In 2012, a 13-year-old Massachusetts girl uploaded her first cover, a Maroon 5 song.
In 2017, she went viral.
In 2020, she is scheduled to play alongside acts like Tame Impala and MGMT. She has already supported superstars like Khalid and Dua Lipa on national tours and has even finished her own headlining North American tour.
Claire E. Cottrill hails from Carlisle, Massachusetts. At 13, she began to teach herself guitar from YouTube videos and uploaded covers to Bandcamp, Soundcloud and YouTube under aliases Clairo and DJ Baby Benz. She even performed for local businesses and at local shows. For a long time, she went mostly unnoticed, and YouTube became a “secret space” for her, a place for her to post an assortment of low-quality covers and half-finished projects.
Things changed in 2017 with “Pretty Girl.” It’s not much more than a laptop video of a girl in her childhood room, dancing loosely to her own lo-fi bedroom pop song. That’s exactly what’s so charming about it. She sits in bed, singing into her headphone’s microphone, holding figurines and a Dunkin coffee. Clairo’s first big song, “Pretty Girl” is about a relationship where one person loses themselves trying to please the other,“I could be a pretty girl/ shut up when you want me to.” The video is the perfect “screw you” to such an ideal. Clairo goes on to say in the description, “on the day i made this, my hair was greasy, my skin was bad, i had nothing to wear, and i didn’t want to leave bed.” She didn’t care though and she had fun anyways. She was unabashedly herself and content with it. The bridge of the song shows this change of heart, “I’m alone now but it’s better for me/ I don’t need all your negativity.”
Today, “Pretty Girl” has over 47 million views. It was initially released as part of a cassette compilation through “The Le Sigh,” a blog devoted to female and non-binary artists. A few months after its posting and by the time Clairo had arrived at Syracuse University as a freshman, it had hit one million views and continued climbing.
Also in 2017, a few months before “Pretty Girl,” Clairo was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This makes it difficult for her to move, flaring up at times, especially in her knees. This past week, on March 18, it was World Juvenile Arthritis Day and Clairo spread the message on Instagram.
In the months following her online explosion, everyone – the press, classmates, even big record companies like RCA and Columbia – were reaching out to Clairo. Ultimately, she signed with FADER label.
Notably, her father Geoff Cottrill, is a marketing executive, having held top positions at Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Converse. He was one of the executives behind Rubber Tracks, a recording space owned by Converse where bands could apply to record for free. Conveniently, he has also worked professionally and is family friends with Jon Cohen, co-founder of FADER and Cornerstone, the company’s marketing agency. This led to claims of Clairo being an industry plant. Clairo dismissed this as sexist, and saw an opportunity to “grow as an artist more than as a commodity.” She also acquired Pat Corcoran, Chance the Rapper’s manager, as a manager through Jon Cohen. Industry plant or not, she got very big very fast, partially attributed to the digital age we are in and partially due to big connections.
Following her freshman year of university, on May 25, 2018, Clairo’s debut record, “Diary 001,”was released, an EP of six songs. It opens with “Hello?” featuring Irish rapper Rejjie Snow, and of course features “Pretty Girl.” Other notable hits include soft, sultry “Flaming Hot Cheetos” and groovy “4EVER.”
That same month, she announced a summer tour supporting Dua Lipa, spanning the U.S. and Canada. Also that May, Clairo came out as bisexual in a tweet: “‘B.O.M.D.’ is also ‘G.O.M.D.’ for ur information.” “B.O.M.D.” stands for boy of my dreams, a song off of “Diary 001.”
Her first big headlining show followed in July, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. It sold out weeks in advance. In the following October, she performed at Lollapalooza and the next year, at Coachella.
Almost exactly a year from her debut EP, on May 24, 2019, Clairo released “Bags,” the first single from her debut album “Immunity,” which followed in August. The album was co-produced by Clairo herself and former Vampire Weekend member Rostam.
“Immunity”drops the bedroom from bedroom pop, but continues to explore themes of self-discovery, romance and struggle, while still keeping to Clairo’s indie roots. Opening track “Alewife” quietly describes the suicidal thoughts of an eighth-grade Clairo, “In Massachusetts, only thirty minutes from Alewife/ I lay in my room/ Wonderin’ why I’ve got this life” and a friend’s help during that time, “But you know you saved me from doin’/ Something to myself that night.” “Bags,” Clairo explains, is the story of her first romantic experience with a girl. “Pardon my emotions/ I should probably keep it all to myself/ Know you’d make fun of me,” she sings almost happily as she pines line after line over an unmentioned girl. The album is made of simple keyboard and guitar riffs and angst-filled teenage girl lyrics that will be stuck in your head for weeks.
Following her summer tour with Khalid, Clairo headlined her own North American tour in the fall of 2019. While I had heard of her and had heard more songs of hers than I probably realized, I didn’t quite get the charm and the hype until I saw her at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. She could command the whole room by just standing still, her voice and guitar doing all of the work.
Although the dates are currently being rescheduled due to our current state of affairs, Clairo can be found at some point in the coming months on tour with Tame Impala and MGMT.
Madison Cushing can be reached at [email protected]