The Vaccines skyrocketed out of obscurity in 2011 with their debut album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? and its anthemic indie jams. Almost every single released from the album made its name as an indie classic (Wrecking Bar, If You Wanna and Nørgaard, just to name a few) thus making the album the biggest selling debut of a band in 2011.
So how did the Vaccines, in their very first LP manage to achieve mainstream success and a loyal fan following so quickly?
In 2011, the slow death of indie was upon us. As mentioned in my previous article on Music Bloggery (see here), sales in indie rock from 2010 were down. Out of 5 albums that sold more than 100,000 copies in the US in 2011, only two were indie artists. Streaming software was of course, part of the reason for this but the lack of interest in traditional indie guitar music was another one. However, the Vaccines’ jewel in the crown is their ability to merge relatable one-liners with bounding hooks and lifting melodies. The Vaccines are a reminder of a time when indie music was at its peak and lovers of their music crave a certain nostalgia for those traditional indie bands. This feeling of nostalgia is probably the single reason for the Vaccines’ prosperity and contributes to their now legendary indie status.
After their first album, the Vaccines’ success was set. All they had to do was deliver a successful second album to prove to the world they weren’t one hit wonders. And they did exactly that and more. Their second album Come of Age (2012) thematically dealt with all the internal crises that comes with fame, epitomised in the album artwork which features four androgynous teenage girls. Each girl symbolises each member of the band and their feelings of teenage rebellion and apathy which eventually resonated with their teenage audience.
The Vaccines aren’t stupid. In fact, they are exactly the opposite. Still riding the high from their debut release a mere year ago, they strategically released Come of Age to continue their wave of success. They also tapped into what makes a successful band. In an interview with NME, frontman Justin Young claimed:
I don’t think there’s any danger of us making the same record twice. But I think anything people found attractive about us the first time round has been retained. I’m really confident we’ve got the balance right.
And that’s exactly why Come of Age peaked at no. 1 in the albums chart and even remains their most commercially successful album to date.
Their popularity allowed them to buy some time before their next release, released three years later from Come of Age. English Graffiti (2015) combined the mature philosophy of Come of Age with the youthful charm of What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? and peaked at no. 2 in the album charts, not far behind from Come of Age, thus proving that their 15 minutes of fame was not up yet.
However, the lead single ‘Handsome’ only reached 74 in the singles chart, making it the lowest rated single from any Vaccines album. But by now, it’s the Vaccines’ fanbase carrying their success. Their past two albums released in the space of only two years established a loyal fanbase so even though the English Graffiti singles didn’t do as well as hoped, the album charted even higher than their debut release (which is typically considered by fans as the best album).
However, the band’s recent story is probably the most interesting. Combat Sports (2018) was the band’s commercially worst album. It peaked at no. 4 in the albums chart but only lasted a mere 4 weeks in the chart, compared to their debut album’s 77 weeks. Of course it’s not all about charts and I personally think Combat Sports is one of their best albums to date (maybe even better than their debut), but the band have decided to jump on a very prosperous bandwagon. Festivals.
If you look at every major festival line-up over the past 3 or 4 years, The Vaccines can be found on almost every single one. In 2019 alone, they have performed at over 20 festivals and have the ability to draw in massive crowds and regular sold out tours. Festival audiences are probably the best way to reach new fans, on stages that can be double, even triple capacity to their usual gigs. In 2011, the band first performed at Glastonbury’s Other Stage and fast forward to 2019, and the band have the prestigious opening slot at one of the world’s most popular festivals.
I was there to witness the Vaccines’ Glastonbury set back in June 2019 and in that moment between the bounding fans, I realised that all of the steps that they had taken, releasing a debut at the perfect time, continuously working hard to release new music and performing the right festival rounds, had cemented them as an indie rock staple. The Vaccines have created a style of music that you must see over and over again and it will see them continue for a number of years to come.