Bands Your Kids Are Listening To (maybe you should too…)

My kids listen to music with headphones or buds. No more of that yelling, “turn that music down.” They listen to music almost exclusively on YouTube and Spotify. I let them take over Bluetooth in the car so there are a few groups that break through the electronic silence. Either they want to share something with me, or more likely, there’s a concert coming up and they need tickets and a ride.

Our kids are savvy when it comes to their musical tastes. They define ‘cool’ as anything that they like. They don’t care if its popular or not. I’m impressed with what draws them in. One sixteen year old explained, “I need a sick beat. It creates an outlet for my anger. And, great lyrics. I’m not into the ignorant ‘bitches, bitches and money’ stuff.”

What do they NOT listen to? Pop Country (fake), Pitbull (zero chill), Iggy Azalea (hateful), Ariana Grande (wasteful), Justin Bieber (God, no!) and One Direction (douchey). They like genuine. They can spot a #phony a mile away.

Here is a short, certainly not inclusive, list. I’ve tried to go beyond the norm. Yes, they are still listening to Twenty One Pilots, Drake, Arctic Monkeys, Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boys, Kendrick Lamar, and still the ever popular Ms. Swift. In the interest of time and space, I’ve narrowed it down to just a few. Hopefully, this list will include one or two that you may not already know about.

Here’s a playlist for frame of reference.


(Indie Pop) AJR is named for three brothers: Adam, Jack, and Ryan. Clever. These guys started out by busking (street performing for $) in NYC’s Washington Square Park. They made quite a bit of money then used it to buy a bass guitar, ukulele, and a sampler. Voila! AJR is born in their Chelsea Apartment. They write, produce, and publish all their own material. This is amazing. I have to beg my kids just to clean their rooms.

Their third album, Neotheater, debuted at #8 on Billboard and hit #1 on the Top Rock Albums chart. The brothers say that their influences are the music of the 50’s & 60’s like Frankie Valli, Beach Boys, and also modern hip-hop like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar.

Don’t Throw Out My Legos” tugs at my heart strings. “My new address is hard to remember / So I wrote it on the back of my hand / ‘Cause I leave the nest this coming December / To make it as a grown man / I’m about to lose my only defenders/ I’m packing up whatever I can.” Simple but personal for this mother. Flashback to when my son turned ten. Double digits. He cried. Uncontrollably. He couldn’t speak he sobbed so hard. Finally, after rubbing his back for awhile, he looked up at me with wet cheeks and red eyes and said, “I just don’t want to grow up. I don’t ever want to leave you.” Getting choked up just remembering.

AJR serve as ambassadors for the It’s On Us campaign to fight sexual assault on campuses.

Locally, they will be at the Armory in October. It’s an all age show. I just checked and there are still tickets left. See you there? I’ll be singing along to “Lego’s.”


(Indie Pop) COIN came out of Nashville in 2012 but didn’t really hit mainstream until five years later. Proximity is all they have in common with the Nashville sound. “Talk to Much”, released in 2017, was their first song to chart on Billboard. I must confess, I was obsessed with “I Don’t Want to Dance” for longer than a hot minute. This product of the 80’s is cheered by a danceable beat. I would have worn it out if I had the vinyl. (Wait, note to self, get the vinyl.)

If you’re interested in hearing from their lead singer (Chase Lawrence), check out Atwood Magazine. This is an entertaining interview written by one of my favorite music writers, Audrey Steeves.

Photo of people at a concert with heart hands for blog on bands your kids are listening to

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

(Alternative Folk Rock) Rainbow Kitten Surprise seems like the worst band name ever. (Maybe Car Seat Headrest beats it). But it soon makes sense. I’m not sure how, but it does. Listen for awhile and then try to imagine what else they might be called. Right?!

Lyrically they are mature, folksy, vulnerable, witty, and dead serious. First you laugh and then you cry. “Goodnight Chicago” laments “I killed a man to make you love me.” Sad but when delivered with a funky beat it feels almost optimistic. Clever huh?

Formed in 2013 in a North Carolina dorm room, they worked their butts off playing every festival or event that they could for years. Now they are finding larger success with their last album, “How to: Friend, Love, Freefall.”

