Hyperpop: why American music isn’t boring
The microgenre’s new wave is sweeping North America, one teenage bedroom at a time. THE FACE meets the artists in the post-geographical scene that contests its own name.
Hyperpop came out of the birth canal backwards. In August 2019, Spotify created a playlist that assembled an amorphous new crop of mostly North American, mostly teenage, banger-makers, providing them with a “hub” that put their music in the ears of more mainstream listeners. (It also resulted in enough streams for these niche artists to receive their first royalty cheques.)
Its creation was a direct response to the popularity of Midwestern electronic duo 100 Gecs, who’d found success making out-of-the-way experimental pop for the leetspeak crowd. However, some artists felt as though their music – emo-rap, nightcore (pitch-shifted songs), ambient – had been repackaged and sold without their consent. A year after the playlist’s inception, Charli XCX tweeted: “What is hyperpop?”
Some of the replies simply read: “You, ma’am.”
Yet the earlier origins of hyperpop are tough to pin down. Go back to 2013, as many would advise, and you have the primordial British collective PC Music, founded and fronted by superproducer AG Cook. PC Music had created underground hits like Hey QT by QT and Beautiful by Cook. They torqued the Auto-Tune knob up to 11 to make songs with pitched-up baby voices, blaring bass and squeally synths – hallmarks of conventional pop that were pushed to the brink and toyed with consumerist irony (“Maybelline, maybell-icious/ Topman, Topshop, top” the Lipgloss Twins sang on Wannabe). While never an official member of the collective, Charli XCX has been one of its biggest supporters and most famous allies, smuggling PC Music’s experimental ideas to a bigger audience inside the Trojan horse of maximalist chart pop.
Although PC Music splintered as a collective in the late 2010s, the surprising mainstream embrace of 100 Gecs’ 2019 debut album 1000 Gecs (it reached #7 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart) signalled thestart of a new wave of this Ritalin-rattled music. Dylan Brady, one half of Gecs, curated a new Spotify hyperpop playlist in July 2020 and set up a label, Dog Show Records, to sign newer acts such as Gupi, Bean Boy, Folie and Alice Longyu Gao. These artists have inherited many of the distinct characteristics of PC Music while adding their own glitches, pitch-bends, distortion and, in some cases, the unlikely sing-song of emo rap à la Lil Peep (Ericdoa) or a Britney Spears Circus sample (food house, aka Fraxiom and Gupi).
Yet with the microgenre still so undercooked, not even its makers know quite how to define it. Ericdoa’s music, for example, is emo rap-inspired. Blackwinterwells has been producing for a decade and makes more downbeat, ambient music. Fraxiom and Petal Supply are injecting a pixie stick’s worth of “hyper” into hyperpop. And big labels are clamouring to sign them.
As for how hyperpop is made, it has little bearing to any other scene that has come before. The artists taught themselves how to use professional beat-making software like FL Studio. Beats are swapped between musicians on the still-underground social sharing app Discord, thus making geographical location moot.
“I DMed him and I was like: ‘Your song is good, do you wanna get on my song?’” CMTEN said of NEVER MET!, his aptly titled collaboration with Glitch Gum. Some of these teens still live in their parents’ basements in flyover states and have never played a live show. Many have seen a popularity boost during the pandemic, watching their follower numbers on Instagram and Twitter tick up over the months of last summer.
Still, even if locked-down isolation is part of hyperpop’s DNA, it also means one of the only remaining questions on most of the artists’ lips is: “How famous am I really?”
GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE GLAIVE
Location: Hendersonville, North Carolina
Standout track: Astrid
How his grandparents would describe his music: “One of them said I sounded like Post Malone.”
Ash Gutierrez had a nomadic upbringing thanks to his professional polo-playing father. His family lived in South Carolina, Canada and New York, then settled in North Carolina when Gutierrez was about nine years old.
