When I first found out about the “industry plant” theory concerning Clairo on Facebook then Reddit, I was shocked. Not because it was the first time I had ever heard of the term, a bit taken aback by its notion of conspiracy, but because… well, the words might have some truth to them.
Here was a teen who shot to viral stardom, landed a record deal, and for what? Quirky relatability? The whole situation was absurd, one that had to be the byproduct of connection and privilege considering her dime-a-dozen bedroom-pop sound and Emma Chamberlain branding.
Each review I read seemed to blow this singer’s capabilities out of proportion, the words becoming a spectacle of “poptimism” rather than genuine critique (I remember how Sarah Geffen’s review for Pitchfork raised my eyebrows, somehow labeling Clairo’s vocals “flat” and “on-key” at the same time).
But this is in no shape or form yet another poptimist review; I haven’t become the very thing I started to loathe when I first read pieces on Clairo, seeming to abound with gratuitous praise and “fanboy” or “fangirl” blindness. Because on “Immunity,” the singer finally finds her own sound and own story to tell, proving she’s worthy of every word of praise to come.
Even from the start with the opener “Alewife,” you can hear Clairo becoming more confident in her own skin as the song itself unravels alongside her anxiety. What starts off as an intimate piano ballad of eighth-grade grievances, an all-too-familiar struggle of queer self-acceptance, evolves into a liberating freeway drive beneath the night, accompanied by the edgy grumbles of the bass and satellite arpeggios of a synth.
Make no mistake, though — “Alewife” is the rule, not the exception, in how tracks on “Immunity” are dynamic, breaking free from the expectations listeners have about a track’s roadmap. Despite its adolescent tropes of insecurity and lyrical clichés (“Know it like the back of my hand”), the Amy-Winehouse groove of “Impossible” also morphs, broken up by pockets of intimate confessions before resigning to lighthearted “Sunday Candy” piano chords and laughter.
Other tracks — “Closer To You,” “North,” “Bags” — rely more on Clairo’s lyrical prose to propel the story forward. On the former, a woozy, trap beat remains stagnant as an auto-tuned Clairo navigates the ebb-and-flow of love, how feelings fluctuate so easily with the micro-aggressions and micro-gratifications of technology: “Shut up, don’t wanna hear it, now I’m fed up / Wish I could say it was enough to make me walk away.”
“North” and “Bags,” on the other hand, is not so much about a paradoxical dichotomy as it is about lyrical idiosyncrasies, the minutia of a relationship that is often taken for granted yet makes it seem cinematic — from the lingering “scent” of love to the indelible touch of “fingertips on [your] back” — and the anxiety to find real connection in a world shielded by screens.
Taking a punch at Netflix-and-chill culture, the lines “Every minute counts / I don’t wanna watch TV anymore, yeah” have a sort of let’s-just-cut-the-bullshit attitude to them, vying for heart-to-hearts rather than stale-popcorn binges.
There are times, contrarily, when Clairo’s charm becomes steeped in redundancy. The stories of “Softly” and “Sofia” read like iterations of the same profession of love directed towards the same crush, characterized by a fading reluctance to act upon true feelings and distinguished only by their sonic landscapes — syncopated and stumbling guitar plucks reflective of a hesitant mind on the former, and Clairo’s tried-and-true bedroom-pop vibe garbled up in static for Dance-It-Out sessions on the latter.
“White Flag” and “Feel Something” also suffer the same fate thematically, both tracks addressing the end of a relationship but merely in two different stages of grief that have already been spliced together through Lorde’s “Hard Feelings / Loveless.”
The true beauty of “Immunity,” however, lies within her vulnerability, the way its expression transcends different atmospheres, best encapsulated through the last two tracks. Helplessness permeates the ironically-laid-back production of “Sinking” as she pleads to know, “Is it my doing?” throughout the chorus against a backdrop of soothing ooh’s and a hushed bass line, but even as a wistful smile starts to form in the piano of “I Wouldn’t Ask You,” Clairo’s fragility is still there, unforced.
Initially, sentiments of unworthiness fill the air between the sparse piano chords, phrases of “I wouldn’t ask you to take care of me” that Clairo can’t even bring herself to finish while the children’s choir gradually takes over, but then everything changes.
Despite the suicidal thoughts of “Alewife” and the nostalgic tears of “Feel Something,” bright piano flourishes enable Clairo to sing with an innocent hope at the end of the album’s closer, the words “We could be so strong” defying the tragedies of the past with a beaming confidence for the future. And perhaps that is what “Immunity” is to Clairo: not putting up some facade of strength in the face of fear and melancholia, but feeling every moment and still moving forward with child-like joy.
(Album rating: 7.8)