You can say what you will about 2020, but we were lucky to still have been blessed with a lot of great music. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Charli XCX and Fiona Apple were able to produce some outstanding work holed up at home. One of the major movements from the year was the further rise of hyperpop. The genre has risen from near obscurity to become one of the significant sounds of the last year, particularly with the help of a certain Spotify playlist. There has been much more awareness that has brought a new array of fans, but also created confusion due to some of its diverse inclusions.
What exactly is hyperpop?
It’s hard to define what exactly hyperpop is as a genre. The hallmark of the sound defies categorisation, but what you can expect is a lot of exaggerated experimentation. If you listen to the playlist above, your ears will be met by warped and manipulated vocals, extremely pitched to the max. The audio is primarily upbeat, full of cascading synth melodies. Listening to it is an experience. Since the genre is fairly new and based on experimentation, there is no true canonical sound. Hyperpop feels like it is taking elements of pop music that have already been established and elevating them. The sounds aren’t really new but the absurdity and infusion is.
That said, there are common elements you will find when listening to a hyperpop song. A typical song can feature breakdowns, heavy emo-trap distortion, odd sample selections such as Minecraft noises. Elsewhere, the inclusion of internet memes can make up the soundscape. Parody as whole is something that is key within the genre. There is a randomness that feels almost reckless. While some lyrics do touch on serious issues, others are utter nonsense at best, while the rest are cryptic. Throw all this into a blender and you have a really exciting and abstract musical landscape. The out-there-ness of the aesthetics allows for a lot of inclusivity. Diversity is something seen in its array of artists, including but not limited to SOPHIE, Hexcode and Laura Les of 100 gecs. The genre is one of the few that can be identified by its queerness.
Where did it come from?
Critics and fans alike have been trying to come up with the exact source of when this scene began. Some have claimed Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ to be the first hyperpop song, whilst Max Tundra’s video game like ‘Which Song’ has also come into contention. The works of Marina Diamandis and Melanie Martinez have also been discussed as possible precursors.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact artist or song, and it would not be productive to credit one single artist for such a wide ranging movement. However, there is certainly no doubt that major pioneers of the genre can be found in the work of AG Cook along with his innovative label PC Music, which was founded in 2013. In a short space of time, PC Music has risen from the London underground DIY scene to the forefront of pop innovation. The label is home to the likes of Hannah Diamond, Danny L Harle, EASYFUN and others. The label’s approach to pop production and neo-Y2K aesthetics led to Cook working with Charli XCX on her 2016 EP Vroom Vroom along with SOPHIE, who is considered one of the major players of PC Music but isn’t actually signed to the label.
Last July, Charli XCX seemed to reject the term, tweeting “i do not identify with music genres”, after having previously asked her followers “‘what is hyperpop”. Posing this question is understandable for Charli, an artist who has refused to be boxed into a particular genre for the majority of her career. Despite her reservations, there’s no doubt her work with Cook has been a major influence to upcoming artists and getting hyperpop recognised in the mainstream. Vroom Vroom, and her subsequent records all produced by Cook cemented her at the top of this new wave of experimental avant-pop, full of futuristic sounds.
With the 2017’s mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, Charli moved away from the commercialised pop found on her debut, instead choosing to partner with Cook. The London producer brought the glitchy futurist production found on his label and mixed it with Charli’s already established sound. The manic urgency and the sheer amount of bass that Cook brought to the table complimented Charli’s versatility to an astonishing degree. These two mixtapes proved that the two worlds of pop could meet in the middle and produce some interesting music. Artist Izzy Camina, one of the new wave of hyperpop artists notes that “Charli has been able to bridge the gap between leftfield, avant-garde electronic music and indulgent, satisfying, clean, pop.”
Izzy Camina is one of the newer artists within hyperpop, bridging different pop subgenres. She joins artists such 100 Gecs, Dorian Electra, and Slayyyter, who are pushing hyperpop sound even further. But it is 100 Gecs who are at the forefront of the movement, with a PC Music meets Soundcloud rap sound. The DIY duo’s sound isn’t for everyone, and is certainly harder to define than the majority of hyperpop. Using their voices as instruments, they come across as fun without trying too hard. This is perfectly encapsulated in their addictive viral hit ‘money machine’. It is hyperpop taken to the extreme.
What the genre has going for itself is the sheer number of artists involved in the scene, and the different approaches that they are taking their music in. Googling the term will bring about hundreds of different articles and playlists. Major players range from Rina Sawayama, whose self-titled debut was released to critical acclaim, to fifteen year old osquinn a.k.a. P4rkr, who had a breakout hit with ‘bad idea’. This song features a blend of hip-hop and experimental electronics. The thing that joins them together is their lack of boundaries, and eagerness to dip their toes in a variety of sounds. It’s no wonder VICE proclaimed hyperpop as “A Genre Tag for Genre-less Music”. It will be exciting to witness the potential rise of many of these artists.
With 100 gecs signing to Atlantic Records and Dylan Brady producing for a variety of artists including Injury Reserve and Charli, perhaps there’s a way into the mainstream for the genre. It wouldn’t be surprising if a more commercial artist manages to gain success, although they may have to water down some of the more abrasive parts of the genre. For all its merits, some of the music of hyperpop is unconventional to listeners not invested in the scene. It’s loud, sometimes uncomfortable, and full of surrealist humour. It’s not for everybody. It’s clear that some of these artists are out to push boundaries and make the listeners as uncomfortable as they can, but still within the parameters of pop music.
Hyperpop’s journey and position seems to be following the same path as punk music: it’s noisy, aesthetic-driven and full of political messages, albeit dripped in irony and meme culture. Who knows, as it becomes popular, we might see it being boiled down to its own version of pop punk. But for now, the caustic sounds of hyperpop serves as the antithesis to the popularity of the quieter dream pop and lo-fi sensibilities found in the work of someone like Billie Eilish. These movements are running concurrently with each other, though, even intersecting with artists like Clairo – who flips between both scenes.
Within the current age of streaming and the use of TikTok as a promotional tool, it’s harder to judge which newer artists will propel to the top of the charts. The music of today seems to favour reinvention. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing Taylor Swift’s indie folk era, along with The Weeknd and Dua Lipa dubbing into the ‘80s. Hyperpop is so exciting because it seems like we’ve hardly broken ground what can be explored. Whether it’s a passing trend or if it develops into a special moment in pop music, only time will tell.
Words by Warren Bradley
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