TikTok Has Made Shoegaze Bigger Than Ever

Hendrik Schneider

TikTok Has Made Shoegaze Bigger Than Ever

Hendrik Schneider

How a genre short on hooks, memorable riffs, and magnetic personalities became a defining sound for Gen-Z rock fans

In early 2023, an 18-year-old college student decided to make her first-ever shoegaze song. Her friend sent her a “beat,” a grungy shoegaze instrumental crafted by the producer grayskies, and she spent two hours recording herself singing over it into her phone, using her everyday Apple earbuds as a microphone. No guitars were strummed, and no reverb pedals were stepped on. The next day, she titled the song “Your Face” and uploaded a snippet of it on TikTok, posting under the artist name Wisp. The video gained 100k views overnight, so she made another. That one got 600k views. She made another. That one quickly racked up 1 million views. Soon after, “Your Face” was being streamed millions of times on Spotify, and before Wisp even released a second song, she had signed a deal with Interscope Records.

Fast-forward eight months later and “Your Face” has been streamed nearly 30 million times on Spotify, almost twice as much as My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless closer “Soon.” The official sound snippet has been used in 126k TikTok videos, almost as many as Mitski’s runaway TikTok goliath “Washing Machine Heart” (174k videos). In the real world, Wisp sold-out her first-ever show in less than a half hour, and then her second just as quickly.


This is me if you even care #pou #real #duster

♬ Your face – Wisp

A shoegaze artist signing to a major label, let alone inking a deal after one song, is virtually unheard-of in the genre’s history, and the attention Wisp has received for “Your Face” in such a short amount of time is unprecedented. But these are unprecedented times for shoegaze. Wisp is just one of several shoegaze artists who’ve blown up online in 2023, largely thanks to a colossal interest in shoegaze (and its sibling genre, slowcore) that permeates TikTok and streaming services like Spotify. If you’re a shoegaze fan on the internet, there’s a strong sense that the genre is flourishing, especially with young listeners, and there’s actual data to back that feeling up.

According to statistics Spotify shared with Stereogum, the shoegaze genre has seen a 50% year-over-year increase in streams from November 2022 to 2023, with daily searches for “shoegaze” increasing over 220% globally in that same period. The platform’s flagship shoegaze playlist Shoegaze Now has seen an 800% increase in streams since the start of 2023, and canonical shoegaze bands ranging from the archetypal vets Slowdive to the 2010s cult faves Blue Smiley have seen their monthly listenership increase by 70% and 250%, respectively. And intriguingly, Gen-Z listeners account for over 60% of the most-streamed shoegaze artists on Spotify (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Blue Smiley, etc.), despite only making up a quarter of the platform’s overall users.

Most compelling of all, is that the bulk of shoegaze’s fastest-growing acts are a cadre of super-young artists who most shoegaze fans over the age of 25 have likely never even heard of. All of 2023’s breakout stars are teenage solo artists making music in their bedrooms, bucking the conventional identity of shoegaze as “band”-centric music with a barrier to entry amounting to the cost of a pedalboard and a Jazzmaster guitar. Wisp’s peers in quannnic, flyingfish, and sign crushes motorist have earned even bigger streaming figures than her within the last year, all as solo artists with little-to-no career experience. And while not all of them are interested in relinquishing their independence, the major-labels are a-knockin’.

So how did we get here? How did shoegaze, a genre short on hooks, memorable riffs, and magnetic personalities, that’s carried on as a niche strain of indie music since the initial wave of ‘gazers receded from the limelight in the mid-’90s, suddenly become a defining sound for Gen-Z rock fans? The short and incomplete answer is TikTok. The long answer is more complex.

In 2018, Ian Cohen wrote about the low-key legacy of Duster, “your favorite indie band’s favorite indie band.” Mark Richardson also looked at the unlikely resurgence of the band’s long-forgotten slowcore space voyage, Stratosphere, declaring that Duster (then fresh off a 17-year breakup) “are not, were not, and never will be, a ‘big band.'” At the time, despite a growing reverence for Duster among a new school of indie-rockers, who digitally crate-dug their two albums released to little fanfare in the analog twilight of the late-’90s, no one would’ve argued with Richardson’s assessment. Nothing about Duster’s muggy, slumped-over sound rang of genuine crossover potential. But in 2023, Duster are, improbably, a legitimately big band, and their success is directly related to the boom-time that shoegaze and slowcore (the genres they blur) are currently enduring.

