At the end of 2022, we asked for your help in deciding which sounds will leave a lasting impression on 2023 and you didn’t disappoint. With genres as varied as Amapiano, Jungle and Bossa Nova, global music is in a wonderful place.
In the seventh part of our ongoing spotlight of the genres that mean the most to you, we’re exploring the phenomenon that is Hyperpop. A sound that is difficult to define, but that’s what’s part of the fun. Pioneered in the early 2010s thanks to the work of PC Music – the important label founded by producer A.G. Cook – Charli XCX and the late SOPHIE, Hyperpop takes the sugary sweet vibrations of 1990s and 2000s mainstream Pop music and turns them on their head. The result is music that is glitchy and futuristic. It develops via the internet, where message boards and meme culture interact with each other as producers and musicians in the space find their sound and voice.
Hyperpop is, however, a lot of things to a lot of people. So much so that the name ‘Hyperpop’ and it’s value has been intensely debated over the years, with some in the space dismissing the term as a catch all attempt by the music industry to put them in a box. Others embrace the name as a way to uplift their own music. But Hyperpop holds a special place in modern music and culture, pushing the boundaries of mainstream commercial music.
To find out more about this immersive scene, we spoke to some established artists making their name through Hyperpop. Brad Allen (pictured left above) is a co-founder of Club Quarantine, a digital queer space throwing virtual and IRL parties encompassing Hyperpop and various club sounds; phonewifey (pictured centre above) is a UK-based artist, producer and songwriter active in the space, and Ar is head of operations at Eastern Margins (pictured right above), a record label pushing out experimental electronic music from East and South East Asia and it’s diaspora.
Scroll down for their takes on all things Hyperpop.
What is Hyperpop? Do you identify it by that name?
Ar: Hyperpop is an umbrella term for a form of Pop music that’s largely formed in the internet era and is a byproduct of an amalgamation of various electronic-leaning genres.
phonewifey: I don’t really use the term much but I’m very aware that I’ve been situated within whatever the term is. I don’t think it’s down to me to define Hyperpop; I think that’s down to anthropologists and musicologists to look back on the scene 10 years from now and see what sticks. But I do see a genre that can umbrella artists like That Kid and Chase Icon on one end and then Drain Gang on the other. So musically diffused that Hyperpop doesn’t really have a meaning anymore. I don’t really know what people mean when they use it now, other than music that has an internet origin story, will probably make use of auto-tune or a bright, aggressive synthesizer.
Brad Allen: I mean, that’s a controversial topic and one of those forever discourses where it’s a cardinal sin to define it as one thing. That was probably the pushback when a name like Hyperpop was put to it, so I try to tread lightly. But from my perspective, Hyperpop is a genre that takes everything from Pop music that many consider to be low brow and explodes it into your ear. It’s shameless Pop, it builds off this space of creativity unapologetically and gives you so many perspectives of how Pop music can sound. Some people just call it pots and pans music! For ease of use, whenever we’re talking about that community, especially for Club Quarantine to which they’ve been very loyal, I don’t think we should be ashamed of the name; it’s fun! Maybe it felt coated a little bit in that it was like a word that people in the community knew about, but now it’s the name of a playlist. I know that other artists have really fought that and openly spoke against the term ‘Hyperpop’ but for me, I’m just like, ‘okay, I think we’re taking ourselves a little too seriously.’
Where did the name Hyperpop come from and why is it such a controversial topic within the scene?
phonewifey: I used it to describe artists like Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Hannah Diamond, the kind of PC Music-adjacent scene that peaked in the 2010s. I think it meant a lot more when it was a bit more specific; highlighting the shiniest, brightest, most bubble gum aspects of Pop and electronic music with this experimental edge that took the music to it’s sugary limits and a lot of good music came from that. It’s a term that was as usefully identifiable as Shoegaze for example, or Metalcore. Nowadays I think things are being called Hyperpop that don’t focus too much on the Pop side of it; there’s a lot of Internet Rap, Cloud Rap, Post-Emo Rap, dance music. I rarely work with people who consider themselves Hyperpop artists, and actively resist the term!
After it started getting picked up by playlist platforms, Hyperpop became a loose tastemaker’s definition of artists just being thrown on a playlist with the common thread being that the music is all kind of internet-based. It’s like an attempt to codify a scene from an organisation that is least qualified to speak on the scene. These platforms don’t know, the artists know. And it sort of leaks into arguments or feelings that get swept up in being included or not included in these playlists and it’s not benefiting any of us. I would just say, don’t use a corporate playlist as a yardstick for telling you what your movement is about. It’s just a recipe for disaster, these platforms aren’t your friend.
