There’s something in the air. It’s something that seems more innocent but also grimy. It’s the Wolf Parade needle drop in that episode of The Dropout, It’s the slow creep of American Apparel onesies back into wardrobes. It’s the return of “indie sleaze.”
“Indie sleaze” is a term that’s been popping up in the internet lexicon recently. It’s been defined for Gen Z on TikTok and is the subject of a popular Instagram account. Spotify has published an “indie sleaze” playlist. In Allison P. Davis’ much-shared New York Magazine piece about how we’re headed toward a “vibe shift,” she wrote that trend forecaster Sean Monahan “thinks the new vibe shift could be the return of early-aughts indie sleaze.”
But what exactly is indie sleaze? As with most vague trends, indie sleaze means different things to different people. Generally, it’s an aesthetic that took hold in the early aughts and lasted through about the end of that decade. If you’re a late millennial in a major metropolitan area it will probably make you think of high school or college, drinking Sparks and listening to MIA’s Arular, You might have attended a Misshapes set. you bought nylon magazine. You wore bright hoodies and headbands and gold lamé shorts. You read Hipster Runoff.
Olivia, who asked for her last name not to be used, started regularly posting to the “indiesleaze” Instagram account sometime around January 2021, seeing a revival on the horizon. “I had a hunch that there would be renewed interest in bloghouse and electroclash and new rave due to where we’re at in music trends,” she tells Thrillist. “It’s an aesthetic that hasn’t really been revisited yet or neatly defined, which made it all the more interesting for me to explore.”
On her account, Olivia posts pictures from the era: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs makes frequent appearances; Kate Moss is there; paparazzi shots from when Drew Barrymore was dating Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes dot the page. She also links out to her playlist of “indie sleaze” music—certainly not the only one circulating. Matthew Perpetua, a music journalist who runs Fluxblog, recently posted “This Is Indie Sleaze 2002-2008,” which he describes as “a tighter, more historically accurate version of someone else’s idea.”
So perhaps you’re now ready to put on your oversized glasses and neon-colored tights and immerse yourself in the world of indie sleaze. Here’s where to begin. Just remember: If you take issue with the definition, indie sleaze means different things to different people, even the ones trying to define it. And if you feel like you have a hangover after reading, it simply can’t be helped.