In 2013 when A.G. Cook founded the record label PC Music, he was on the precipice of popularising an entirely new sound. Musically, this synthetic, bright, and compelling genre has come to embody everything typical of youth culture during the pandemic. Hyperpop has drawn on the sounds of traditional pop music and amplified them drawing mostly on synthetically produced sounds. Though of course A.G. Cook was no clairvoyant, his ability (alongside pioneering artists such as the late SOPHIE) to cultivate a sound so appropriate for the current day is remarkable.
It is hard to define the Hyperpop scene. Existing largely in an ethereal and digital sphere, many critics wrongly view the microgenre as a parody. Hyperpop seemed to have reached the mainstream in 2019 when Spotify honoured its cultural significance by creating a curated Hyperpop playlist. In doing so, the microgenre began to receive more attention.
Despite the genre’s global pull, it remains particularly difficult to characterise the musical space that Hyperpop occupies. Such visual maximalism echoes the music that Hyperpop artists are creating. Its aesthetic, much like its sound, adopts garish, bright, and captivating forms. Charli XCX’s recent music video for her song ‘Claws’ epitomises the genre’s visual output. Sat before a green screen, the low-budget visuals have no relation to Charli’s mesmerising lyrics. You would be forgiven for viewing the song as satire.
Hyperpop is as much an aesthetic as it is a sound. Album covers are often busy, colourful, and meaningless: Bladee’s album 333, released in July 2020, epitomises this. Claire Barrow created the cover art, depicting a fanciful world of creatures ranging from talking frogs to anthropomorphised Broccoli trees. Mechatok’s Defective Holiday OST, the sound-track to Kim Laughton’s video game, provides a hypnotic backing to an equally hypnotic virtual experience. Developed as a piece of art, the game leads the player aimlessly through several eery, life-like scenes. For Laughton, the best way to experience the world was to place it within a digital sphere. Laughton also released the game in May 2020, amidst the height of the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. This timing speaks volumes to the meteoric rise of the genre: prior to the Coronavirus pandemic a minority of people existed predominantly online. However, as lockdowns were imposed across the globe, most of us turned to the internet to maintain some semblance of sanity. Within these conditions Hyperpop was able to thrive.
What does the distinct aesthetic of Hyperpop tell us about the cultural space that the genre occupies? The seemingly arcane clutter of Hyperpop’s musical and visual creations reflect a similarly muddled fanbase. The music appeals to a young, international audience and is uniquely ungendered. Reddit’s Hyperpop forum, created in March 2016, now has 3,299 members. It has grown at an increasingly fast rate in recent months. To contextualise that, Reddit’s ‘Hiphopheads’ forum has 2 million members. The forum reflects the diverse fanbase that the genre has been able to accrue. The posts range from memes to fans sharing their amplified versions of pop or hip-hop, to original low-budget productions. Those on the forum are acutely aware of Hyperpop’s digital footprint.
Hyperpop is too young for us to begin to consider its legacy. But we can consider its contribution to date. Though often misunderstood, the microgenre has matured into the perfect musical accompaniment to mood of the Coronavirus crisis. If anyone comes to produce a film about the pandemic, they would do well to call upon A.G. Cook, or perhaps even Mechatok, and ask them to produce the soundtrack.
3 HYPERPOP SOUNDS TO GET A TASTE OF THE MICROGENRE:
1.’Claws’ – Charli XCX
2. ‘Ponyboy’ – SOPHIE
3. ‘stupid horse’ – 100 gecs
Original image: hinnk via Wikimedia Commons (artwork remixed from original)