rock music has been around for decades, although it became popular in the 1980s. Since then, hundreds of indie rock musicians have risen to the top of the charts.
Indie rock music differs from traditional rock music because it often embraces a softer sound. This type of rock music got its name because most record labels producing this music were independent of others in the industry.
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What Is Indie Rock Music?
Indie rock music is an offshoot of rock music that developed after young musicians wanted to embrace a different sound than pop and rock music genres were familiar with at the time. The word indie is short for independent, which refers to the labels that cropped up to help artists release music that didn’t fit into more defined genres.
This music started in the 1980s in the United Kingdom and the United States. Many music lovers associated grunge sounds and alternative songs to fit in with the indie rock scene at the time of its conception.
Indie Rock Music Characteristics
Indie rock music is characterized by a few unique features. Typically, indie rock music has a careful mixture of poppy notes and sensitive lyrics. Additionally, this genre will depict the singer to have a level of authenticity and portray the musician as an easy-going individual looking for love or acceptance.
There is usually a melodic use of pop to drive a narrative that paints a picture of betrayal or mistreatment. This genre will also use a mixture of verses that use soft melodies adjacent to angry and grungy choruses that may showcase anger.
9 Examples of Indie Rock Music
There are dozens of stunning examples of indie rock music, but these nine songs perfectly showcase indie rock music. Without these classic examples of the indie rock music genre, the whole subcategory would not be what it has developed into in today's music scene.
These artists have topped the charts for their unique sounds and personalities. Artists like Arctic Monkey and Weezer have morphed this category into something that takes the music world by storm.
Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie
Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie is a song that can be interpreted in many ways. The lyrics of this song can indicate someone feeling sad about their impending mortality or discuss the happiness of being alive in the present moment.
There are mentions of traveling and getting as far from thoughts as possible. This song may also discuss finding a place to belong and feeling out of place no matter where you go. Ideally, when the singer finds where they are meant to be, their soul will meet their body.
When the Sun Goes Down by Arctic Monkeys
When the Sun Goes Down by Arctic Monkeys tells a depressing story about a woman who finds herself in a poor position. Without many options for her life, she becomes a prostitute and gets abused multiple times by the man she works under.
This song was based on a real place the main singer had seen before and had been inspired by upon a visit. This song details the sad optimism of wanting better and endlessly hoping for things to improve as the next day comes. However, it also discusses how dark and despairing things become during the night in this location.
Say It Ain’t So by Weezer
Say It Ain’t So by Weezer is a sad song about a family torn apart by rampant alcoholism slowly destroying the household. One of the band members discusses being inspired by a picture he drew as a child of him and his father playing soccer before his father began a downward spiral that tore his family to bits.
As this band member grew into adolescence and grew through his teenage years, his father spiraled out of control, and there was nothing this musician could do to stop it.
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
This anthem is about finding strength within to keep everyone else at bay and focusing only on yourself and your needs. Seven Nation Army was named from a mistaken pronunciation of the charity Salvation Army, making it an apt comparison since the song is about straying from being subject to others.
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana was initially inspired by a comment that Kurt Cobain’s girlfriend made, saying he smelled like a deodorant brand. Cobain later discussed how he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit as a revolution anthem, although his bandmates considered the song to be cliche.
However, the song took the world by storm and became an icon for teens across the world. Smells Like Teen Spirit is all about defiance and subverting expectations that many people placed on young adults as they grow up. This song was meant to break free from the apathy of the world and help the youth wake up and embrace themselves.
Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve
Bitter Sweet Symphony is about the moments in someone’s life that can feel too good and too bad at the same time. For example, saying goodbye to friends as they go to college or get a really well-paying job can be bitter-sweet moments.
This song by The Verve showcases how sad these moments can make someone feel and how they can taint an overall happy experience. However, it can show how bitter moments can have sweetness too. For example, a breakup with someone can open a door to finding a better fit for love, or moving to a new city may mean meeting new friends.
This Charming Man by The Smiths
The Smiths wrote This Charming Man to discuss feeling disconnected from societal norms and what it's like to watch others and view them positively. This song shows what it’s like to view yourself in a less positive light while you see others above your class or societal station and appreciate their effort and success.
