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Theoretically Speaking S5:E13: What Makes Hyperpop Hyperpop ?

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A continuing theme in this series is that as each new genre emerged, some older folks thought it was the end of music.

Whether it was Ragtime,

Rock & Roll,

or Rap:

Someone disapproved and saw the new genre as a sign of civilization’s demise.

I don’t think my 89-year-old father has ever heard Hyperpop, but I can already hear him say, “That’s not music.”

“Now, son: This here, is music…”

I’m not going to suggest Hyperpop isn’t music.

But it’s the first genre in this series I really had to work to understand.

And I may still not understand it. I guess that officially makes me an out-of-touch old fogey. Some Hyperpop artists were born in the 21st Century. I was born, let’s just say, earlier.

“What Makes A Schwinn, A Schwinn?

To put it in perspective, Hyperpop is as many years removed from Punk as Punk is from Swing.

The people making Hyperpop are the same age as The Beatles when A Hard Day’s Night came out, and they might be too young to remember 9/11.

These musicians have never known life without the internet, cell phones, video games, or social media.

It’s no wonder they primarily use technology rather than instruments to create music, or that their music is chaotic, frenzied, distorted, and glitchy. Those same words describe the world in 2023.

Hyperpop is so new that there’s disagreement as to whether it’s a standalone genre or a subgenre of EDM. That probably remains to be seen, as Hyperpop is still developing, but its proponents think it’s the next big movement. At the same time, part of Hyperpop’s aesthetic is that its first goal is to create art, and that commercial success is a byproduct of good art.

They promote the philosophy behind Hyperpop as much as the music itself. There’s the age-old balance of art and commerce, and the Hyperpop community thinks the two aren’t mutually exclusive. They even seem to enjoy that tension.

“But, Bill,” I can hear you asking, “what does Hyperpop sound like?” That’s a very good question and one for which there’s no clear answer.

An important aspect is to push Pop music’s extremes as far as they will go, and those extremes go in different directions, so Hyperpop has no one specific sound. Pick any aspect of music and some Hyperpop artist is pushing hard in that direction. The cutting edges of what’s possible will have moved between the time I write this and the time you read it.

Producer Oren Ratowsky said something that helps explain it.

Hyperpop artists “use the software as an instrument, and they grew up with Swedish-style songwriting.”

I believe he’s referring more to Denniz Pop and Max Martin than he is to ABBA and Roxette, because he continued, “I feel like that’s kind of the main current – modern music software and growing up with Britney and the Backstreet Boys.”

The word that’s used to describe Hyperpop more than any other is “maximalist.” It’s intentionally trying to push Pop and sounds and software further than they’ve gone before. 

Jazz musicians say there’s no such thing as a wrong note.

If you play a note that sounds bad, keep playing it until it sounds good. Like a lie repeated often enough becomes perceived as the truth, a wrong note repeated often enough becomes perceived as the right note. 

Likewise, Hyperpop artists and producers want to push the boundaries to the point where their music is almost annoying but grows on you. It still needs to be fun and interesting, and something you’ve never heard before.

In the early 2010s, two microgenres developed online – and only online.

Vaporwave took pre-existing music and slowed it down to give it a relaxed and smoothed out atmosphere.

Nightcore took pre-existing music and sped it up into frantic, glitchy, and high pitched catharsis.

These songs were uploaded to various websites, most notably: Soundcloud. Online communities developed around these, and other, microgenres, and more people got involved. There are some minor genres that exist only on Soundcloud. Some break through to the mainstream, or at least into the wider consciousness.

Someone got the idea to make original music that sounded similar to both, often focusing on Nightcore’s hyperactive drums and pitched up vocals. These new songs were also uploaded to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and elsewhere, with little thought about making money. The idea was just to see what could be done. And people started collaborating across the Internet.

Collaboration and sharing is a major tenet of Hyperpop.

The communities of people who may never meet in real life are as important to their real lives as church suppers or Odd Fellows meetings are to others folks. 

This makes Hyperpop attractive to the LGBTQ+ community. Internet music allows people to express their real selves without concern as to whether prejudice will prevent them from getting a gig at the local bar.

Through Soundcloud and Bandcamp, artists can be the artists they want to be and find an audience, without the limits their local society might place on them.

Of course, online communities also allow neo-Nazis to find each other.

Artists like Crystal Castles and M.I.A. can be thought of as early Hyperpop.

But the 2013 founding of PC Music is often seen as its real beginning.

