The 2010s landscape of emo rap and forward-thinking pop has given birth to a new generation of artists who are young, queer and fiercely determined. Though broadly tagged as ‘hyperpop’, the genre defies any and all definition – Gemma Cockrell asks whether this is its crux or capstone.
Assembling elements of trance, nightcore, emo and pop into one digital amalgam of sounds, hyperpop took 2020 by storm. The genre’s immense DIY spirit and the sense of rebellion that hyperpop artists share is rendering music fun again, prioritising the emotion and community over commercial sales.
Reflecting on the genre a year on from its monumental rise in popularity, it is difficult to determine whether hyperpop is the sound of the future, or just a fleeting lockdown fad. There are often repeating patterns in the music industry, and to determine whether hyperpop has lasting potential, it makes sense to look at the previous subgenre that exploded on the internet in the same way: cloud rap.
Despite hyperpop’s pandemic surge in popularity, it has existed as an underground genre for much longer
Hyperpop has taken the pop genre and exaggerated many elements, but cloud rap took hip hop and did the opposite; it slowed down the genre to form a new, drawling, spaced-out form of hip-hop. In the same way as hyperpop, it was very much a product of the internet with a DIY ethos – Yung Lean recorded his first album Unknown Death 2002 in a music room at his school, whilst Clams Casino began producing beats at his mother’s house in New Jersey.
Despite many of the original cloud rap artists never breaking through to the mainstream, the sounds of the genre continued to permeate modern mainstream hip hop in the late 2010’s. Music’s ever-evolving nature means that, in the same way as cloud rap, it is likely that mainstream artists will also borrow elements of hyperpop in their own music in the coming years. Regardless of their huge popularity within the internet community, it seems unlikely that pioneers of the hyperpop genre such as 100 gecs and p4rkr will ever reach mainstream fame, but support from mainstream artists would ensure hyperpop’s longevity as a genre.
Despite hyperpop’s huge surge in popularity during lockdown, it has existed as an underground genre for much longer than this. London producer A.G. Cook founded the PC Music record label in 2013, which boasts some of hyperpop’s biggest names such as Dorian Electra and Hannah Diamond. He has also worked extensively with perhaps one of hyperpop’s most renowned names, British pop star Charli XCX. Once a mainstream phenomenon, she opted to rebel against her label Atlantic Records and began to craft a more experimental form of the pop that brought her widespread radio attention in the early 2010’s.
However, Charli has never been an artist to confine herself to a genre, and she has never been overly accepting of the term hyperpop. An artist who she recently collaborated with, Bladee, feels the same way. Being asked about hyperpop is self-admittedly Charli’s “least favourite question to be asked,” whilst Bladee admits he’s “not super into genres” because “it’s limiting people to only having one sound and not experimenting more.”
“I think if they’d just call it pop, it’d be much better”
At their core, that is what both Bladee and Charli, along with most other artists under the hyperpop umbrella, are: experimenters. When some of the biggest names in hyperpop are rejecting the label, then is has to be questioned whether hyperpop is really a genre at all. The term was not coined by the artists themselves, but instead it was placed upon them by Spotify when they created their popular ‘hyperpop’ playlist. It seems that many artists who have been forced under this umbrella term by streaming services are actually more comfortable without a label at all. Hyperpop is merely a term for artists who are making experimental pop music.
As Bladee himself said, “I think if they would just call it pop, it would be much better.” Hyperpop has a futuristic sound because of its fearlessness when pushing the boundaries of the pop genre, so to give the artists a label and confine them in a box seems regressive. The reason these artists are the sound of the future is because they are not trying to craft music within a particular genre. Instead, they are unafraid to exist in the music industry without genre constraints – in fact, their creativity thrives from this. The rebellious mindset and experimental sounds behind hyperpop definitely aren’t a fleeting fad, but the term itself isn’t the future of music either.