On Oct. 26 of this year, Duster’s 1998 song “Inside Out” — a brisk, smudgy slowcore jaunt with imperceptible lyrics and virtually no dynamic build across its two-and-a-half-minute runtime — was certified Gold by the RIAA. The track has a staggering 179 million Spotify streams, one of nearly a dozen Duster songs with play counts in the tens of millions. Before their internet popularity scaled to unfathomable heights in the 2020s, Duster’s biggest claim to fame was being on Up Records, the same Seattle indie label that launched Modest Mouse. Now, for a generation of music fans coming of age on TikTok — where Duster’s music is omnipresent, and their influence is felt on a legion of breakout stars — “Inside Out” has become to Duster what the Gold-certified breakout “Float On” was to Modest Mouse.

Duster’s head-spinning achievements are remarkable because their scuzzy, downtrodden sound has no comparable ancestors in the annals of commercial rock. But what’s more interesting is that they’re not just benefitting from anomalous, one-off virality. In the past couple years, their music has soared in popularity on TikTok, where videos tagged “#duster” have accumulated 1.3 billion views (roughly the same as the 1.4 billion for “#katebush,” whose “Running Up That Hill” is a quintessential TikTok anthem). The central conundrum of TikTok is that so many different types of songs have achieved “hit”-like ubiquity on the app that predicting sonic trends on there is virtually impossible. And crucially, having one random song go viral on TikTok doesn’t necessarily mean that users on the app actually care about that artist or the genre they inhabit. More often than not, a sound snippet becomes popular because it suits a particular video trend; the actual musical content of the song is reduced to its utility as a soundtrack for the visuals, and any off-platform streams the tune picks up are fleeting.

That’s not the case for Duster. The band have a bevy of beloved songs that have them revving at 4.3m monthly Spotify listeners (more than Modest Mouse!) and a legitimate fanbase on TikTok. Meanwhile, they consistently sell out live shows, and their current label, Numero Group, has pressed 14 different Stratosphere vinyl variants since 2019. The band’s deflated space-rock sound is presently so voguish that even Duster ripoff bands are thriving.

“Duster are my #1 favorite band, ever,” says 18-year-old Liam McCay. “They’re goated, as the kids would say.”

McCay helms the one-man band sign crushes motorist, a project named after a Duster song. He had several tracks take off in 2023, one of which just peaked at #3 on Billboard’s new TikTok Top 50 chart (his Spotify streams have increased a whopping 5900% in the past 12 months). He works out of his bedroom, has no label or manager, and makes muttery, fizzy, lo-fi slowcore that indisputably — and admittedly — worships Duster, a band he discovered while flipping through recommended Spotify songs for an Instagram story.

“I had never really felt that way while listening to music before,” McCay says of the first time he heard Duster. “It was a little safe place for me.”

Now, that safe place has translated into one of the most popular slowcore bands on the internet. Sign crushes motorist’s 2.7 million Spotify Monthly listeners (that’s twice the listenership of Car Seat Headrest, mind you) dwarf the engagement stats of any comparable slowcore band. And that figure doesn’t include any of the dozen-plus side-projects McCay’s dribbled out music under, many of which also sound like Duster. He’s been desperately courted by several major labels, but has no interest in signing to any of them.

Clearly, the Duster sound — a fuzzier, psych-ier, and, at times, shoegaze-ier breed of slowcore compared to genre titans like Codeine, Low, and Bedhead — is hot right now. But Duster and sign crushes motorist’s popularity is only part of the backdrop to this renewed interest in shoegaze. The full picture is much wider than just them.

Two bands who began resonating on TikTok around the same time as Duster are millennial dream-pop magicians Beach House and gauzy alt-metal mavens Deftones. Beach House’s virality on the app actually started back in 2020, and in the last three years, their 2015 dream-pop dollop “Space Song” has become a generational hit, earning Platinum certification in January 2022, and then leap-frogging to double-Platinum earlier this spring, a few months after it was featured in Netflix’s Wednesday series. By that metric, it’s safe to call “Space Song” the most popular dream-pop (shoegaze’s closest sibling genre) song of all time, rivaled only by Cigarettes After Sex’s “Apocalypse,” a 2017 tune that earned double-Platinum status a month after “Space Song.” Those surges in activity can be traced back to TikTok, where other dream-pop vets like Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins have also picked up devotees in recent times (over 60% of Cocteau Twins’ Spotify listeners are Gen-Z).

