If you don’t think it’s an interesting time for music - you haven’t been paying attention.
A new era of pop has emerged, one that can be defined by excessive auto-tune, distortion, minuscule track lengths, infectious choruses, and tongue-in-cheek lyricism. In recent years, hyperpop has been puzzling the mainstream, posing questions like “why?” and “is it supposed to sound like that?”. Today I will be unpacking the origins and evolution of hyperpop, highlighting some of my personal favourite tracks in this article.
For people that use TikTok, I am almost certain you have come across hyperpop being used as a backing track or in a dance video. For example, in early 2021, Charli XCX’s “Unlock It” went viral and more recently Slayyyter’s “Mine” has been given a new life for this same reason. The existence of social media is heavily intertwined with the popularity of this genre. As being catchy is the fundamental attribute of a hyperpop song, TikTok’s short video format options allow easy sharing of the best parts, of the best songs.
Another fundamental aspect of hyperpop is that it is reactionary to the course of music in the mainstream. Initially, the genre satirised overused pop tropes by elevating them to the extreme, often exploiting these tropes to create a space for experimentation. The audience is drawn in through the intoxicating melodies then BOOM! it descends into metallic clanging and auto-tuned static reaching the volume of whistle notes. Not all this experimentation reaches the mainstream - but that’s the point! It is an opportunity for artists to try things never done before and express themselves. Still, some elements have notably been adapted by non-hyperpop artists, for example the booming production and glitchy vocals on rapper Rico Nasty’s “IPHONE”. Another example of this is Lady Gaga’s ‘Dawn of Chromatica’ remix album which features a huge variety of artists and producers with a hyperpop-adjacent style.
Of course, when talking about hyperpop, it is impossible not to talk about Charli XCX. Everything comes back to Charli XCX. In the beginning she started in the indie scene and soon descended into the mainstream with her 2014 album ‘Sucker’, which featured more palatable and radio-playable songs like “Boom Clap” (not an insult, in my opinion this album holds up). And with every album, Charli experimented a little more, creating some of the most iconic and referenced songs of all time within the genre. A peak example of this is “Vroom Vroom” (produced by SOPHIE) which has had an immense and indescribable cultural impact. Charli XCX is, in short, the founding father of hyperpop.
So, why are so many people drawn to hyperpop today?
It’s hard to say, but as a general statement I think people like to revert to comforts in times of hardship. We see this a lot today, with cultural phenomenons like the renaissance of Taylor Swift and Twilight, as people search for nostalgia. Additionally, many people, especially girls, are learning to embrace “teenage girl things” that we were once made fun of for liking. Nowadays, with the constant exhausting turmoil of our political and social climate, lighthearted, not-so-serious media takes off in popularity. Hyperpop is specifically reminiscent of the pop that dominated the charts in the 2000s, while also being colourful, carefree and unabashedly talking about stereotypically “feminine things”. Songs like BFF (Slayyyter + Ayesha Erotica) can discuss things like fashion, boys, partying, feeling confident and friendships while avoiding the brutalisation for being ‘regressive’ as hyperpop sits in a bubble outside mainstream discourse. (To get this out of the way, hyperpop is not regressive. It is not internalised misogyny for women to be feminine, just as they can be masculine. Moral of the story: let women have more freedom with less judgement!).
Other than its embrace of femininity, hyperpop also serves to embrace queer identity. It is undeniable that at the core of hyperpop is the work of trans women. Whether producing behind the scenes or releasing their own tracks, people like SOPHIE, Slayyyter, Arca and Kim Petras are absolute powerhouses within the scene. It’s also exciting see the subversion of pop tropes manifest in a way that highlights a queer perspective. For example, the track “Faceshopping” (SOPHIE), combines angelic vocal riffs, graining metallic clashes and eerie spoken word lyricism. Another, more unfathomable example, is how the infamously cursed “Friday” by Rebecca Black was re-released by her in 2021 as a hyperpop remix. Featuring Dorian Electra, Big Freeda and 3OH!3, it is one of my personal favourite 180s in pop culture.
At the same time, the bubble-gum facade of hyperpop creates a space for satirically addressing political issues in a form of subtle protest. At first glance, a song like XS, by Rina Sawayama, may just seem like a good time - a song about living lavishly, feeling expensive and indulging in a bit of retail therapy. However, as the song progresses, it leans into distorted guitars, abruptly, subverting the upbeat pop chorus, the vocals spiral into an obsessive plea for more and the lyrics become more overtly critical about capitalism, hyper consumerism and environmental degradation. The message became increasingly clear with the release of the music video in 2020, which depicts Rina selling bottled water in satirical infomercial format.
Hopefully, this dissection of the wonderful and weird world of hyperpop has provided some insight for you today (and hopefully a song or two you may listen to again). In reality, like most genres of music, it’s not for everybody. Still, I do think its recent exploding popularity offers a unique window into the zeitgeist of youth culture in the digital age and the era of Covid, where all prior musical conventions are being contorted or utterly thrown at the window. So, hyperpop… sometimes it’s smart, sometimes its ground-breaking, sometimes it’s absolutely stupid. I say, we welcome a world with less ties to convention, that embraces grotesque girlyness and doesn’t take itself so seriously.
It’s 2022, what’s to lose?