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Paramount Theatre sees an evolved Clairo for Sling North American tour

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Clairo — Photo by Kylin Brown
Clairo — Photo by Kylin Brown

Last Wednesday, Seattle's Paramount Theatre was formally introduced to a young artist reborn. Presenting her sophomore album, Sling, Clairo and her six-person accompaniment graced the century-old stage, all clad in concert attire. Together, they brought Clairo's unexpectedly uncommercial folk tracks to life for a mostly seated yet passionate audience.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

Clairo's fast-track discography
In 2017, a bedroom music video titled "Pretty Girl" presented 19-year-old Claire Cottrill —under the digital moniker "Clairo" — lip-synching gentle, sarcastic lyrics over a self-produced beat. Her airy voice, messy hair, and humble, everygirl vibe seemed to charm the internet almost overnight, garnering a million views in under a week.

The rest is history. Gen Z's revival of 2010's lo-fi spin-off "bedroom pop" genre has remained trending across streaming platforms, and viral Clairo was quick to land a record deal with Fader Label.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

Regarded then as an ambassador for at-home producers and yearning teenagers alike, Cottrill continued to produce reliably openhearted, dreamy hits, such as "Flaming Hot Cheetos," "Bubblegum," and the Bisexual anthem "Sofia" (which now has 403 million streams on Spotify alone).

Cottrill's 2019 album Immunity with Fader would secure her spot as a bona fide indie star, demonstrating her full potential with studio-level production. That October, she brought her dewy, yearning vocals to a crowd of mostly teens (and me, her age, feeling kind of tall) at Showbox SoDo.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

After that show, I asked Cottrill if she was going out to see Seattle at all during her one-night stay. "The bus leaves at 5 a.m. Of course I'm going out," she replied earnestly. "Where should I go?" ("The Unicorn," answered a bubbly gaggle of genderqueer teens beside me.)

I assume from her response that 2019 Clairo normally went out for drinks and late-night adventure after her shows, potentially until the early hours of the morning. However, I'm less certain about the Clairo that released Sling last July and performed her own full-band composition, "Joanie," in a blazer and slacks at the Paramount on March 23.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

In the Sling era, Clairo has turned her back on fast-paced youth, embracing the harshness of adult reality. The lead track, "Blouse," describes a wasted meeting she'd experienced with a male colleague. "Why should I tell you how I feel / When you're too busy looking down my blouse?"

Onstage, she dueted the tactful ballad with opener Arlo Parks, a British Best New Artist nominee whose voice surprisingly took on the soprano to Cottrill's alto for the track. In the album, these same haunting back vocals come from indie pop star Lorde.

Almost antithetical to her formerly sweet, high-pitched, and submissive crush stories, like "Bubblegum" and "2 Hold U," the songs of Sling are clarion memoirs of pastoral domesticity and an ultra-self-aware coming of age.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

Pandemic-induced metamorphosis
During the early pandemic, Cottrill, like thousands of early-twentysomethings, retreated to her family home. In a recent newsletter, she said that her time back home was necessary for her to embrace themes she was previously reluctant to probe, such as "motherhood, sexualization, mental health, and a lot of... mistakes and regrets."

Then, like a considerable fraction of people did in 2020 as well, she rescued a puppy. Raising Joanie, named after Joni Mitchell, became the cornerstone of Cottrill's inspiration for her latest album. "By getting Joanie, I realized that domestic life is very comforting for me and a huge chunk of what was missing," she said in a 2021 interview with NME.

She then recorded Sling in upstate New York's Allaire Studios, a secretive spot used by the folk-rock giants of the '70s, which many believed had closed permanently. The record's layered vocal harmonies, bluesy electric guitar, and woodwind features indicated that the artist would no longer fit in a venue like SoDo's Showbox.

Photo by Kylin Brown  

On this tour for Sling, Cottrill has leapt off of the narrow yet safe internet asteroid on which she found fame, and landed in a defiant atmosphere of '70s-esque indie folk. While many of her young fans might not relate, I witnessed a chaperoning parent wipe a tear from her eyes in a row below mine during the lullaby of motherly rumination that is "Reaper."

Deep instrumentals in songs like "Wade" and "Zinneas" transported the audience to something like a jazz café, revealing the depths of a maturing folk musician. Meanwhile, Cottrill' held winced brows as she fell into guitar riffs and closed her eyes to belt out all the right notes. Her passionate performance was convincing, and she only briefly conceded to her baseline shy-girl energy to admit, "Sorry, I'm totally freaking out right now," and to use fan-favorites "Pretty Girl" and "Sofia" as her finale.

We all changed during these last two years — perhaps with a sudden switch in careers, mental health, or communities — but no artist has allowed these developments to shine through like Clairo did with this album and tour performance. Spectators at the Paramount all left with deeper impressions of the artist and her life and music than those with which they arrived.