Ar: I hadn’t heard of the term until like 2017? 2018? But I’ve been listening to music that sounds like that from way before. I guess it seems controversial because the word itself feels kind of like industry jargon, instead of an organic term that artists producing the music come up with themselves. Before the term itself, I’d call similar sounding music ‘Nightcore’, ‘Glitch’, ‘Breakcore’, even just straight up ‘Pop’. Hyperpop as it sounds today amalgamates those genres. But maybe ‘Hyperpop’ itself isn’t a genre, or at least doesn’t take itself too seriously as a genre the way others do.
Brad Allen: I think it goes back to that feeling that the name came from a third party and it was a view of how other people outside the community viewed it. That’s kind of scary because it’s that question of, shouldn’t we be able to claim our title? The ones creating the music? But at the same time I think the name lends itself to that grandiose musical quality of Hyperpop, especially back in the PC Music era. Everything was so big and grand. Now that it does kind of have a name in the catalog and it is out there, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Hyperpop takes a Billboard poster that we’re used to seeing with a Pop star on it and flips it on his head.
When did you first hear Hyperpop music?
Brad Allen: This is a perfect example of a genre that was kind of created online in certain spaces. When I first heard anything that I guess would call Hyperpop was in 2014 and it would have been, with a lot of people, SOPHIE. But that was SOPHIE creating a commentary of what it means to sound commercial and what it means to kind of claim Pop back in a sense. Because, looking back to when I was younger and was told that Pop music isn’t real music and it’s just created from a bunch of suits in order to appease certain parts of society, I can now see Hyperpop as taking the sound that meant so much to us and now creating it ourselves. I think it is a really powerful thing. It’s Warholian almost!
Ar: I’d say a lot of 1990s/2000s Japanese game soundtracks, especially the ones by Namco and Sega, contain elements that I now seek and enjoy in today’s Hyperpop. Ayumi Hamasaki’s Trance albums also shaped my love for the mixture of Pop singing with electronic dance music. And the weird, Y2K productions of Utada Hikaru songs.
What makes Hyperpop so provocative, diverse and original on a musical level?
phonewifey: I think what makes it so diverse in a way is it’s like a feedback loop in that it’s not particularly well defined, so there’s loads of stuff going on. Because of that, it kind of can be anything. Maybe it’s status as a shape-shifting, experimental internet genre is what keeps the doors open so much. I think the most influential pioneering artist for a lot of people was SOPHIE. I know that Kid Trash was super influenced by SOPHIE and I think she was just key to that scene in her vision of the music as a satire of a commercial product and how aggressively vibrant her music was. That is something that I think is a huge part of the lineage of Hyperpop.
Brad Allen: It’s everything and nothing, you can’t define it. I know if I play it on the aux cord, someone is going to freak out like, ‘what the hell is that?’ So it’s a sound that I think some people feel very protective over too because of that nature. There’s just a lot of facets to it as well, and especially now that it is kind of entering a commercial space. It’s youth driven and such a result of a generation of iPad babies who grew up feeling obligated to have a digital identity. That’s why with all of PC Music and even all of Hyperpop, as soon as you hear it, you just immediately think computer! You just think digital. It’s the kind of first genre that didn’t try to emulate real music and was claiming that. I’m proud of where it’s gone so far.
Ar: I think it’s provocativeness comes from the fact that it really wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve, and is not afraid of being ultimately a hybrid genre. Most other genres are hybrid anyway but like I mentioned earlier, Hyperpop doesn’t take itself as a genre too seriously in upholding certain, likely rigid conventions. Like how it should sound, the BPM or how you dance to it.
“Hyperpop is shameless Pop! It builds off creativity unapologetically and gives you so many perspectives of how Pop can sound” – Brad Allen
Who are some of the most known artists in the Hyperpop scene?
Ar: PC Music are undoubtedly the founders of the scene, particularly in the West. Though I would say Drain Gang’s influence on Hyperpop today is as important.
Brad Allen: Artists like Pedal Supply and Namasenda are making real moves and are considered pillars of the community, building their audiences in really amazing ways. I think people should follow Hyperpop’s framework for experimentation.
How important is the role of production to the scene?
phonewifey: The producers are making the music as much as the artists are. Generally speaking, it’s a scene where you have producers making beats and an artist then making songs with those beats but you also have a lot of artists who are the producers. It seems to be a genre that hinges on production. It’s production styles, and the fact that it’s a beat-based production genre.