Beach House have been a pretty big band for about 10 years now — way bigger than Duster ever were, until the last year or two. But even so, both of those groups have remained on indie labels and are part of the broader indie-rock ecosystem. Deftones, on the other hand, are one of the biggest metal bands of the nu-metal era and have been a festival-headlining force in the heavy-music space for over 20 years. Therefore, it’s not surprising that their music picked up steam with Gen-Z fans, especially with the ongoing nu-metal music/fashion renaissance in full swing.

However, on TikTok (where videos tagged “#deftones” have amassed 3.3 billion views), it’s the band’s shoegaze-iest songs that have especially resonated with young listeners — the swooning “Cherry Waves,” the steamy “Sextape,” the Dionysian “Rosemary,” and their Mary Chainsy cover of the Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Several of those were glossed-over Deftones deep cuts until this generation of fans got their ears on them. Now, much like how Pavement’s neglected B-side “Harness Your Hopes” has been recast as a definitive song after taking off on TikTok, Deftones’ shoegaze-y songs — and particularly their ‘gazey 2012 record, Koi No Yokan — are some of their most popular on streaming services. Most importantly, they’re a crucial influence on this emerging era of young ‘gazers.

To be clear, neither Duster, Beach House, nor Deftones are explicitly shoegaze — the genre typified by smeary guitar squalls and celestial vocals bathed in reverb, as pioneered by My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride in the early ’90s, and mutated by several generations of indie bands in the decades since. But those three bands each display shoegaze elements, and collectively, their concurrent popularity has whetted the Gen-Z appetite for a style of music that’s now, almost inarguably, experiencing its most visible era ever.

A time when genre trailblazers Slowdive (also quite popular on TikTok) are selling the most albums of their career, and breaking shoegaze streaming records (their 2023 album, everything is alive, landed at #9 on Spotify’s global Top Debut Albums chart, which Spotify Lead Editor Uriel Waizel calls “unprecedented for a shoegaze album”). A new generation of teenage shoegaze artists are launching careers with major label interest. A robust, cross-continental shoegaze underground is producing some of the most inventive music in the genre’s history. And shoegaze is being simultaneously assimilated into the wider fabric of internet music (check out the many quannnic, flyingfish, and Wisp “type beats” on YouTube) and the broader “alternative” mainstream (peep the 2024 Sick New World Festival lineup, which finds Duster, Slowdive, Drop Nineteens, and quannnic on the same bill with System Of A Down, Alice In Chains, and Slipknot).

All of this is happening contemporaneously with a new wave of American shoegaze bands who I wrote about last year. Those groups — They Are Gutting A Body Of Water, full body 2, Wednesday, etc. — are carrying out the shoegaze renaissance that happened on an underground indie scale throughout America in the 2010s, and the creative contributions they’re making to shoegaze’s sonic lineage are immensely special. However, and this speaks to the sheer vastness of shoegaze’s current landscape, that wave of bands also feels decidedly separate from this crop of TikTok breakouts.

For one, none of those amazing bands have experienced a shred of the internet virality that artists like Wisp and flyingfish have. The latter is a 15-year-old whose first song, the blown-out instrumental shoegaze jog “wonder if u care” —which he made entirely on the digital audio workshop FL Studio, using a midi guitar sampler in place of a physical guitar and drums plucked from a sample pack — amassed thousands of views in the hours after he first uploaded it to TikTok in spring 2023.

Now, “wonder if u care” has been clocked in 212k TikTok videos, has 11 million Spotify streams, and debuted at #25 on Billboard’s TikTok Top 50 chart in October 2023. Like Wisp, that sort of momentum for a shoegaze song is jaw-dropping to observe. Comparatively, Philadelphia futurists They Are Gutting A Body Of Water have a legitimate buzz in the shoegaze zeitgeist (including on TikTok, where their moniker’s hashtag has 301k views), but their most popular song on Spotify has just over a million plays, and their actual profile on TikTok has just 365 followers compared to flyingfish’s 175k.

Surely, the inherent randomness of internet virality and the inscrutable algorithmic hand of both TikTok and Spotify have played a huge role in flyingfish’s unlikely rise to prominence. Likewise, McCay says a “good chunk” of sign crushes motorist’s Spotify streams come from the platform’s auto-play and radio functions, and both his and flyingfish’s music are currently loaded into several of Spotify’s most trafficked “indie” playlists (Lorem, Sad Indie, idk.). But it’s not like TAGABOW’s music is qualitatively incapable of capturing the same audience. As we saw with quannnic’s runaway hit earlier this year, TAGABOW’s — or any other shoegaze artist’s — moment of Billboard-charting fortune could come at any time.

