Why Pop's Hyperpop Rebrand Craze Is the Sign of a Dying Genre

“Rip Hyperpop? Discuss,” Charli XCX tweeted back in 2021, effectively declaring the end of a very online subgenre of music she herself helped popularize. Fans of the genre have since agreed that its golden days are now over, with its remnants morphing into something altogether new. Yet, it seems over the past few months, the world’s mainstream pop artists have discovered the genre (or at least, its aesthetic trappings) en masse—and are all hoping to use it to fuel their next Top 40 era. Is it a sign that reports of Hyperpop’s death were exaggerated, or and indication that increasingly uninspired and formulaic mainstream pop is spiraling toward a grave of its own?

The trend began earlier this year when the Internet decided that Camila Cabello was deliberately borrowing from XCX’s playbook. The song’s catchy chorus (“I love it, I love it, I love it”) on Cabello’s single of the same name sounded suspiciously similar to XCX’s 2017 track “I Got It.” The reveal of C,XOXO as her album’s title didn’t dissuade critics—but at this point, you almost have to give Cabello credit for being first. Suspicions that Katy Perry had Hyperpop on her mood board were confirmed when she unveiled the cover art for her upcoming single “Women’s World”: it looked like a PG-13 version of the cover for Hyperpop-adjacent artist Arca’s album Kick i. Adam Lambert (remember him?) unveiled a new look last weekend to tease his song “C*nty”. His blue mullet, mustache, and studded accessories instantly called to mind the trademark look of Dorian Electra. Halsey updated her website with a new look that included girly vibes and neon pink hair (Hannah Diamond, anyone?) and graphics that recalled the Web 2.0 era, a defining hallmark of the Hyperpop aesthetic. The teaser visuals for Blackpink rapper Lisa’s upcoming solo single “Rockstar” have also raised eyebrows. Super fans of each artist may quibble that their particular fav isn’t guilty of blatant appropriation, and there’s no guarantee that all of these artists’ new projects will actually sound like Hyperpop. Yet, taken in sum, it’s hard not to imagine that some PowerPoint presentation of Hyperop style made the rounds around major record labels last year.

Left: Capitol Records. Right: XL Recordings
618i8myc2il uf10001000 ql80 1

“Obsessed with this new trend of failing pop stars (and their management teams) trying to serve manufactured c*nt in an attempt to appeal to lowest common denominator gay guys,” wrote X user Cary Owen in a viral missive that sums up the online apprehension. “There is a specific trend of failing Disney-esque pop stars trying to serve Hyperpop that has been doing the rounds recently and it feels particularly transparent to me.”

Perhaps if you’re not young, queer, and online (or the kind of person who thrives on constant newness: i.e. NYU-educated digital editors, people who live in Ridgewood, those born under the Gemini star sign), you might not even be aware of what Hyperpop is in the first place. Perhaps these artist’s management teams are betting that the wider public is not.

To our mind, Hyperpop in both sound and style feels like the result of a running PlayStation 2 being thrown into a bathtub. Think bright unnatural colors, pixelated glitchy graphics, and the most intense parts of Y2K-era popular music blaring together at once. It’s like Robert Rauschenberg set free in the TRL studios, reassembling bits and pieces of Millennials’s favorite middle school dance music in an unholy fashion. There are pop beats, screamo wailing, rapping (usually intentionally inept), auto-tuned choruses, and random bits, like a Ska horn riff or nu-metal guitar solo sprinkled in. The visuals look like if Lisa Frank passed her company on to her 23-year-old nibling who understood vibes better than they did the finer points of operating Photoshop.

Charli XCX and Camila Cabello

Left: Atlantic Records. Right: @camilacabello

From another viewpoint, Hyperpop is just the latest in a long legacy of Internet-fueled microgenres that result from young people with online access to every bit of popular media that’s ever existed—and the ability to illegally download tools to make their own music. Inevitably, they highlight culture signifiers from about twenty years before, and then put them through a digital blender. Before Hyperpop, Millennial hipsters were doing something similar with ’80s pop and electro with Electroclash and Bloghaus. You can argue, even, that the pattern extends from long before the Internet existed. What was punk but a rebellious bastardization of ’50s rock and roll? And what was rock but a youthful appropriation of blues music?

Hyperpop, however, stands out, due to it’s super-online nature, (to be fair, the subgenre’s peak coincided with lockdown in 2020). And because of how many trans musicians helped form the genre: Sophie, Arca, Laura Les of the band 100 gecs—these are all mainstays or major influences on the genre. Pop star Kim Petras has remained in dialogue with the genre. Artists like ElyOtto, Dorian Electra, and quinn are mainstays on any Hyperpop playlist. (Would-be culture vultures should be aware of that provenance before they find themselves in a backlash cycle of appropriation think pieces and tweets.)

Dorian Electra and Adam Lambert

Left: Dorian Electra. Right: The Orchard Enterprises

a2249893828 10 1

But perhaps even that is giving too much credit to how deep these recent Hyperpop makeovers are. It feels less like a studied appropriation of an underground culture, and more like a lazy skimming of style to feed the constant demand for pop-star reinvention.

For a certain group of pop-obsessed superfans, the marketing and image of a musician’s new era has become more important than the actual music itself. X accounts like @PopCrave and @PopBase cover every single development in the rollout of any pop star’s new career phase. A complete image overhaul almost ensures coverage, and gives the superfans more to talk about. Alas, that playbook doesn’t seem to be guaranteeing actual commercial success lately. Dua Lipa’s recent Radical Optimism, ushered in with a new wardrobe inspired by ’90s minimalism, flopped in the states. Cabello’s “I Luv It” peaked at a paltry 81 on the Billboard singles charts, despite a guest verse from rap superstar Playboi Carti. Ariana Grande’s recent ’90s club-infused album Eternal Sunshine didn’t maintain the cultural omnipresence of her previous work.

In contrast, Adele remains a commercial force precisely because she doesn’t rebrand. She evolves. If you see her in a Hyperpop pink wig, it’s probably because she’s just out having fun with her friends (perhaps at Pieces?), and not promoting new music. Taylor Swift may be on her Eras tour, but her sanest fans have to admit that her attempts at dramatic image overhauls (Reputation’s Nickelodeon Goth, Lover’s Rainbow Warrior) weren’t her finest moments. Instead, her fans cherish what remains consistent about her music: confessional lyrics, killer bridges. Charli XCX, as she admits on “Sympathy Is a Knife,” may never touch Swift’s numbers, but her album Brat is finding career-high success because she’s refined the image and sound she’s crafted over her 13-year career instead of dramatically rebranding. Then there’s Chappell Roan, who is currently upending the industry by being nothing but herself. Yes, there are references (see her Divine drag), but she’s not rehashing some recent underground aesthetic for pure promotional reasons.

Hannah Diamond and Halsey

Left: PC Music. Right: Columbia Records

Of course, the calculated makeover still has power when utilized correctly. Just ask Madonna—she’s made an entire career out of it. Her (accidental) Hyperpop era was nearly a decade ago, with her 2015 single “Bitch I’m Madonna.” She enlisted a then-anonymous Sophie to provide added production. But Madonna’s reinventions and (sometimes controversial) cultural vulturing are an integral part of her art and curiosity, not just the result of a marketing committee. Katy Perry is posing like Arca. Madonna is actually hanging out with Arca.

No one may be as good at reinvention as Madonna, but no one is better at mastering the Hyperpop look than actual Hyperpop artists. But as long as there’s new music to promote and a social media content vacuum to fill, it seems our less-inspired pop stars will keep trying to do both.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top