So, it’s a lot of beats on hard drives going around the Internet or going around USBs to various studio sessions being plugged into DAWs and having songs written to them. A lot of it comes from bedroom producers as well; I think the origins of Hyperpop in a lot of ways are the kind of bedroom producers making the music of their own imagination and then putting it out online and then forming this kind of community, connecting from across the world. Production is at the heart of a lot of Hyperpop.
Brad Allen: You’re seeing a diversity of producers and I think that’s really helped the community grow. There are kids from different backgrounds who are self-taught and may have been gate-kept from releasing music who are now able to distribute their music themselves. It’s incredibly important for Hyperpop to continue to reflect the diversity of the community that built it.
We’ve seen the likes of Charli XCX, SOPHIE, 100 gecs and A.G Cook really gain mainstream recognition over the years. Why do you think that is?
phonewifey: For people like 100 gecs, they’ve really cemented a style of their own by bringing together quite disparate genre cues from other areas and mashing them up into a hysterical internet collage. Their songwriting is also incredibly good, they know how to write earworms that stick in your head. I always get a big sense of Nu Metal from them and they definitely have some punky elements as well as some really early cloud rap elements and then the aggressive autotune. But I think they’re just incredible songwriters and that’s the thing that makes their music so catchy and identifiable.
Ar: Personally I wouldn’t say there’s a desire to retain it’s originality at least in terms of sound. It’s always evolving and I’m not even sure what the latest Hyperpop sound even is. Which kind of makes it exciting. Though as a whole movement I understand that it’s an important and defining sound for music in the queer community.
Brad Allen: It’s been incredible, like seeing A.G Cook on a Beyonce album is absolutely insane. But I remember when Charlie XX was on the rise, there was a real conversation around her that lent to whether we should have a name for the sound. But I just felt like, who’s that serving? Whether there’s a name to it or not, clearly there’s a flavor. There’s a message, and if you’ve ever used it to help build your sound, you should be proud of it continuing to grow. Not to say that commercial success validates a genre or anything. But I do think that for anything to be that dynamic and reaching new levels, is just an indicator of how powerful and how good it is.
Hyperpop has very much developed online. How has the internet helped the scene?
Brad Allen: The two go hand in hand and I think that’s probably the beauty of it. It’s funny because in terms of spaces where Hyperpop has thrived, before the pandemic, it was still very tied to the internet. I would say almost exclusively to North America. Then in the pandemic, these digital spaces really started to explode within that community, if you look at Club Quarantine, Subculture and different communities that are Hyperpop-driven.
Now we’re starting to see more physical parties and spaces and it’s been interesting to see that music in that zone and see how people react to it. I think that’s why we’re trying to do more hybrid events – digital and IRL – because most of the people that come to our physical events are from mostly Hyperpop communities, really young kids. Seeing them reacting to Hyperpop in a physical way is great to see.
Ar: Hyperpop exists because of the internet. In a more recent context, there’s a sort of nostalgia to the 2020 Hyperpop music released during the COVID-19 lockdown and the online parties and gatherings happening around it.
phonewifey: I don’t see how it could even possibly exist without the internet as a tool for communication for people. It’s quite an international genre as a result. A lot of people will find each other and they will just happen to be in two different cities across the world. I think there’s a lot of international collaboration that goes on and then different scenes popping up in different major cities.
Does DJ or party culture exist within the scene?
phonewifey: I think it is a genre full of club kids and people who spend a lot of time at parties. I know that Subculture and Club Cringe do a lot of Hyperpop-adjacent stuff in the United States but I’m not sure if they can be considered explicitly Hyperpop nights. There’s nothing super specific about what it actually means for something to be a Hyperpop night. It’s so hard to point to anything concrete.
Brad Allen: Personally speaking, when we hosted our live event with Subculture and Boiler Room in December 2022, we booked the Club Quarantine room. It was very much that Hyperpop crowd. We had Cecile Believe play and other PC Music-leaning artists but then Alex Chapman would play Miley Cyrus’ ‘See You Again.’ Those same kids that were dancing to 100 gecs will absolutely lose their mind to a LeAnn Rimes song because there is such an appreciation of Pop music and what it can be.There’s a camaraderie for sure. It’s really beautiful because it’s also the community that I lean on as well and have really helped me learn what it means to build a space. I’ve learned a lot from the community. I thought we felt very supported and very welcomed by both DJs and just kind of like overall fans.
Ar: There’s a growing number of Hyperpop-adjacent club collectives in London that are doing really fun raves. Genesys, Fetchish and Planet Fun are just some of the names.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Hyperpop?
