Mass Romantics: Grappling with Genre in 2000s Indie Rock
In the early 2000s, popular music’s indie rock genre reached unprecedented levels of commercial success: on the sales and singles charts, in television ads and programs, on music and pop-culture websites, at sold-out music festivals. This thesis builds on the work of Wendy Fonarow, whose assessment of indie rock's fundamental tension between "Puritanism" and "Romanticism" offers a starting point from which to address the genre’s cultural ascendancy and evolution in the early twenty-first century. Inspired in no small part by the age of digital consumption, the balance between indie rock Puritanism and Romanticism shifted in the early twenty-first century in favour of Romanticism. This shift in genre culture helps illuminate how indie rock managed to infiltrate popular culture so thoroughly in the 2000s, but it also challenges indie rock’s traditional boundaries. Through a general overview of these developments and two detailed case studies—one on Kelly Clarkson’s indie-sounding pop hit “Since U Been Gone,” the other on indie rock’s surprising embrace of Bruce Springsteen as an influence—this project assesses the changing state of indie rock in the digital age and the implications raised by the weakening of its antagonism towards mainstream culture.