In their free time, they perform around North Carolina to raise money for Equality, NC, the countries oldest statewide LGBTQ equality organization. Our kids need more openly queer-friendly role models.

Hippo Campus

(Indie Rock) Conflict of interest right up front…I LOVE Hippo Campus. Not in an overly-excited teenaged groupie way (that’d be weird) but definitely a fan. They are intelligent lyricists, proficient musicians, uniquely creative, and they are St Paulites. They met while attending the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists High School.

Jade writes in MPR’s Album of the Week , “If 2017’s Landmark was a specific place – each song flowing and pulling you deeper into their liminal space in just under 45 minutes, then Bambi is an elevator ride that opens to a different floor with each song. You may be in one building, but there’s something surprising on each floor. The Beach Boys’ inspired first track, “Mistakes” is harmony heaven, a wildly unexpected kicker with lead-singer Jake Luppen’s voice modulated slow and deep, making it clear that this is not a continuation of Landmark.”

Photo of Hippo Campus acoustic VIP set, Palace Theater, St Paul for music your kids are listening to blog
Hippo Campus, Palace Theater, St. Paul 2018, photo BNW

Jake Luppen, lead singer, has a unique vocal style. One moment he annunciates lyrics with a melodic low tone and in the next hits a dreamy falsetto. The whole band is coquettish yet elusive. (Maybe not instrumentalist DeCarlo Jackson. His boundless energy and warm smile make him seem almost accessible.)

Hippo Campus is like cotton candy. Well, no. They are not sticky sweet. Rather effervescently vivacious- more like the champagne you drink with your oysters before delving into the red wine with dinner.

Hippo Campus has teamed up with the Women’s Foundation of Minneapolis as a way to be a part of the Me Too Movement. They also partner with Everytown for Gun Safety.


(English Indie-Rock) Alt-J started in 2007 as four guys from Leeds University were fooling around trying to make some ale money. But stardom sometimes has a celestial trajectory. The band’s second album went straight to platinum in the UK and hit gold in Australia. Soon after, they sold out NYC’s Madison Square Garden.

“Left Hand Free” is their most mainstream song to date. It was a cheesy joke written for a young American audience designed to generate a hit to pacify their label. It worked. The label was thrilled. Their loyal twenty-somethings in skinny jeans and Dr. Martens were not. They thought it a sellout. The band (self-admittedly) are embarrassed performing it live.

Sometimes I hope my kids aren’t listening too closely. I’d like to maintain their innocence for a bit longer. Reality is that I can’t keep them away from YouTube forever; or from songs like “3WWwhich smacks of casual sex (“Love is just a button we pressed last night by the campfire”). But one must exercise caution. Context is tricky and no song is an island. “I am see through, soap sliver you’re so thin/As I begin rubbing lathers up your state worsens on my skin” is actually about a mother’s bedtime ritual, or is it?

After the release of their second album, they were heralded as the next Radiohead. Really? Maybe in the same ballpark, but they are not pitching on the mound. Their lyricism and pop-culture references are poetically sophisticated but often overly esoteric. While they aren’t a match Yorke’s philosophical certainty, they are reminiscent of his mannered vocals. It’s easy to see where the comparisons began.

Far from wishy-washy kvetching about sophomoric emotions that many young groups pump out; alt-J have stories to tell.  This makes them a group worth listening too. Perhaps with a glass of wine… and google.

Queen, the Beetles, ELO, The Who, Elton John, Linkin Park, Green Day, Eminem, the Cure, Rush, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac…

Everything old is new again. Your kids are listening to exactly what you were in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s slightly scary- even fanny packs are back.

What else are they going to pull out of the archives? Perms, ratting bangs, Sun In, Columbia House, shoulder pads, melting black eye liner, waterbeds?

Did it all start with “Bohemian Rhapsody?” No. For my kids, the first taste was Guardian of the Galaxy. Chris Pratt is the best dancer in the Marvel universe and who could resist baby Groot grooving to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky?”

Why the resurgence? Is it because music creates an emotional connection? Builds community? We all want to be one-big-happy family? This is probably all true.

Ultimately…we just listened to some wicked awesome music.

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