Now, with his dad having retired from polo, Ash is the focus of the family. He has carved out his own career as hyperpop’s overnight celebrity – perhaps the youngest and fastest, since he only started making music under the name glaive in March of last year. The self-taught producer makes elliptical emo pop with a tone popularised by early ’00s indie rockers. But it’s easy to see the injection of his pop forebears, including Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. “I’m a big fan of female pop singers,” he says. “They have the best voices in my opinion.”
Glaive’s songs are mostly about “being 16 and being annoyed or mad”. But as a family affair of sorts, Gutierrez knows he has a hit on his hands when it’s got the mum stamp of approval. “Normally, if I like the song and my mom likes the song, most people will like the song.” He’s gearing up for the release of an EP this year and, though he can’t yet legally drink, he’s looking forward to filling the beer-soaked floors at his first live show. “In the future, that’s a number one priority.”
FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM FRAXIOM
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Standout track: Thos Moser or ride (under the name food house)
How their grandparents would describe their music: “They’d probably call it noise.”
Fraxiom grew up in rural Massachusetts (“in a 97 per cent white town”) but started sneaking away to Boston at 16 to meet up with Twitter and SoundCloud friends. Frax enjoyed the fatuous pop of Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas and, later, Skrillex and Savant. But they weren’t trying for their own music career until seeing “ Gecs touring for fucking Brockhampton,” Frax says from their Chicago bedroom. “I quit my job so I could spend a whole month getting better at music.”
Their upbeat, florid songs belie Frax’s deepest insecurities. “If you wanted to just break my heart, all the instructions are on my Genius,” Frax says, discouraging fans from reading too closely into songs metal and foresight.
Together with Gupi – whom they met in Orlando in 2017 – they created the music duo food house, named after they became loyalty customers of Uber Eats. They made a song called thos moser, a banger with its frenetic plucks and cheeky lyrics like: “Give a fuck what my schedule says/Fuck Notch, fuck Musk, and I’ll piss on Zedd.”
Even though they received a scholarship to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, they took the autumn semester off and, consequently, “things on Spotify got crazy, so now I’m just dropping out altogether”. Besides that, Frax plans on spending less time online. “No Twitter [in] 2021,” they vow. “We need carrier pigeons.”
PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY PETAL SUPPLY
Pronounced: pe-tal supp-lie
Location: Victoria, Canada
Standout track: Picture On My Screen
How her grandparents would describe her music: “Oh God. Literally noise.”
“When I see your picture on my screen/And you’re smiling at me/It’s like you’re right here but/I can’t have it,” Angelica Peddie sings on the dreamy Picture On My Screen, music that could populate a loading screen on a design-your-character anime multiplayer game.
The reason Peddie’s music as Petal Supply is so mercurial and mutative could be her linear working process. She writes and produces a song one section at a time, in order. “When I’m done with a section, I’ll just do something [completely different],” she explains. Her impulsive approach often results in a hooky, chop-change melody.
Though she has been releasing music and collaborating with artists like Himera since 2019, she still works part-time at a clothing store to pay the bills. “I don’t make a living off of Spotify,” she says with a shrug. “But it’s pocket money.” That will soon change, with a move planned to Toronto down the line. And more music. “I plan to release a lot of shit.”
ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA ERICDOA
Pronounced: eric dee-oh-ay
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Standout track: thingsudo2me
How his grandparents would describe his music: “They probably think it’s just a bunch of sounds”
The cover of Ericdoa’s latest album, COA, was shot in a BDSM dungeon, which typifies the subversive sensibility of this Connecticut-bred, Atlanta-based singer. He grew up listening to hardcore New York boom bap rap and made his first song at 14 on a Guitar Hero USB mic. “I used to record myself and it was so ass, I couldn’t bear to do it ever again,” he says, laughing.
He started firing off loosies on Spotify, and his release method proved successful when his two-minute track, movinglikeazombie, blew up on TikTok in summer 2020. “I’ll scroll and see it and keep seeing it. It’s just painful to listen to over and over and over again. It made my brain turn into mush!”