Brad Allen: That it is vapid, surface level throwaway music and there isn’t a point of view behind it. I think that it’s proven itself beyond that point. I think that it might just get linked to a very trendy kind of sound because it is so youth-oriented. There’s a misconception that it’s just flavor-of-the-week music and we’re kind of moving out of that; people are starting to see there is a message behind it. That’s why Pitchfork are re-reviewing songs now. It’s very layered and it’s changing music. There’s full Pop sounds on Beyonce’s Renaissance which is the biggest album of the past year. Those are wins that we should acknowledge.
Ar: That it’s not real music and is made by unserious kids messing around. Which is what they say of new, young genres when they’re just popping up.
phonewifey: I don’t think the thing to be concerned about is definitions and categories. Making what you want to make, playing the shows you want to play and working with the artists that you want to work with should always be the primary goal. Just let other people worry about what it’s called or what scene it fits into, or whether it’s part of a movement or if it’s it’s own thing. I’m not trying to categorize my own output. I’m trying to make my own output. I’ve never let the term Hyperpop dictate what I will or won’t make.
What do you think your role is within the scene?
phonewifey: I’m a bit older than a lot of the Hyperpop artists. I mean, in any kind of creative scene, there’s always a lot of young people coming up. That’s a nice thing because there’s always quite a broad age spectrum with different reference points. I would consider myself someone who’s been around a bit, I gigged as a teenager and got a lot of advice from people on the pub circuits and venue circuits. I like being involved in a vibrant creative scene where I can be of use to people who also want to make music and perhaps haven’t got all of the experience that I have yet in terms of being able to produce or sort out sound for a live show. It’s good to give a bit back to the younger generation if you’re capable of doing so. It’s important to teach.
Brad Allen: By using our platform to highlight artists and sounds, that’s always been our mission. We really see ourselves as part of this wider Hyperpop community and by doing what we’re doing with who we platform and who we book, they’ve always been so receptive to us. So we’ll continue to do that, because they really get Club Quarantine’s mission. It’s oddly symbiotic.
What trends should Hyperpop embrace/reject? What would you like to see more or less of?
Ar: It should embrace guitars and distortion. Like Lil Uzi Vert’s tune with Babymetal.
phonewifey: I would say reject nothing and embrace everything. If we’re going to make a hard-to-define mashup of other genres then just go even wilder, go further than anyone can possibly think of. I will always go into bat for absolutely unbridled creative variety for the sheer sake of it. Don’t find yourself locked into any sort of musical language; if you want to try something, try it. If you found your lane and you like it then by all means, stick to it. But let’s do a collage properly. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone, whether that ends up with you making stuff that you can release or not. It’s kind of challenging yourself creatively both as a listener and as an artist. Going against the orthodox, and that’s what Hyperpop is all about.
Brad Allen: Embrace diversity. I think back to the PC Music days where it started pretty white and white-led. I think those were conversations that we were having when we were booking shows back in the day and we would kind of run into a lot, where we would be happy to have whoever from that community but it was really lacking in that diversity. So I think allowing other voices and points of view to be highlighted will let the sound be more reflective of the community. Hyperpop won’t last if it doesn’t. So let it be reflective of the audience that’s listening to it in terms of the people who are creating and the people we highlight.
What do you think lies in Hyperpop’s future?
phonewifey: I guess my prediction for it is that it’ll get canonized. It will be a thing for old heads for a while, and then it’ll have a kind of a revivalism sort of moment 10 years later as new people who weren’t there at the time rediscover it and go, ‘my God,’ but in a sort of cool vintage way. It’s destined for the kind of dumping ground of periodic revivalism in the same way that every genre kind of is just like. There’ll be the people who pioneered it. There’ll be the people that jumped on board, there’ll be the people that kind of changed it, they’ll be the people that are responsible for making it blow up in the public consciousness and then watering down the essence of what it is. Then they’ll be the people who are responsible for it’s over-saturation and fall off. Then, five to ten years later, it becomes this cool retro thing that some were too young to really experience at the time.
Ar: I think Ecco2k is going to make another classic record and revolutionize the game.
Brad Allen: I don’t want it to lose it’s fun element. Not to sound like a purist but I want it to maintain those roots. I see it possibly going down the route to where it becomes more radio-friendly. It’s very influenced by what’s happening in the culture to such an in-your-face degree. So whatever happens in the world will be reflected in that genre and that’s kind of the beauty and excitement of it. I’m excited to see what the kids have to say!