There was a musician that seemed to have the answer to the question about the future of music. The future is glossy latex, easily packaged and sold. The future is a product. This musician was SOPHIE, whose untimely death occurred just as the genre she helped to pioneer was gaining traction. With the release of her debut single ‘Bipp’ in 2013, the sound that lay the foundation of what would become hyperpop was established.
“The Future is glossy latex, easily pacakged and sold”
At the same time, a record label that would become closely associated with SOPHIE and the bubblegum bass subgenre was created. PC Music was founded by A.G. Cook in 2015, the same year SOPHIE released her debut compilation album, Product, which had the same emphasis on striking a balance between synthetic, cleanly produced and bouncy dance-pop songs and a darker, more abrasive edge. Both Cook and SOPHIE would go on to produce for Charli XCX, whose 2016 Vroom Vroom EP proved a watershed for the emergent genre, bringing it its first taste of commercial success. So, what brought about this success? The appeal of hyperpop can be boiled down to three main factors: irony, diversity, and overstimulation.
The first and perhaps most important aspect of the genre, the one that separates it from your run of the mill pop music is its sense of irony and self-awareness. This has been present in the genre from the start, with SOPHIE’s early work being a good example. The cheery female voice exclaiming ‘Latex gloves, smack so hard, PVC, gets me hard’ on the 2015 single ‘HARD’, accompanied by sparkly synth melodies and distorted percussion provides a juxtaposition that’d produce discomfort in any casual listener. But it is this juxtaposition that characterises the genre: bright, happy elements of club hits mixed with a subversive sly irony that comes with introducing darker lyrical and aesthetic elements.
Taking cues largely from the godawful meme genre of nightcore, 100 Gecs, pits simple (or patently nonsensical) lyrics to a myriad of schizophrenic constantly changing beats. This self-awareness at their own ridiculousness is key to their appeal; vocalist Laura Les’ pitch-shifted rant at the start of ‘money machine’, compares arms to cigarettes, laments inadequate truck size and uses the term “piss baby” as an insult. On the other hand, some of their lyrics are so plain and earnest that they can’t help but evoke pathos. The simple sentiments of Laura Les putting unconditional trust in her lover the aptly titled ’xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx’ are contrasted with an abrasive, glitchy breakdown right afterwards. In essence, hyperpop recognises pop music’s inherently ridiculous nature. It attempts to convey unironic, earnest sentiments while simultaneously being a billion-dollar industry built on the exploitation of artists, which hyperpop takes to the nth degree. A good demonstration of this is ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, the opening track from SOPHIE’s 2018 album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides. A tender ballad about being honest with one’s feelings, it boasts glossy and surprisingly typical production, only to be followed by a track about being whipped whilst role-playing as a pony. On any standard pop album, this would be career-ending, but it fits in with hyperpop’s rejection of watered-down sentiments in order to maximise commercial appeal. As a result, SOPHIE does not have to make compromises in her subject matter.
“It is more of an idea, a philosophy, that often, but not always, incorporates excessive ammounts of irony…”
100 Gecs also play into another important part of hyperpop’s appeal: its diversity. Their 2019 debut 1000 Gecs is 23 minutes long and has 10 songs, but maybe spans twice as many genres. Pop, trap, breakbeat, heavy metal, ska, dubstep, even experimental noise is tackled on the record, with most songs containing two or three sections of totally different genres. Another example of this is the work of hyperpop-adjacents and meme sensations Drain Gang. The output of their three primary members, Bladee, Ecco2k, and Thaiboy Digital was initially distinct. Ecco2k took a softer, poppier direction, while the other two operated within the cloud rap and trap subgenres. More recently, however, their projects have slickly blended together into a detached, melancholy fusion of hip hop, pop, dance music and r&b. Bladee’s increased use of singing on tracks like ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ shows this, and Thaiboy’s work as superstar alter ego DJ Billybool. Perhaps the most extreme case of diversity is A.G. Cook’s album 7G, spanning 49 songs, and ranging from touching guitar ballads to ear-meltingly twitchy drum n bass.
This also raises the question of what is Hyperpop? In short, you can’t really say. It spans so many genres, subgenres and styles that there is no definitive hyperpop “sound”. Instead, it’s more of an idea, a philosophy that often, but not always incorporates excessive amounts of irony and maximalist aesthetics. So, what’s the future of the genre? As with any subversive musical movement, its aesthetics will be co-opted by major labels but losing the irony and intellect that made it so distinctive in the first place.
Image Credit: Aleksandra Pluta.