If you’ve spent a lot of time online while having to bunker down at home, then you might’ve heard of hyperpop. While some herald hyperpop as part of a new vanguard in popular music, others deem it “meme music,” arguing it is too chaotic and abrasive for everyday listening. So perhaps it is something in between.
With artists and sounds ranging from unruly and bombastic to genuine and heartfelt, hyperpop is a genre tailor-made for a digital generation that is not solely defined by traditional labels. Hyperpop’s rise has made an impact on its primary audience, allowing young music lovers to find a sound that speaks to them.
Hyperpop is a challenge for anyone to describe at first. A friend of mine thought hyperpop was just noise before she came to understand that because of its lack of concrete rules and limits, it’s a form of expression that challenges mainstream music culture. My mom liked some songs but referred to others as “the sound of a broken washing machine.” Everyone experiences hyperpop in different ways, and sometimes, views surrounding what it’s about vary. This lack of a clear definition is because hyperpop adopts, manipulates, and redefines the clichés and trademarks of other genres in order to create a new avenue of musical and artistic expression.
While explaining hyperpop is no easy task, listeners will recognize many of the individual elements of the genre. Exaggerated pop sounds that sound at home in ‘90s-2000s pop, distorted bass, and pitch-shifted feminine vocals dominate a number of its tracks. Songs often transition between different sounds, taking you from a bubblegum pop-like record to a disjointed and dark soundscape that sounds far from where the track began. This sense of chaos is supplemented by the flashy visuals that often go along with the music, ranging from glamorous and campy to surreal and psychedelic. This spontaneity is what makes hyperpop the elusive genre that it is, giving audiences an unexpected experience whenever they hear these tracks for the first time.
A key component to hyperpop’s success is the accessibility our technological era offers to little known artists. With the rise of social media and streaming platforms, and the virality it can bring lesser-known artists, it is easier for artists to break through and share their music with listeners around the world. This is done without the contracts and limitations of working with record labels. Promising artists are also aided by their key demographic: younger audiences who are not only open to new and interesting music and artists, but are also willing to share their finds through apps like Instagram and Twitter.
There is no hard-set list of artists that can be considered hyperpop artists. Nonetheless, artists Grimes and Kero Kero Bonito are often said to be precursors to hyperpop, and artists under the P.C. Music label and art collective, are considered the first hyperpop artists. Some artists broke into music with hyperpop, such as Rina Sawayama and Dorian Electra, who both took on the genre in their projects right out the gates. Meanwhile, some artists adopted the sound for their new projects, as is the case with Charli XCX and her album “how i’m feeling now,” produced entirely while in self-isolation due to COVID-19. Other recognizable artists in the genre include Caroline Polachek, SOPHIE, Kim Petras, and Bree Runway.
Gen Z’s warm embrace of the genre is due in part to the diversity and acceptance that can be found within the genre. Many artists within the genre identify as LGBTQ+, including SOPHIE, Kim Petras, and Laura Les of 100 gecs, who are transgender women; Dorian Electra, who is gender-fluid and uses they/them pronouns; and Rina Sawayama, who is pansexual. A genre whose biggest artists are people of color, trans, and/or LGBTQ+ provides listeners who share these experiences a community they can relate to and confide in. So while many think of the genre simply as a parody of pop, it is actually a soundscape where artists can express themselves in the fullest.
In an interview with The Guardian, Laura Les addresses the common claim of hyperpop being ironic, saying, “We’re not doing this to be ironic. The opposite resonates as really true. There are people who say: ‘They’re just expressing a love for music, all sorts of different kinds.’” While irony is present in the lyrics and visuals in hyperpop projects, it is not the sole purpose. Artists use irony as a tool to express what they have on their minds, whether it be something to love, or something to critique.
For example, Dorian Electra’s album “My Agenda” tackles toxic masculinity and incels (“involuntary celibates”), an online subculture of predominantly cisgender, heterosexual men who express frustration about not having romantic relationships with women through misogyny and racism, through satirizing common subjects associated with these issues, such as the idea of the fedora-clad “gentleman” and internet edgelords. Rina Sawayama’s “SAWAYAMA” also covers a variety of social issues while utilizing the hyperpop sound. “XS” uses a mix of 2000s pop and metal to mock capitalism and consumerism, and “STFU” presents a nu metal track that takes the charge against microaggressions that Asian women often face.
Hyperpop is a genre spawned out of the conditions of our current world — a digitalized soundscape that pushes against the exclusionary nature of the music industry (and the world at large) where artists and audiences can unabashedly express themselves and find welcoming communities. It may not be to everyone’s taste, as is the case with all things, but it is definitely something worth experiencing. If you keep an open mind, you may just find a personal gem within this chaotic, colorful soundscape.