Founder A.G. Cook uploaded 40 songs by various artists to Soundcloud under the PC Music label in its first year.

Many of those songs were collaborations and some of the artists released tracks under different names, so it’s hard to tell how many individual artists are on the label. 

PC Music will also use inexperienced singers. Vocal ability doesn’t necessarily matter because the vocals are going to be pitch shifted, autotuned, and edited into new rhythms. So, yes: you, too, may become a pop singer!

Ideas are grabbed from all over:

Mainstream Pop, J-Pop, K-Pop, Hip Hop, Rock, movie and video game soundtracks. Any idea can be borrowed and transformed into something new.

Computer glitches are intentionally added. Every sound, whether it’s vocals, samples, or a software synthesizer, is electronically sliced and diced until it may no longer sound like itself. When we use the word “maximalism,” we’re talking about the production.

This embrace of the glitch carries over to Hyperpop music videos.

They’re colorful collages of distorted images and CGI imaginings. Some include warnings for people with photosensitive epilepsy or anyone else affected by flashing lights. 

Part of A.G. Cook’s philosophy about music is that most people see Pop as a guilty or simple pleasure, and that it can be much more than that. His goal is to make artful digital Pop music and to disprove the idea that music made with computers is emotionless.

Cook released music first with his duo Dux Content and then under his own name.

He collaborated with Charli XCX and SOPHIE. Charli XCX is perhaps the best known Hyperpop artist, with hits like “Boom Clap,” “Speed Drive” and “Vroom Vroom” charting in multiple countries. “Vroom Vroom” was produced by SOPHIE.

SOPHIE was a songwriter, producer, and DJ from Scotland.

Her 2018 release, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” earned a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. She produced artists like QT, Lady Gaga, and Madonna.

In January 2021, SOPHIE died as a result of a fall from the roof of a building. She was trying to take a photo of the full moon and slipped. In June of that year, the International Astronomical Union renamed a minor planet Sophiexeon in her honor.

Cook and PC Music hope for wider success – but not at the expense of art, beauty, and experimentation.

Major labels are paying attention. Notably, Atlantic has signed both Charli XCX and the somewhat abrasive duo, 100 gecs.

The first documented use of the word “hyperpop” was in a 1988 magazine review of the Cocteau Twins.

In the early 2010s, it was used to describe some of the more extreme pop of the time. In 2016, Holliday Howe, using the name Bubbles at the time, began marking her uploaded songs with the hashtag #hyperpop.

In 2019, Spotify created its Hyperpop playlist, and some see this as certification of Hyperpop as its own genre. The community, however, has mixed feelings about it.

They appreciate the attention but think some of the included acts aren’t actually Hyperpop – only an outsider’s idea of what Hyperpop is.

As an aging punk, I remember complaints about what was and wasn’t considered Punk. Some were happy when Punk and New Wave went their own ways, though some people still complained because some people like complaining.

Punk, Folk, and other genres value authenticity. “Keeping it real” is a Hip Hop mantra. For many that means to write your own material, and to disregard performers that don’t.

Hyperpop is more about collaboration, sharing creative ideas, and not being territorial about it.

Supporting each other in this way is probably a healthier attitude.

Having said that, some artists prefer to remain anonymous, using pseudonyms and avatars rather than their real names and photos. Online authenticity attracts online trolls. It was hard to find pictures of some of the artists in Suggested Listening below.

A Punk/New Wave splintering might yet happen to Hyperpop.

It may split along the commercial lines of what’s saleable and what isn’t, or along the artistic lines of what’s danceable and what isn’t, or the atmospheric lines of hard or soft.

It’s too new a genre to know. We’ll just have to stay (auto) tuned.

Suggested Listening Full YouTube Playlist

Paper Planes
M.I.A.
2008

Hey QT
QT

2014

Honeybell
Maxo
2014

Snow Globe
Dux Content
2015

Hi
Hannah Diamond
2015

Animal Crossing
Cosmicosmo
2016

Faceshopping
SOPHIE
2018

Claws
Charl XCX
2020

Silver
A.G. Cook
2020

trying
midwxst
2020

OMEN
blackwinterwells
2022

Hollywood Baby
100 gecs
2023

Honeybee
GRRL
2023


Enjoy these selected Articles in Bill’s “What Makes…” series:

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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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Phylum of Alexandria
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November 24, 2023 8:09 am

Well that was quite the jump from Western Swing!

