This article is in part a response to ‘Post-Internet music and the rise of Hyperpop’ by Nelson Crossley, published in Honi Soit on March 27, 2022.
What’s in a genre? Viewed holistically, genre can go beyond a mere collection of sonic traits by which songs can be defined – it can be an intimate term that connects a community, time period, geographic location and a situated context. It can be a call to action for artists, as in the case of punk, or it can encapsulate broader socio-political ideas than the aesthetic signifiers of a genre. As DJ Sprinkles reflects in the introduction to his seminal 2008 album Midtown 120 Blues“Home is not universal / Home is hyper specific: East Jersey, Lower East Side, West Village, Brooklyn.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time, gender is an overused and sometimes ideological concept that can be used to discriminate, in the case of the infamous Urban category of the Grammys, or employed with such a level of abstraction that its contextual basis s erase. Journalists and music critics usually find it hard to discuss new releases outside of categorizing them with obscure phrases like “trap-flavored hi-hats” and the occasional prefix proto-/post-. An overreliance on such terms can convey the overall feeling of a piece of music, but struggle to communicate the finer details. Often reading a Fork exam reminds us how far language has to go before we can properly communicate how things his using words.
Despite these observations, the rise of “hyperpop” as one of the hottest new buzzwords in musical discourse still seems like a puzzling anomaly. It is not that it is less vague than other nebulous terms so commonly and incorrectly thrown around; it never had a stable meaning to begin with. The origin of the term in-proper dates back to 2016, with the founding of indie netlabel Bandcamp HYPERPOP, which released high-energy dance tracks filled with frenetic breakbeats. Yet the contemporary usage of “hyperpop” has little to do with this label and has been applied to a wide range of music as diversely contradictory as Tommy Cash and Caterina Barbieri. The cross-section between these two artists is so narrow that the question becomes patently clear: I guess they both use…some synthesizers?
But even beyond this lack of basic definitional clarity, hyperpop is a term that seems to swell in pure etymological obscurity with each passing day. Unlike any other genre before it, which with some degree of research can probably be assigned temporal and geographical boundaries, music fans have retrospectively and anachronistically categorized the music as hyperpop when artists never had intend to be labeled as such. The simple question “Where does hyperpop begin?” is almost impossible to answer and results in a vicious spiral: if 100 gecs come to mind, then surely the answer is the creation of PC Music in 2013. But if the answer is PC Music, then what about music like Eurodance that sounds virtually identical to the label’s early work? It’s not uncommon these days to find “insightful” thought pieces that label Nicki Minaj, Caramell, or even Crazy Frog an OG hyperpopper. None of these answers make the origins of the term any clearer.
An easy way to explain this frustrating vagueness is to fall back on the digital schizophrenia of the post-internet era. After all, with so many artists in space wearing such a self-referential cyberspace aesthetic, it’s easy to conclude that the creatives themselves are exploring the limits of the term “hyperpop” and discovering that it contains almost everything. However, as a producer who has been labeled as hyperpop for the better part of two years, I can say with confidence that the growing fervor around the genre has been anything but organic. And like most unfortunate things in the music industry these days, Spotify is to blame.
A quick look at Google Trends shows us that the first slope of search popularity for the term “hyperpop” occurred in August 2019, aligning perfectly with the advent of the Spotify playlist of the same name, tasty undercapitalized. Although Spotify editor Lizzy Szabo says it was created in direct response to 100 gecs’ viral fame and a desire to shine a light on artists who have pushed the boundaries of pop production in the extreme, the playlist was quickly iterated to include tracks from artists of questionable relevance like J Dilla and Kate Bush. Over time, and perhaps most egregiously with the Bladee & Mechatok edition of the playlist in December 2020, Spotify has sucked artists as far from their original vision as the J-pop idol group into its ravenous maw. Perfume and rapper Lil Uzi Vert. It’s no surprise, then, that around the same time that “hyperpop” began to catch on, artists who fell under Spotify’s umbrella began publicly expressing their disdain for the term. Even Charli XCX, whom Spotify would like to sell you as a pioneer of the genre, said in an interview with QQ Music that she “hates that word”. Yet despite backlash from the very artists who gave Spotify’s playlist its runaway success, what reason do they have to continue to dilute what the genre stands for? The answer is so simple that it could just as well be axiomatic: that makes it a money shit.
Hyperpop is perhaps the first example in history of a genre whose brand image was controlled, from start to finish, by a corporation. Although the genres have been commercialized in the past – look no further than house, trance or any of the other great electronic music styles of the early 2000s – hyperpop was and continues to be a corporate construct that has little relevance to the actual community of artists. that populate Spotify’s playlist. The fact that hyperpop is about everything and nothing is a huge plus for Spotify’s engagement rates: it allows them to keep the hype surrounding the genre going indefinitely, even as the tracks they listen to drift further and further away. over 100 gecs of sound. All this while spending few resources in A&R to really understand the latest online trends. In doing so, Spotify homogenizes many of the deeply political ideas embedded in so-called “hyperpop” music, which are most often rooted in the queer and PoC experience, as evidenced by the quirky world of “internet culture.”
Ultimately, while the hyperpop hype has been a boon for established players in the industry, it has hurt independent artists the most. Specifically, those who want to develop and define their own musical subculture. Although Crossley’s original article ends on a positive note – that music fans now have more intimate access to the lives and personalities of artists – which I agree hyperpop is everything except the paradigmatic case of this phenomenon. As Louisiana-based producer d0llywood1, a precursor to the emerging “digicore” scene, states in a 2021 Vice profile, “[hyperpop is] a title that really doesn’t apply to us… none of us do ‘pop’ music at all. Yet a quick look at the latest iteration of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist shows us that many artists like d0llywood1 who outright rejected the label in favor of their own descriptions still loom large: osquinn, dltzk, Diana Starshine , angelus, midwxst – the list goes on. The message Spotify sends is clear: it doesn’t matter what interests you, what kind of community you’re trying to foster, or even what your music sounds like. Everything is hyperpop here.
Hyperpop and other corporate attempts to birth a genre through top-down branding exercises are likely to become a more mainstream phenomenon in the future. In fact, it’s already happening, as evidenced by the term “glitchcore” taking on a life of its own beyond the original Apple Music playlist and into a broader musical discourse. As independent publishing platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud continue to thrive, especially with their recent revenue suppression efforts, I can only hope that one day it’s us as artists, not the streaming service marketing teams, who will have the final say on how we identify and rank.