In the summer of 2019, a new micro-genre leapt from Tik Tok to Spotify’s highest ranks. Genre alchemists named the maximalist pop sound "hyper pop" and a frenzy followed— with outlets like The Atlantic calling hyper pop the “countercultural sound of the 2020s”, and Dazed proclaiming it as “the new sound for a post-pandemic world.” The irony in hyper pop's genrefication, is in the artists refusal to conform to any one sound. Hyper pop glitches between, and aggressively mashes together, a multitude of styles: bubblegum pop, emo, nightcore, hip-hop, EDM and more. The resulting sound is fit for a digital age set on breaking down all categories and binaries.
Originating in London clubs around 2013, the sound of hyper pop started to bubble up from the experimentation of UK producers like A.G. Cook and SOPHIE. At the time, listeners dubbed the new colorful and abrasive sound "PC music", a nod to the laptops which made this form of experimentation with electronic music accessible. In an interview with Dazed, producer Skrillex said that “PC Music was the first wave of taking shit that was lowbrow and making it highbrow, without being too cool for school. It was so artful, but also disruptive, and it spoke to the weirdos.” From A.G. Cook’s momentum soon came the label of the same name, PC Music: a collective composed of hyper pop artists like GFOTY, Hannah Diamond and Danny L. Harle. SOPHIE dropped the debut compilation PRODUCT, on the label in 2015— a defining moment for the hyper pop sound.
PRODUCT’s acclaimed track “LEMONADE'' captivates listeners with its opening helium-high confession, “I never meant to hurt you, it wasn’t in my plans. It’s just that when I’m with you… I get that fizzy feeling and I want lemonade.” The bubbling pop sound against abrasive synths jostles the listener with an unpredictable contrast that stands as a hallmark of hyper pop. SOPHIE originated a style of voice alteration that has since become a staple of the genre: artists pitch their voices up to chipmunk levels with Auto-Tune software.
For queer and trans artists leading the genre, the technique of voice modulation holds special significance as it becomes a gender-affirming tool—shifting gender dysphoria to euphoria. For 100 Gecs' Laura Les, the journey into hyper pop began with her discovery of PC Music. On hearing PC Music for the first time, Les told Pitchfork, “[it felt like] rays of god beams shining down from the clouds”, and her depression halted momentarily. Riding this wave of inspiration, Les delved into the style of nightcore, which eased her gender dysphoria as a transgender woman. Les’ 2017 track “How to Dress as Human” details her anxieties over “passing”. Now, her nightcore style has become a pillar of her music, and she hails it as the only way to record. In an interview with them, Les said, “From the first time I tried it [nightcore vocals], it sounded amazing to me. I was like, ‘I'm never doing anything else.’”
In recent years, hyper pop pioneer Arca has pushed the genre forward and defined its message. Arca’s four 2020 albums, dropped in rapid succession (KICK II, KicK iii, kick iiii and kiCKiiiii), toggle between pitched-up and drop-tuned vocals set to grinding synths, reggaeton beats, and electronic modulations. In Arca’s song, “Nonbinary,” the gender binary is completely confronted. To some, the two minute-track sounds like a steady crawl into insanity, but for others, it's cathartic in its chaos. The ending of the escalating monologue is a gleeful cherry on top, Arca proclaiming, “what a treat it is to be nonbinary. Ma cherie, tee hee hee, bitch.” On these lyrics, Arca told PAPER, “I’m asking for recognition that we have multiple selves without denying that there’s a singular unity. I want to be seen as an ecosystem of minor self-states, without being stripped of the dignity of being a whole.”
In the world of hyper pop today, tensions arise over the discourse of its labeling and commercialization. Pitchfork and Dazed, amongst others, have published articles announcing the end of hyper pop, revealing the fickleness of a genre's quick rise and fall from fame. Despite the telling shift of some leading artists like osquinn retreating from the genre, the heart of hyper pop remains. Hyper pop’s essence transgresses and shatters conventions, allowing the artist to exist completely, undefined by categories or norms. Whether or not the genre label fades, hyper pop’s soul will endure.
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