Subverting Expectations: Wet Leg, TikTok, and the Refreshing Originality of a Band Just Having a Bit of Fun

Wet Leg © Hollie Fernando
Wet Leg © Hollie Fernando
Amidst a sea of nepotism babies and industry plants, Isle of Wight’s Wet Leg have swum their way to the surface seemingly overnight. But what sets them apart from their conference room curated counterparts is that they don’t seem to give a damn about what you, or I, or anyone thinks of them; after all, the proof is in the pudding.
Stream: ‘Wet Leg’ – Wet Leg

I was skeptical of Wet Leg when I initially encountered them on TikTok.

A while back I watched a video by YouTube creator @graysonprojects about a pop-punk band called The Tramp Stamps, a so-called “industry plant” who were circling around For You Pages (“FYP”). The band was relentlessly bagged on for being ingenuine and for making music that was, for lack of a better phrase, kind of shit. It didn’t take a Masters in music theory to pick up on the fact that little care or honesty was put into their work, and that the three women who made up the band seemed more puppets of a label trying to capitalize on the aesthetics of punk music rather than artists driven to create out of passion and love for the genre.

Grayson says in her video, “They promoted themselves as a punk band and marketed themselves to the alt community which is naturally good at finding posers or people that aren’t genuine. Secondly, they promoted themselves on the most ruthless social media app, the app where if people don’t like you, they will dig up anything they can on you and basically put you on blast and rip you to shreds just for their own and other people’s entertainment.”

TikTok is perhaps the best social media platform for musicians’ self-promotion since MySpace. Since its spike in users at the beginning of the pandemic, the app’s become a mainstream method for artists to advertise and promote their work to a broad audience while being able to pinpoint specific demographics given the precision of the app’s algorithm.

Aside from TikTok’s scarily targeted set of 1’s and 0’s, the app lends itself to being a music-sharing platform in its nature. Videos are often based on the sound they borrow, be it a snippet of dialogue, a challenge with dictated rules or, most often, a song. And given that videos span from 15 seconds to 3 minutes, the whole song doesn’t even have to be good, there just has to have a slice that accommodates a dance trend or a line that resonates with people.

TikTok is perhaps the best social media platform for musicians’ self-promotion since MySpace.
TikTok is perhaps the best social media platform for musicians’ self-promotion since MySpace.

On top of all of that, TikTok is infamous for directing charts and skyrocketing artists to stardom. Though their music has merritt outside of the chronically online market of the Tok (as well as other boosts within the industry *cough* cough* money and nepotism), top charting artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, and so many others owe a portion of their popularity to their relevance on TikTok.

As Andrew R Chow wrote for Time Magazine in 2021, “Olivia Rodrigo exits 2021 with billions of streams, seven Grammy nominations and as TIME’s 2021 Entertainer of the Year. “Drivers License” was far from Rodrigo’s only hit on the app: her song “Good 4 U,” when mashed with Paramore’s “Misery Business,” became the soundtrack for millennials flashing back to their pop-punk roots.” There are quantitative benefits to blowing up on the Tok on top of the social currency of online relevance.

But with the commercial success that TikTok fame can garner an artist, there’s something untrustworthy, at least to this writer, that accompanies TikTok musicianship.

In the past few weeks, artists like Halsey and Florence Welsh have taken to their own social platforms (including TikTok) to out their labels for pressuring them to achieve a certain level of online reach.

In her article for Pitchfork titled “TikTok is Turning Music Making into a Labyrinthian Game,” Cat Zhang writes, “labels’ myopic obsession with TikTok attention has led to some terrible decision-making. Like when the majors come to metaphorical blows over random teenagers who’ve miraculously ridden the algorithm to the top—even if that virality often has more to do with the tastemaking powers of certain TikTok communities than any given musician’s skill or savvy.”