I was not aware that hyperpop was a thing, but as you say, it’s a blend of PC Music, chillwave, and various of other earlier genre blend trends–so the music is like a slight variation of stuff I’m familiar with.

PC Music turned a lot of people off when it first came out, but I feel like anyone who got into gabber and happy hardcore in the late 90s found the cocaine sugar rush and jackhammer beats nostalgic. I love it.

Also in 2009-10 was the crunkcore of Brokencyde, and whatever it was Blood on the Dancefloor was doing, and that stuff seems important for the emo-fusion of bands like 100 gecs.

As for the end result genre, I guess I’m ambivalent. Song for song I like it fine, since I like most of the parent genres that it blends, and the shock of those original hybrids had already stripped me of any sense of purism I had.

But like Screw and chillwave and witchhouse–not to mention a lot of the pop and rap that has dominated the radio for the past 10 years–it can be bleak and depressing, especially when the depressed aesthetic is everywhere. But, at least it can also be energetic and ironic and exciting. That gives me some hope for the yoots.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 24, 2023 8:18 am

I was inspired to check out some of the old gabber mixtapes from my teen years. Still holds up!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4xG3z0Iaqk

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 24, 2023 9:43 am
Reply to  Virgindog

“Witch house” in fact originating as a satirical phony microgenre label…that inevitably was treated as a valid microgenre. Cuz that’s how we do these days.

mt58
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November 24, 2023 11:05 am

Dogecoin has entered the chat.

rollerboogie
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rollerboogie
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November 24, 2023 11:52 am

As far as I can tell, you did a good job breaking down this genre, but I’m beyond help and still don’t have a clue. Too old.

As far as Spotify misrepresenting Hyperpop in their playlist, that is totally not surprising. It recently recommended to me a Punk Christmas playlist that started off with “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney. All you need to know right there, but the third song was by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I did not browse further.

Last edited 7 months ago by rollerboogie
rollerboogie
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November 24, 2023 12:26 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

A quick Spotify search turned up at least 6 “Hyperpop Christmas” playlists, none by Spotify itself. I would not be able to verify that those playlists are true to the genre, but they exist.

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 24, 2023 12:51 pm

Thanks for this Bill. I’m familiar with the hyperpop term without fully knowing what it represents. I am intrigued by it now. Paper Planes is right up there in my personal all time list and Charli XCX has been a big name here for over a decade with some real bangers. I get that they may be outliers and from what you say true hyperpop goes a lot further but I like the ethos behind it.

Despite what my daughter says, I’m not too old to learn a thing or two. I’m intrigued enough to dive into a playlist or two to see how it goes.

LinkCrawford
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November 24, 2023 3:49 pm

I listened to 6 or 7 of these suggested songs. They sounded very different from each other! Some could be on today’s Hot100 for all I know, while others barely seem like music. It’s not what I’M looking for in music, but I can see why some connect with it.

I discovered vaporwave 5 or 6 years ago and obtained the Floral Shoppe album by Macintosh Plus. I was amazed at how much I initially liked it, but the novelty didn’t last long. And yet, every once in a while a snipped or two of that twisted album will pop into my head. I appreciate it more when I listen less often. 🙂 If that makes sense.

LinkCrawford
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November 24, 2023 7:22 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Next scheduled listening 2030  😜 

thegue
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thegue
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November 24, 2023 5:33 pm

Gear article V-Dog, though I could never guess the steam of consciousness that carried you from Western Swing to Hyperpop!

I’ve shared my love for Charli XCX elsewhere, but I’ve been a big fan of her music since she appeared on Y-Not Radio about 13 years ago. Check out Nuclear Seasons.

I’m also surprised Grimes isn’t grouped into hyperpop as well… or maybe she is?

cappiethedog
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November 28, 2023 12:47 am

I feel bad for the Stereogum user who was mildly attacked for not loving The Beatles. I vicariously dedicate this excellent article to that person. Does that make sense? What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t revere Lennon/McCartney, it’s okay.

It would be akin to somebody telling younger me that Frank Sinatra is the truth. Get with the program, loser.

Instead of waxing poetic about the genius of Paddy McAloon, I’m all in, trying to imagine what music would engage me if I were 18 again. I do buy CDs. I use importcds. I justify streaming by playing music I was never going to buy in the first place.

I understand why Charli XCX is popular. She wrote “I Love It” and “All Night” for Icona Pop. That album, I paid for: This is… If that’s hyper-pop, count me as a fan.

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