Quannnic is an 18-year-old Floridian artist who, unlike flyingfish, Wisp, and sign crushes motorist, is already in the second act of their music career. They’ve played guitar since age six but started releasing music a few years ago under the tent of digicore, an internet-based sub-genre rooted in the SoundCloud underground that transpired parallel to hyperpop during the 2020 lockdown era. As a young teenager self-producing music in their bedroom, quannnic picked up a decent buzz making bleary, blown-out pop-rap songs in the same world as artists like d0llywood1, quinn, and angelus.

“I think it was really cool that people my age were making something new,” they tell me. “And I wanted to be a part of that.”

But by 2021, they were feeling creatively stifled by that sound and started pivoting to more rock-based styles. Their 2022 debut album, kenopsia, fused together the glitchy vocal effects and stomping-on-a-plastic-bottle synth drums of digicore; the misty guitar plumes of traditional shoegaze and the throttling crunch of Deftones-y nu-gaze; and a singing delivery that rested between an emo-rap bleat and a shoegaze murmur. The album, independently released in February 2022 when quannnic was 17 and later reissued via deadAir, didn’t move the needle out the gate. But in early 2023, the album track “life imitates life” — an angsty, stormy shoegaze rager that sounds like cyborgian Deftones trapped in a PS2 game — suddenly came alive on TikTok.

Unlike Wisp and flyingfish, who were uploading their music directly to TikTok from the start, quannnic wasn’t very active on the app until they noticed “life imitates life” had been used to soundtrack about 2,000 videos. The puzzlement quickly turned to shock as the song’s popularity exploded, and now it’s become a bona fide shoegaze hit with a stranglehold on TikTok, over 30 million Spotify streams, and a prestigious Billboard certificate. On Nov. 8, the same week quannnic dropped their new, much less ‘gazey (and much better) album, Stepdream, “life imitates life” debuted at #23 on the Hot Hard Rock Songs chart, where Wisp’s “Your Face” recently hit #10 in between songs by Staind and Bring Me The Horizon. Quannnic doesn’t know how to feel about any of this.

“It was just really weird to me that something I made when I was 16 could get this much attention now,” they say. “It impacted the way I make music. It got a lot more stressful.”

What makes this all so strange is that none of these young artists were trying to make music that was popular. And even if they were, outside of Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins, and Hum’s sole Billboard cracker, “Stars” — three bands whose music rubs shoulders with shoegaze, but are not themselves shoegaze — there’s no history of the eternally marginal (or so we thought) shoegaze genre on these above-ground charts, especially in America. It all becomes even crazier when you dissect the bizarre conflux of influences that quannnic, flyingfish, and Wisp are pulling from.

Quannnnic’s creative path closely mirrors the trajectory of their friend and labelmate Jane Remover, a 20-year-old who also got their start in digicore and has since progressed into making what’s essentially inverted post-rock; moving out of electronic-based music and into traditional rock, thus arriving at a similar cross-genre nexus as post-rock progenitors like Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis, but from the opposite direction. Her new album Census Designated assembles pitch-corrected vocal mews, digicore cadences, blue-light synth squeals, clattering digi-drums, and dirgey guitar wails to create a sort of disembodied version of shoegaze. Jane’s music is slightly more sophisticated and heady than quannnic’s, and while she has a respectable fanbase she’s happy with, she has only a fraction of the streaming engagement (163k Spotify monthly listeners — which, before this boom time, would’ve been a very impressive figure for a young shoegaze act).

Jane, quannnic, and flyingfish — through the latter’s transparent use of midi instruments, which is out of necessity since he doesn’t play guitar, but yields artistic results — are playing with sounds that are quite novel within the Western shoegaze lineage, but are already well-established in the East Asian shoegaze scene. The influence of Korean one-man shoegaze auteur Parannoul is particularly heavy. His cult-adored 2021 debut, To See The Next Part Of The Dream, uses only midi instruments — and vocals recorded on a Galaxy S5 smartphone! — to unleash a downpour of lo-fi shoegaze that’s both caustic and brittle, panoramic and intimate. Pay close attention to the clipping low-end of Parannoul’s computerized sound, and you’ll notice the same artificial rumble in quannnic, Jane, and flyingfish’s work.