If a musician appears on my FYP, I often take a mental pause (if I don’t just scroll right past it), regardless of if that user has a little blue check next to their name. I often assume that whatever’s being shown to me is the product of a bunch of suits demanding social currency from an artist before allowing them to share their work – a “recoup on their investment,” as Zhang puts it. I stop and ask myself, “Why am I seeing this; does the artist even believe what they’re saying? Do I even like this!?

Wet Leg © Hollie Fernando
Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers © Hollie Fernando

So when Isle of Wight’s Wet Leg showed up on my FYP playing “Chaise Lounge” with a grunge-tinted cottagecore aesthetic that contrasted a poppy guitar-rock sound, and the question first raised in Mean Girls, “Is your muffin buttered? Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin,” I didn’t know how to approach them. On the one hand, the song was infectious, an earworm that made me stop scrolling for a moment whenever it was advertised on my FYP. But on the other, I didn’t quite trust what they were selling – at least, not at first. As I said before, the whole song doesn’t really have to be good when it comes to TikTok; there just has to be a line catchy enough to get stuck in people’s heads. Since “Chaise Lounge” was the only song that rolled through my feed, I reserved all judgment until I’d heard more.

Now I’ve heard more. And I think their debut self-titled album is pretty dope.

If you read any review or interview to do with the album, the first thing that you’re met with is that the band “doesn’t take itself too seriously,” that the album is sarcastic, and that the two frontwomen, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, started Wet Leg just for fun on top of a ferris wheel at a music festival. After encountering their own industry hardships as solo musicians, the duo signed to management in 2020 before releasing any music to streaming, and then signed to Domino Records just six months later. Wet Leg projected a quick road to the business side of success, an indication that labels could see potential for the band early on.

Mommy, daddy, look at me
I went to school and I got a degree
All my friends call it “the big D”
I went to school and I got the big D
Is your muffin buttered?
Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?
Excuse me (what?), excuse me (what?)
Hey you, over there
On the chaise longue in your underwear
What are you doing sitting down?
You should be horizontal now

On the chaise longue, on the chaise longue…
All day long, on the chaise longue

When “Chaise Lounge” was released in 2021, this potential was shared to eager listeners. As noted in a New York Times article by Rob Tannenbaum, major figures like Elton John and Dave Grohl raved about the single publicly, giving weight to the popular opinion that the song was bangin’. “We didn’t aspire to get signed. We thought it would not be in the cards,” said Chambers in that NYT article. “We just wanted to play some silly songs.” After dropping a few other singles like “Wet Dream” and “Angelica,” Wet Leg released their debut album in April 2022 to critical acclaim, including a not-to-be-scoffed-at Pitchfork rating of 7.2.

The opening track, “Being In Love” makes their “just a bit of fun” intention clear from the get-go. The lyrics are cynical but they’re tangible, speaking on how uncomfortable and inconvenient being in love can feel. The opening verse goes,

I feel so uninspired, I feel like giving up
I feel like someone has punched me in the guts
But I kinda like it, ’cause it feels like being in love

It’s not quite pessimistic – the lyrics feel genuine. There’s no elevated language of an artist trying to make themself sound overly intellectual or place themself above their audience; they’re straightforward and say exactly what they’re trying to express.

“Chaise Lounge” is Wet Leg’s most popular song to date, currently sitting at over 18.5 million plays on Spotify, and for good reason.

It’s a banger. The song is a bit simple, a bit repetitive, but in that, “oh cool, I can listen to this like three times and know all the words and sing along” kind of way, not the “this feels like banging your head against a wall repeatedly” way. It’s an “in the car with my friends with all the windows down” kind of song.

The driving guitar melody has its moments, flowing in and out at just the right head-banging times. The lyrics are silly and sometimes a little nonsensical, but that just adds to the humor and joy of the song. It also feels self aware, asking the listener, “are you coming backstage after the show? Because I’ve got a chaise lounge in my dressing room and a pack of warm beer that we can consume.” There’s such smart humor in that line, basically forcing listeners to take the band as seriously as they take themselves. They’re not these superstars who exist in this glamorous fantasy world of music stardom; hell, they can’t even get some cold beer. It’s not a track that makes you think too hard; nor is it supposed to be. It’s just a bit of fun.

