In Defense of Twee: An Unironic Indie-Pop Lifestyle Guide

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A few years ago, the always insightful music critic Nitsuh Abebe wrote an in-depth piece titled “Twee as Fuck” in which he proclaimed that “indie pop is not just ‘indie’ that is ‘pop.'” He went on to say that very few people knew this, or even cared. Though we agree that most people, even big music fans, are seriously uninformed about cultural history of “indie pop,” or “twee,” we aren’t so sure that it’s because they don’t care. Over and over, we see “twee” come up in cultural discussions, usually when it’s being used as an insult, or berated as an aesthetic. In any case, it’s almost always oversimplified. See, for example, a recent Thought Catalog piece by former Hipster Runoff model Bebe Zeva, where she instructs readers on “How To Be Twee,” based on the most basic and stereotypical ideas of what that means.

Now, it seems to us that the hatred of twee culture stems from its connection with “cuteness,” a trait that is generally linked closely with the concept of femininity. It’s a little concerning that this “feminine” subculture is treated with such derision. Twee was popular in the early ’90s, as was riot grrrl. They both put stock in a DIY, punk aesthetic, were grassroots and fan-fueled, and, in their own ways, both fought against gender norms. Though riot grrrl was more obvious in its loud protest of women’s subjugation in both in the music industry and the world, twee attacked gender roles more subtly. Twee suggested that it’s all right for people, including straight men, to be as cutesy as they want to be and not always adhere to the restraints of masculinity. With that in mind, and just in time for the NYC Popfest, Flavorpill presents an alternative guide to being Twee As Fuck. After the jump, we go far deeper into twee than posting a sepia-tone picture on your Tumblr.

Make a “Twee As Fuck” T-Shirt

Not every indie-pop fan has to look the part, but if you’re going out to see a wonderful neo-twee band like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (who are playing at Cake Shop this Thursday as a part of the NYC Popfest), it’s an awesome way to get in the spirit. Twee style covers a wide range but focuses on thrifted, stylishly mismatched outfits in pastel colors with motifs like cherries, candy, and kittens. Above all, a DIY aesthetic defines twee fashion, which can be easily attained by making yourself a “Twee As Fuck” T-shirt. These shirts were pretty popular back in the ’90s, and they are certainly a convenient way to circumvent the “what kind of music do you like” conversation and attract people who are into same things as you. And they’re great conversation starters!

Listen to the right music

Obviously, twee was a subculture based around a musical genre. There are three waves of twee, as far as we are concerned: “original” late-’80s to early-’90s twee, which tweaked punk styles into pop, later ’90s twee like Belle & Sebastian which expanded on early twee, and the “revival” twee that we’ve seen grow popular in the last few years. Among the OGs of twee, a few essential bands are The Wedding Present, Heavenly, Tiger Trap, and Talulah Gosh. This music frequently sounded intentionally amateurish, like it might fall apart at any time. Nevertheless, these bands’ music was catchy, fun, and different from anything that had come before. After they had established the indie pop aesthetic, bands like Belle and Sebastian, Tullycraft, and The Lucksmiths were able to bring along fuller arrangements with more instruments, and a more careful and less punk-influenced sound. Finally, over the past few years we’ve seen a resurgence of twee-influenced bands, like Camera Obscura and Allo Darlin’, along with bands who infuse twee spirit into more experimental music, like Architecture in Helsinki.

Start your own zine

In the tradition of the punk scene, most indie-pop kids in the ’90s found out about new music and found each other through self-made zines. Despite the rise of Tumblr, etc., zines are experiencing a resurgence in recent years, and are a hell of a lot easier to make than they used to be now that everyone owns a computer. It’s a fun and empowering way to write about whatever you want, and see your words in print rather than on a screen. The neo-twee-turned-rock band Los Campesinos! recently started their own zine, Heat Rash, as a creative way to deal with the decline of record sales and connect with their fans in a unique way. You and your band could be next!

Have a tea party

Tea is definitely in line with the twee spirit, especially considering many original twee bands are from the UK, and particularly Scotland. And come on, tea and twee rhyme. You may as well be having a twee party.

Make a mixtape

Tapes were a huge part of twee culture: both fan-made tapes and official tapes which were released by twee labels in the ’90s. The mixtape released by NME in the mid-’80s, C86 , which featured bands like The Wedding Present and The Pastels, was so influential that the title became a shorthand for the genre it would help spawn. Later, when twee had spread to the United States, indie-pop fans would commonly spread their love of the genre through compilation tapes with hand-drawn art made for their friends. The trend is referenced in the first line of the genre-defining song “Twee” by Tullycraft: “Well she wakes up every morning to the sound of Sarah Records/On a compilation tape her friend had sent to her from Paris.”

Get wrapped up in books

At some point, twee culture and nerd culture converged, perhaps because they were both qualities that were seen as effeminate and alienating. Therefore, being literate is a great way to participate in twee culture. Bands like Belle and Sebastian and The Lucksmiths make constant literary references and use intricate wordplay in their lyrics, making reading a particularly pronounced aspect of twee culture. There’s even a (pretty great) EP by Belle & Sebastian EP called Books. You can always get a head start on this trend by picking up the 33 1/3 book on Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister by Pitchfork writer Scott Plagenhoef.