Everything you ever wanted to know about pop's youngest, brightest, most addictive sub-genre
Charli XCX is doing it. SOPHIE’s doing it. Rina Sawayama‘s sort of doing it. It’s pop, but not as you know it. It’s influenced by hip-hop and electronic music; it’s cute and it’s excessive and it’s avant-garde; and it’s closely bound up in 2010s internet culture and the LGBTQ+ community. Hyperpop is everywhere and nowhere and some say it’s already over – a movement so explosive it can’t even be contained. If you don’t have a clue what we’re talking about, read on…
Hyperpop was born in 1988, first coined in an article about Cocteau Twins. But it was over 25 years later that the term started being used to describe the output of London record label and art collective, PC Music. Somewhere along the line – perhaps around the time Spotify launched its hyperpop playlist – the term began sticking to PC Music’s associated artists, along with any brash, avant-garde electronic pop with heavily processed vocals. Hyperpop doesn’t do minimalism. Imagine taking the pop of the noughties and 2010s, and dialing it up to a million.
Often then used synonymously with PC Music, the collective was founded by producer A. G. Cook a decade ago – Spotify’s Lizzy Szabo has described Cook as the “godfather of hyperpop” – and among the artists signed to the label both past and present have included Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, and EasyFun.
The likes of Charli XCX, 100 Gecs, Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens have also been associated with the label – which often brings them all into the hyperpop orbit – and Charli is arguably the biggest hyperpop artist around. She began to experiment with the genre from her 2016 EP Vroom Vroom, produced by SOPHIE, and a clear hyperpop influence has been apparent ever since. Even her latest album, 2022’s Crash, which she worked on with Cook, displayed some hyperpop influence despite Charli declaring the sub-genre dead on instagram in 2021.
Names like Polachek and Let’s Eat Grandma aren’t exactly hyperpop artists, but their avant-garde pop definitely sits comfortably alongside those who are. Ashnikko and Girli aren’t in the club either, but they might be considered hyperpop-adjacent. Confused?
As hyperpop has blown up over the last few years, it’s become more and more challenging to define. Just as any new guitar band with a spoken-word verse will be labelled post-punk, any contemporary pop borne through the internet will be called hyperpop. From SoundCloud rap to trap-infused pop to bubblegum pop-punk, the boundaries of the sub-genre are becoming increasingly blurry. And then there’s glitchcore, digicore, ketacore and bubblegum bass – all sub-sub-genres of the same movement, as interchangeable as they are completely different.
And hyperpop has many varied influences. Kesha and Britney Spears have both been cited, as has noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells, who merged pop with hip-hop, punk, and metal, playing with genres in a similar way to many of the biggest hyperpop artists. Cook has described artists as varied as Kate Bush, electronic artist Max Tundra, and the late rapper and producer J Dilla as influences on the genre’s aesthetic, while Japanese DJ Yasutaka Nakata is another key touchstone. And Grimes, one of the most innovative and influential electronic pop artists of the last 15 years, is surely required reading too.
“Here is music suited to TikTok’s DIY hijinks, Twitch’s video-game violence, and the all-you-can-listen-to, boundary-free possibilities of music streaming,” said The Atlantic, trying to pin down the teenage sound like a baffled, judgmental parent. “Digital music pushed to its most flamboyant, most discordant, most spectacular extremes,” offered up Rolling Stone, faring a bit better, calling the movement “a mutant, fraught democracy”.
Maybe deliberately designed to never fit the old moulds of the music industry, hyperpop is impossible to pigeonhole. Now lingering somewhere after its own second wave, the genre first built as an ironic satire of mainstream pop has now doubled back on itself to become something that’s always in flux. All you can really expect is extreme pitching and warping, heavily processed bass and bubbly synths. Sexual politics, binge drinking and acrylics. Fluoro-fillers, surrealism and cuteness. Dystopias and dancefloors.
The future of hyperpop
The second wave of hyperpop started somewhere around 2019, influenced particularly by Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs, as well as emo and cloud rap. TikTok has played a huge role in the movement over the last few years, responsible for brining the sub-genre’s DIY roots right back into bedrooms. Chloe Moriondo embodies this perfectly – a low-fi artist turned rising hyperpop star whose latest album both satarised and celebrated the popstars of the 00s. Her version of the genre – because, if it wasn’t clear by now, everyone has their own – is a love letter to the glitter and grit of this era of pop; an ode to its metaphorical car crashes.
At the same time, hyperpop has gone mainstream. Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ monster hit ‘Unholy’, released in September 2022, went to number one in the UK and across the world, and makes enough use of hyperpop-esque synths and percussion to prove the extent of the sub-genre’s reach. When hyperpop makes it to BBC Radio 2, it’s a long way from wherever it started.
We’re now over two years on from SOPHIE’s tragic death. Charli XCX veered away from hyperpop last year. 100 Gecs are on a major label now. Hyperpop isn’t dead, but perhaps we’re in a post-post-hyperpop world now, somewhere past the peak but still left with plenty of ironies to mine? Arguably, it was as much a sub-genre as a moment in time.
Hyperpop artists to know
A. G. Cook
The founder of PC Music, A. G. Cook almost is hyperpop. He’s worked with Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Danny L Harle, and just about anyone who’s anyone in hyperpop. He’s released two studio albums himself, too, with many critics rating 2020’s Apple among the best albums of the year.
Not all of Charli’s output falls under hyperpop, but she’s certainly the largest name to be involved with the genre. ‘Vroom Vroom’ is a hyperpop classic, and then there are the Cook-produced albums Charli and How I’m Feeling Now. Charli’s latest album Crash might have displayed fewer hyperpop influences, but Cook was still heavily involved.
A true hyperpop pioneer, SOPHIE grew up loving electronic music and began to break through in 2013 with the song ‘Bipp’. Her only studio album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides arrived in 2018 to critical acclaim, while as a producer she worked with artists including Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Shygirl.
Danny L Harle
Good friends with A. G. Cook, Harle released his debut album Harlecore in 2021. But he most notably composes and produces for other artists. He was the executive producer of Caroline Polachek’s 2019 album Pang, and is also part of the duo Dux Content with Cook.
Missouri duo 100 Gecs formed in 2015, and frequently earned comparisons with PC Music – they mention some of the label’s artists as among their biggest influences too. Their 2019 debut album 1000 Gecs fits firmly in the hyperpop genre.
GFOTY released music through PC Music from 2013 to 2018, but is now independent. She had a reputation for being one of the more political acts on the label, with a persona that lampshades club culture. She released a “greatest hits” compilation, GFOTYBUCKS, in 2017, and it remains a staple of the genre.
Norwich-born Hannah Diamond met A. G. Cook through GFOTY, and began releasing music through PC Music in 2013. She meshes hyperreality with cute aesthetics, and her debut album Reflections – released in 2019 – mixed hyperpop with elements of trance and bubblegum pop.
A young teen in the YouTube-fueled heyday of new bedroom pop artists brandishing their ukuleles, Moriondo’s DIY debut album sounds nothing like the larger than life pop she’s steered into. Her 2022 album SUCKERPUNCH is a joyful and occasionally manic interpretation of celebrity culture and popstar-dom.
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