Wet Dream” is a personal favorite. It picks up right away with an intro guitar melody and steady drum beat that builds the energy of the track from the get-go, leading into a song for which the only descriptor that comes to mind is “bop.” It’s got that riot girl dynamism that makes you want to blast this song at a red light while next to an extra-lifted Ford F150. There’s a touch of vulgarity, which makes the song a little more interesting than the hip-bopping melody would on its own. It’s the combination of the two, the poppy boppy sound and the repeated “touching yourself” line, that makes this song fun to listen to. It’s both a song you want to play for your mom, and that you kind of hope your mom never catches you listening to.

I was in your wet dream
Driving in my car
Saw you at the side of the road
There’s no one else around
You’re touching yourself, touching yourself
Touching your, touching yourself
Touching yourself
You said, “Baby, do you want to come home with me?
I’ve got Buffalo ’66 on DVD”
You said, “Baby, do you want to come home with me?
I’ve got Buffalo ’66 on DVD”

Speaking of your mom, “Ur Mum” is a track that subverts expectations. It brings to mind the sentiment that Courtney Barnett speaks on in her song “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” where she says, “put up or shut up, it’s all the same.” The line “you said that you tried your best, why’s this such a fucking mess” parallels Barnett’s line in such a cool way. They both hold onto these archetypal female perspectives, both fed up with the way that men treat and speak to them, but they embody their characters of the mother and the bitch in different ways.

Barnett separates the mother and the bitch as two separate archetypes, saying “either way you objectify me, as the slut or the shrew, they feel the same and they’re both infuriating.” Wet Leg blend the two, taking on the two perspectives with a bit more sympathetic humor, simultaneously insinuating, “I bet your mom trusted you when you told her you’d clean your room and it’s literally disgusting” alongside “I trusted you to plan a date and you did a shit job.” Their lyrics are so simple but they embody a story. Plus the scream at the end is pretty cathartic.

The difference between Wet Leg and other artists I’ve encountered on TikTok is that while bands like The Tramp Stamps feign grit and “realness,” it’s Wet Leg’s seeming indifference to how they’re perceived that makes them feel genuine. To say that Wet Leg are indifferent to their public perception isn’t to say that they take little care for their output- on the contrary, their production is extremely high quality.

The way the album’s mixed, the camera quality of all of their music videos and social media posts, the succinct humor and wit that exists in their lyrics and the levels they create in most of their songs, it’s all executed well. But when it comes to the technical aspects of their work – the camera quality, the mix, that’s to be expected from a band with their level of industry support. And when it comes to their artistic impressiveness, well it’s just one of those things where you either have it or you don’t. And Wet Leg have it.

Wet Leg’s ability to be vulgar and vulnerable, to say what they mean directly makes them feel real. The fact that their sound is carelessly multifaceted with notes of riot girl, pop, indie rock, and punk and that they don’t have a need to build a brand or have a theme for their work makes them seem like they’re just being themselves. There’s not a particular image I attach with Wet Leg, and there’s not really one sole genre or influence I can relate them to. Their originality is refreshing.

Wet Leg © Hollie Fernando
Wet Leg © Hollie Fernando

Wet Leg have all the makings to be an “industry plant.”

They were supported by a major label before their work had even left Soundcloud, they quickly acquired critical support, they’re two beautiful women who are good at music and have a seemingly effortless ability to make hits. But I don’t think they are. They’re just a band that I happened to encounter on TikTok. And while I’m not sure that Wet Leg have completely absolved my weariness of TikTok music marketing – and though the topic is too broad and complex to come to a conclusion on within the confines of this article – I’m glad that TikTok helped me find Wet Leg (though at this point, they seem unavoidable).

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Wet Leg - Wet Leg

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