Hyperpop is the new punk rock - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Play 100 gecs for your parents. Do it. I dare you.

Unless your parents are a part of Gen Z, heavily invested in the depths of online culture, and/or queer, the looks on their faces upon first listening to any hyperpop song would be priceless. That is, of course, unless they can reach deep down and dredge up the rebellious spirit of their youth. There’s something distinctively alluring about hyperpop that, if you don’t think about it too hard, you might not fully realize (understandably so; sometimes it’s a little hard to think with harsh noise coursing through your headphones). But that “something” is a punk mentality.

What is hyperpop?

Hyperpop is a genre that takes modern mainstream pop concepts, crushes them up, spits them out, ingests them again, and spits them out again. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But not an egregious one.

The term “hyperpop” is a bit mystifying to many in and of itself, especially when you consider the fact that it was invented by Spotify. It’s an amalgamation of different subgenres and ideas, all centering around the use of synthesized instruments and technology as a tool for creating electronic music with sounds that can be either soft, brash, or anywhere in between. Like any music genre, around it is a subculture. Within that, there are tons of different people who are into, look like, and sound like different things. For instance, on one end of the spectrum sits early 2010s pioneers like Crystal Castles, Grimes, and the late artist and producer SOPHIE; In paving the way for these sonic concepts to emerge, these artists have used elements like autotune, niche sound bytes from external media, and modular synthesizers to get their programmatic visions across. Yet, with the advent of 100 gecs, as well as A.G. Cook’s record label PC Music (also highly influenced by SOPHIE), came Spotify’s “hyperpop” playlist in 2019, through which a cultural phenomenon wasn’t necessarily born, but was given the space to come to the forefront of modern music culture, even whilst being mistakenly ambiguous.

Far Out Magazine has a great article on this, as well as the distinction between the genre and the art that so-called hyperpop or hyperpop-adjacent artists such as Caroline Polachek have made.

What’s the big deal?

An electronic sound, though integral to linking hyperpop acts to one another and solidifying what it means in the world of music, is only one aspect of the genre’s relevance in today’s society. There is an innate difference between hyperpop and other types of music that came before it, and that difference lies in its profound connection to LGBTQIA+ culture.

Marginalized groups have been and always will be unequivocally at the forefront of pop culture. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the LGBTQIA+ community has spearheaded a musical and cultural movement such as this. Hyperpop rejects the status quo, leaning deep into technology as a tool and unapologetically embracing anger, joy, ennui, and other distinctly raw human emotions, all in conjunction with self-identity, often seen through the lens of satire and irony. For some musicians in the genre, it’s a matter of persona; a front created to better represent the parts of oneself that have been overregulated by society, similar in nature to the act of drag performance in that it is meant to hyperbolize, uplift, and rebel against social restraints (such as people like Dorian Electra, Kim Petras, Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, etc., whose allure and unapologetic equipment of modern taboos carry weight alongside their music itself).

For others, like 100 gecs or their similarly satirical counterparts Frost Children, food house, and more, it’s a complete backbite about the current political climate, namely in relation to gay and transgender rights (to really understand this one, you’ll need to listen to “Dumbest Girl Alive” by 100 gecs about 10 times, thanks). Yet, even still, in certain corners of the genre lie artists like Jane Remover and underscores, whose portrayal of their identity can be very raw, and oftentimes very moving. Furthermore, sometimes the music is simply made with the intention of being silly and fun, which is an affirming idea in and of itself, deserving a similar amount of praise for its celebration of authenticity and the current Zeitgeist. Although not every single hyperpop artist is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, the key component of the genre is acceptance, expression, and a juxtaposition between embracing and rejecting modern aspects of today’s society (i.e., technology and anti-LGBT legislation, respectively), which is a concept that exists inherently and fervently in queer culture.

What makes it punk?

The punk movement of the 1970s completely and intentionally revolutionized music and society. It was met with scrutiny, appropriate at the time considering the people at the head of the operation were already heavily scrutinized. It presented classiicism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the hypocrisy of then-current political and social structures with a newfound sense of universal vexation that appealed to the oppressed, as well as those who sided with and fought alongside them.

Punk music and the subculture surrounding it were based on making certain people angry and making everyone else feel welcome. With acts like The Clash and the Sex Pistols in the UK, as well as the likes of The Ramones, Black Flag, and Bad Brains in the US, punk rock took traditional concepts of rock and roll and smashed them to pieces, just as hyperpop artists are doing with traditional pop music stylings today. All the while, sprinklings of civil unrest pique the interest of like-minded individuals who long for (and fight for) change.

With the current state of the world, specifically in reference to homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic legislation and narratives being spread on a global scale, it’s no wonder that the punk spirit of the later twentieth century might come back with a vengeance. In fact, it would be bold to say it ever left, with artists and bands in the rock, emo, and electronic scene continuing to preserve a sense of defiance in the music industry. But, with heightened access to new technology, new instrumentation, and the news, modern musicians are able to reshape what we’ve known about punk ethos, taking their knowledge from their laptops all the way to some of the world’s largest stages.

So what?

The purpose of establishing this comparison can be whatever you make of it. Whether you’re for or against the derailment of current social, political, and artistic norms, it’s happened in the past, it’s happening again, and it’ll probably happen some more in the future. However, what is important for all music listeners to understand about hyperpop is that, although it is derived from a certain community and its sound is not entirely universally enjoyed, its existence is a crucial step in the right direction for queer and genderqueer artists, as well as every listener who needs to hear what they have to say.

With this being said, I urge you to check out some examples of hyperpop music or its subgenres, such as glitchcore or cloud rap, to get a taste of the genre’s vastness and capability of seeping into mainstream music. There’s so much music out there for you to try out, and if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Just don’t forget where it came from, and know that the only way it’s going is up.

If you don’t know where to start, check out the playlist below for some hyperpop picks, new and old.

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