This Charming Man is rife with self-awareness and exposes what it’s like to desire change. This song explores how deeply the singer wants to be a different person but may feel despair that they will never embody that person.
Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand
Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand is one of the most famous indie rock songs about loneliness and finding community with other like-minded people who struggle with the same feeling. The singer discusses feeling disconnected from someone they really loved in the past and how they feel like they are stuck in the cross-hairs of a conflict or disaster.
Franz Ferdinand discusses feeling upset because they know they won’t be able to leave the place they’re in with the person they love. This unrequited love seems to make the singer feel so despaired about the situation that they would rather not participate in daily life functions anymore.
Mr. Brightside by The Killers
Mr. Brightside is unique because it uses a poppy sound to discuss a traumatizing event. However, this event may be only happening in the singers’ minds. Mr. Brightside is about a person plagued by the thought of someone he loves spending the night with another person. Some listeners speculate that this person is a sex worker and that the singer had developed an obsession with the worker.
Mr. Brightside is easily one of the most distressing indie rock songs but holds a nihilistic feel. This singer knows they’ll be okay, even if they don’t get what they want.
5 Top Indie Rock Musicians
There are hundreds of indie rock musicians and bands that have tried their hand at performing and producing top-tier content. However, there are a handful of musicians that succeeded and offered the world something truly undeniable.
Artists like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Radiohead are some of the most famous and talented musicians in the indie rock category. These bands have a unique sound that makes them some of the best musicians in the genre.
The band Nirvana was formed in 1987 and began as a garage band. This band constantly pushed boundaries with their outfits, their music, and their genre. Plenty of the songs that Nirvana wrote focused on blending grungy, garage band sounds with soft vocals to create anthems, and sad prose, and convey creative messages.
Nirvana was a giant in the indie rock scene and this band paved the way for other bands to thrive.
Arctic Monkeys were formed in 2002 and began making music that embraced sad, contemplative songs. This band originated from England and wrote in many different genres, opting to change their style often to prevent fading into obscurity.
Arctic Monkeys were considered one of the best and most important bands in the age and received plenty of praise via the newly formed internet forums.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers are still making music in 2022, but they were first formed in 1983. Over the last 30 years, this band has embraced dozens of music genres and made music to cater to themselves, their situations, and the lives of their listeners.
Fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are typically also fans of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters. All of these bands are top contenders in the indie music scene and are famous for producing relatable content.
The band Radiohead first began in 1985, and this band was first famous for producing hard rock and rock content. However, Radiohead was a top contender in the indie rock music scene, as well. This band produced a lot of experimental content that may not have sat well with their initial target demographic.
While Radiohead has not broken up, the members are currently working on solo projects, meaning the band will not be producing group content for the time being.
Linkin Park is a famous band and has a massive following for being one of the top musicians in the indie rock music genre. Linkin Park pushed the boundaries of rock music by introducing rapping into their songs, allowing them to embrace a wider audience and experiment with other song structures.
Linkin Park has been a band since 1996, but no longer produces new content. This band suffered the loss of its lead singer, Chester Bennington, in July of 2017.
The History of Indie Rock Music
Indie rock music hit the scene in the 1980s. This music became popular among music lovers but many record labels wouldn’t take chances on the unique sound. Instead, these musicians went to independent labels willing to put themselves on the line for bands that were equally talented and passionate about their new work.
Dozens of famous bands cropped up from this newfound genre. The Smiths, R.E.M., and Nirvana are only some of the headliners of the genre that changed music history forever. More independent labels began to grow, establish themselves in the limelight, and back artists pushed the boundaries on what indie rock music could be.
What Is Indie Rock Music? Final Thoughts
Indie rock music and musicians have morphed into something entirely new from other rock and pop categories. The artists who have worked on indie rock songs offer something soft and unique to preexisting genres to make something entirely their own.
Although there are some defining characteristics of the indie rock genre, there is also some wiggle room. These songs and artists have changed history since the 1980s and brought new sounds to the table that have taken radio stations to a whole new level.