His songs often deal with mental health and relationship issues, including “joke songs about how I have horrible experiences with SSRIs [anti- depressant drugs] and how they ruin my sexual experiences”, all underscored with an emo-rap swagger familiar to fans of Lil Peep.
Despite reps from big labels flooding his email inbox, no contracts have been signed as of yet. His only goal is to keep making music and be “medium famous. I don’t wanna tour the world. I just wanna be in my room.”
CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN CMTEN
Location: Northern California
Standout track: NEVER MET! feat. Glitch Gum
How his grandparents would describe his music: “There’s a lot happening.”
CMTEN grew up singing and playing music as a follower of the Mormon faith. When he got a keyboard for Christmas in 2017, he began “messing around with [production software] Ableton.” His influences – bands like Temporex, Vampire Weekend and MGMT – have seeped into the swirl of trap metal, dubstep and downtempo indie he sings over with lyrics that he says “personify emotion”. Example: “Like an emo bitch on Tumblr I think I just need to get help.”
CMTEN quickly mushroomed from 80 monthly listeners on Spotify to more than a million when NEVER MET! went viral on TikTok, leading to a contract with Warner Records. He plans to release an EP in mid 2021. All the recognition is something not every suburban teen is used to – unless you’re in the hyperpop scene. “I’m 19, but I’m years older than these people that I’m listening to,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 11. Instead of putting time into Call of Duty, [we’re] messing around on FL Studio and making really good music.”
BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS BLACKWINTERWELLS
Location: Hamilton, Canada
Standout track: Iris
How her grandparents would describe her music: “Anxiety-inducing.”
Unlike other young, juiced-up hyperpop stars, Madi Winter has been producing for more than a decade. As blackwinterwells, she has 140,100 monthly Spotify listeners, but thousands more if you count her production and mixing on the releases of her peers, like osquinn’s Bad Idea, glaive’s Sick and 8485’s Skinz.
Winter grew up listening to her parents’ music – Tears For Fears, “all the New Wave junk”. She found out about professional production software FL Studio when she was 14 after a stranger in a World of Warcraft dungeon asked: “Have you heard of dubstep?”
A brief journey through the genre culminated in a budding music career. In 2019, with only 400 SoundCloud followers, Lilac another producer messaged her: “Yo, let’s make a song. I like your stuff.” With an album due out this spring, the “disproportionately emo” music of blackwinterwells has found a dedicated fanbase.
“This is going to be the year I go to LA and link and build,” she says. “I’m working with a lot of people outside of the hyperpop scene because this hyperpop shit could be over at any second, like all of a sudden there’s a new thing. I just want to make jams with cool guys.”
GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI GUPI
Standout track: Modest
How his grandparents would describe his music: “Very fascinating.”
Spencer Hawk grew up in San Diego and moved to Boston after graduation to study music production. He listened to “boring average rock bro music” like Foo Fighters and the Guitar Hero soundtrack. That inspired him to start playing around with Garageband. “It’s fun to mess around on the computer when you’re small,” he says.
What bothers Hawk most is being associated with his famous father, the skate and video game legend Tony Hawk. “I’ve lived an insanely privileged life,” he admits, “so much so that it disgusts me sometimes. But I can’t control my parents’ finances. I’m grateful.” His collaboration with Fraxiom, food house, only proves that as Gupi he has earned his keep as a spark plug of hyperpop. To boot, his secondhand experience of fame only helped when he walked into the real thing. “With food house getting big, it was easy for me to be desensitised to things because I’ve had such a surreal, weird life.”
With lines such as ride’s “I go to Target CVS at night/It is the only time I feel alive”, Hawk’s food house music thumbs a nose at consumerism by aping it with kitschy, brand-friendly lyrics. “I think there’s a lot of emotion in the music that comes from frustration about things, whether it be identity or world issues,” he says, adding, “It’s cool to see a new revolution of music.”
Follow @TheFaceMagazine to watch our Hyperpop showcase featuring artists from this feature. Coming soon.
This article originally referred to artist’s “real names”. It was amended on 9th March.