Last week, Jack Antonoff gave a fascinating interview in which he discussed the elements of a perfect pop song. “Anything I’ve done that I felt was great started with a big concept,” he says. “You start with the concept and build from there, whether it’s a beat or a guitar part.” Antonoff could be describing “We Are Young,” the breakthrough hit for his band fun., or any number of songs by Taylor Swift and Lorde that he’s co-written. He could also be talking about Days Are Gone, the winning 2013 debut album by Haim.
Like Antonoff, the trio of Haim sisters — Danielle, Alana, and Este — are pivotal figures in the most important music story of the decade, which is the non-hostile takeover of the indie underground by the pop mainstream. In the early ’10s, after the term “indie” had been all but rendered meaningless as a signifier of financial independence from corporations, it finally also lost symbolic meaning as (to use another outmoded word) an “alternative” to pop with the rise of a new generation of artists and listeners that refused to make “snobby” distinctions between high art and mass commerce.
No longer would indie musicians stand in opposition to glossy music made by millionaires and consumed by the hoi polloi; they would now adopt those sounds as a new sonic blueprint upon which to make their own songs, and merge them with all of the regular indie-rock reference points. If indie music in the ’80s and ’90s had been guided by an “either/or” principle that disrupted the mainstream from the bottom up, the new M.O. was “all of the above,” which ultimately swallowed the underground whole. It was now a post-snob world.
When Days Are Gone came out (along with other crucial post-snob touchstones released around the same time, including Lorde’s Pure Heroine and The 1975’s self-titled debut), it represented a culmination of this philosophical shift. Equally conversant in Fleetwood Mac, Rihanna, Fiona Apple, and Wilson Phillips, Haim epitomized the “all of the above” ethos, pulling freely from all eras of music no matter their generational associations or worrisome historical/critical baggage. Listening to Days Are Gone, it suddenly seemed perfectly reasonable to hear a Steely Dan guitar solo in the middle of a bouncy, Whitney Houston-style pop jam. These were young women who could rock like cool dads; they were also classic-rock heads whose favorite rock star was Beyonce. That was the “big concept” of Days Were Gone: Music culture from now on will no longer be stratified.