Quannnic also namedrops the Japanese Vocaloid shoegaze compilation mikgazer vol. 1, which throws the voice of Hatsune Miku, a Japanese digital popstar created using the singing-synthesizer software Vocaloid, over a variety of shoegaze compositions made from various Vocaloid musicians. Rate Your Music denizens have dubbed this the 11th greatest shoegaze album of all time, slotting right between the debuts from My Bloody Valentine and Parannoul. Fittingly, mikgazer’s first song, Nekobolo’s brilliantly absorbing “嘘と絵画,” blurs MBV-ish chord progressions with the crushed, clanking synth drums Parannoul would run with a decade later. Among the heads of zoomer-gaze, whose maverick tastemaking on RYM and Reddit wafts onto TikTok, bands like Candy Claws, Panchiko, and Sweet Trip — whose heavy use of synths and digital effects are as crucial to the songs as the signature shoegaze guitars — have become just as important to shoegaze’s DNA, if not moreso, than the Creation Records classics.

Beyond their sonic influence, what Parannoul and mikgazer have done is show a new generation of ‘gazers that analog instruments aren’t needed to make shoegaze, which could either be viewed as a novel evolution or a polarizing regression. Clearly, as the popularity of Wisp and flyingfish’s music has demonstrated, young listeners don’t care if their shoegaze was made with “authentic” instruments. Even sign crushes motorist poo-poos slowcore’s conventional rockism by using digital plugins instead of real-life pedals, and records his guitar directly into a free DAW called Waveform. quannnic used plenty of digital instruments on kenopsia, but they’re actually a bit of a purist about using real guitar to make their shoegaze flurries. They were “shocked” to learn not a single guitar was strummed on Parannoul’s debut, and are skeptical of an increased reliance on midi chord packs.

“I hate to be a boomer and be like, ‘Oh, midi guitars are not real music,'” they say. “But it’s just people using chord packs to make the same song over and over again.”

A few years ago, many of the most prominent shoegaze bands were taking full advantage of today’s state-of-the-art audio equipment (light years ahead of the analog programs that shoegaze’s originators had to work with) to produce the glassiest, crispest, most wide-angle shoegaze albums possible. In 2023, the shoegaze that’s really popping off is distinctly lo-fi and homemade, and the technology that’s being embraced is of the home-studio variety. Now, a random teenager with a basic DAW can craft a Billboard-charting shoegaze song with their mouse and keys.

However, what makes this new guard even more fascinating is how their humble production quality and post-internet influences are colliding with above-ground rock and a distinctly American strain of shoegaze colloquially known as “nu-gaze,” a heavier, grungier, more metallic form of shoegaze rooted in ’90s rock. In other words, the Deftones side of the Deftones-Duster continuum. Quannnic says they were listening to a lot of Deftones and Paramore while making “life imitates life,” which has the same grungy, molten shoegaze density as many of the best songs on Jane Remover’s Census Designated.

The swaggering velocity of big-room rock also has an indelible thumbprint on Wisp’s pounding “Your Face,” and that strain of shoegaze, while maybe foreign to listeners whose genre reference points are the docile Slowdive and blissful Lush, is especially popular with the TikTok-era crowd. Beyond Deftones, modern nu-gaze bands like Fleshwater and Glare are popping off, and so are their direct ancestors from the early 2010s, when this convergence of brooding grunge riffs and chiming shoegaze effects made an unexpected return in the American underground. Both Basement and Superheaven (who quannnic name as an influence) are experiencing a retroactive resurgence thanks to their 10-year-old songs going TikTok viral, “Covet” and “Youngest Daughter,” respectively. (“Youngest Daughter,” released in 2013 when Superheaven were headlining 250-cap rooms at best, now sits at #3 on Billboard’s Hot Hard Rock Songs chart.) Neither are shoegaze, exactly, but they inform the angsty snarl of Fleshwater and Narrow Head — all part of the TikTok-era alt-rock soup that Deftones, Midwest emo, hardcore, Paramore circa “Decode,” and now shoegaze are simmering in.

That flavor palette is baked into the sound of emerging shoegaze soloist Novulent, whose 2023 single “savior” is having a moment on TikTok (34k videos, and marked “Popular” by the app). Dark, sexy, and pained, with filmic Auto-Tune on the vocals, suffocating drums that sound synthetic, and crushing shoegaze guitars, “savior” is a paradigmatic 2023 shoegaze song — especially for the way it’s being used on TikTok.

In one popular video, the track’s explosive climax soundtracks an iconic anti-drunk driving commercial where beer waterfalls out of the perpetrator’s car door. In “savior” and other nu-gaze songs, the moment when sweltering tension gets released is the portion that TikTokers reach for. Gushes of ear-bleeding shoegaze guitar are perfect for dramatizing a face-filter, soundtracking a moody carousel, or even melo-dramatizing a stuffed animal sulking on a shower floor.

Such tree-falling shoegaze crashes are often associated with the music of Whirr, a quasi-canceled millennial band who’re fiercely beloved by Gen-Z gazers. Wisp, whose Instagram handle is “whirrwhore4lyfe,” says Whirr are masters of “the part [in a song] where you kind of feel the drop and all the instruments work so perfectly.” It’s interesting to see shoegaze songs be partitioned into “drops,” the same way people pinpoint the fist-pumping climax of a techno or dubstep song; genres that provide club-goers with the service of rhythm, facilitating a functional relationship between song and dancer that feels out-of-sync with the historically aloof, album-oriented rockism of shoegaze.

In fact, all of this shoegaze chatter on TikTok — an app rooted in a culture of song and dance — feels a little uncanny. At least in the rock space, artists who post and promote their music directly on the app are seen as hacky by much of the indie-rock bohemia. On some level, a shoegaze artist encouraging a video trend feels asymmetrical with the head-in-the-knobs shyness of the genre’s character. Quannnic and sign crushes motorist are both tacitly grateful yet vocally ambivalent toward the shoegaze “scene” on TikTok — a domain where Duster are incessantly memed as depression-core, and quannnic is both eagerly celebrated and also blamed for the “type beat” detritus that’s arriving in “life imitates life”‘s wake.

Wisp, who was merely a shoegaze scholar before she fell into making it herself, understands where people are coming from when they bemoan some of shoegaze TikTok’s more irritating factions. But overall, she’s a defender of the platform, and is simply happy to see so many people enjoying the genre she’s loved throughout her teenage years.

“There was a period in my career where I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t know if I want to post on TikTok anymore,'” Wisp tells me. “But I think you just have to get past that whole, ‘TikTok is cringey’ or ‘I don’t want to be an artist who posts on TikTok’ and kind of just take advantage of how big the platform is, and how many people are appreciating and loving shoegaze on TikTok right now.”

Quannnic’s more skeptical. Their new album Stepdream draws as much influence from Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley as it does Parannoul, and they were intentionally “trying to make it sound unlikeable to the people that like only ‘life imitates life,'” they say. Even though they’re the direct beneficiary of all this hype, they’re not sure how much longer shoegaze will remain at this fever pitch unless the sound mutates yet again in 2024.

“I think that if it continues to be unique then it will hang on for a couple more years,” they muse. “But if it’s just the same ‘quannnic type beats,’ I think people will get bored of that really quick. And I feel like people are [already] getting bored of it.”

To play devil’s advocate a bit, are we witnessing the shoegaze equivalent to what Candlebox and Bush were to grunge? The bands who came along after the alt-rock pioneers who grinded for a decade with diminishing returns, fortuitously swooping in on an already-primed audience and rocketing to major-label status without having to “prove themselves” in the traditional indie-rock way? Are we headed for a wave of opportunistic interlopers with commercial ambitions who’ll jump on this trend and run away with the money? If music history is any guide, then yes. But I don’t think any of these artists — quannnic, Wisp, flyingfish, and sign crushes motorist — are playing that game.

Chiefly, I don’t sense a hunger to sell out here. McCay told me bluntly why a major label is of no use to sign crushes motorist or any of his other projects, much to the dismay of the A&Rs who’ve banged his line. “They offer two things: an advance and marketing, and I don’t need either of those,” he says with a shrug. Wisp ended up signing (and she feels very “secure” with that decision), but she seems most excited to use her newfound spotlight to put on for younger bands who’ve yet to break. I didn’t get a whiff of rockstar ambition throughout our conversation.

With Stepdream, quannnic could’ve churned out a full album’s worth of “life imitates life” (a request they get from rando TikTokers on the daily) but instead swerved in a more collegiate singer-songwriter direction. And flyingfish is openly disappointed in the quality of his discography and wants to make something that will “influence music for generations to come.” Not just relish his algorithmic privilege and churn out hollow playlist fodder for easy checks.

Wherever shoegaze ends up in the years to come, I’m inclined to be excited by the youthful optimism Wisp displays about this extraordinary moment in the genre’s history — trend-hoppers and corporate stooges be damned.

“I definitely think that this newer shoegaze generation is bringing in a lot of fans who will be here forever,” she says, smiling. “And I can tell that they love shoegaze just as much as the artists do.”

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