One of the biggest misconceptions about hyperpop is that it’s new. Sure, the pop and electronic movement’s sudden marketing power and absorption into the major label system have given it a buzzy, trendy sheen. But to call it new is to negate a rich history of underground art.
Spawning out of the chaotic SoundCloud netlabel culture of the early-to-mid 2010s, hyperpop has been brewing in the DIY Internet music scene for essentially a decade. This has resulted in an inclusive, innovative, heavily-LGBTQ+ community that has only been recognized as a coherent genre within the past couple years.
As many have pointed out, hyperpop is defined by its uncategorizable nature, constant evolution, and impulse towards Internet community-building and sonic experimentation. The scene’s foundation is built on its ethos, not on genre or aesthetic constraints. So I thought it would be fun to look at the movement’s history through a list of albums that detail its remarkable transformations, both sonically and culturally. It’s a list that, while admittedly influenced by my personal taste, names albums that I feel make a case for hyperpop as an era defining music movement that will stand the test of time, instead of a mere hot cultural phase. Let’s get into it.
Lust is what one may call “proto-hyperpop”—a project whose aesthetic and cultural influence is perhaps felt more than heard and more a catalyst for everything that came after it. Meishi themself might scoff at being put under the hyperpop umbrella, but their first album remains an important piece of Internet music history, both for the sounds it produced and what it represented to the scene at large.
Originally released in 2012 and reissued in 2014, Lust was an experimental electronic-pop album that absorbed J-pop, video game music references, and sleek digital production into a foggy shoegaze abyss—a combination of influences artists still utilize to this day (look no further than dltzk’s 2021 album, Frailty).
Aesthetically, Lust’s juxtaposition of heavily-processed vocals next to cacophonous noise and Japanese-inspired electronic instrumentation was likely a blueprint for many soundscapes that followed, even if the surface presentation evolved over time. Tonally, its sincerity permeates every robotic vocal, every 909 kick drum, marking an early scene intention of finding emotion and genuine pleasure in unexpected, “ironic” creative choices. “Ajs,” a certified Internet music classic, is one of the prettiest, most heartfelt songs I’ve ever heard.
And that’s all before even mentioning Zoom Lens, the online-label that Meishi Smile founded in the late 2000s. With a roster of self-proclaimed digital punk rockers, Zoom Lens, which released Lust in collaboration with fellow label Attack the Music, seeks to traverse aesthetic and cultural barriers. Its roster of artists from East Asia and its diaspora represents an online community made possible by the international transmissibility of digital music distribution, reflecting the label’s characteristic dismissal of traditional genre barriers. This ethos extended to Internet music, and hyperpop, in general. Online music can be made by anybody, can be listened to by anybody, and is where normative ideas about music (pop music specifically) are laid to waste.
Maltine is one of the Internet’s premier net-labels. Artists and producers from the Japanese imprint—such as Pa’s Lam System, Tomggg, and Park Golf—heavily inspired the pop-electronic sound of the Internet music scene in the early-to-mid 2010s. The label has also valued the elements of the Internet music scene that its members hold so dear. Maltine is about curation, giving easy access to its releases, and encouraging boldness and experimentation.
One of the label’s biggest lasting legacies is Pale Machine, the 2013 album from the British artist bo en. Almost a decade later, Pale Machine continues to resonate with listeners everywhere. If released today, it would likely be associated more with the digital fusion movement—an extrapolation of the chiptune scene that takes influence from the complex arrangements of video game music but adapts the square-wave sound design into more diverse sets of instrumentation. Pale Machine sounds nothing like the majority of “hyperpop” that gets released today. But back in the wild west days of SoundCloud, before the platform’s intense segmentation, Pale Machine was simply another contribution to Internet music. And its teachings reverberated across that space.
On Pale Machine, bo en showcases the versatility of sound-design oriented electronic-pop music and its ability to adapt older genres and movements into a modern, digital context. The project is in conversation with artists like Maxo, who were taking inspiration from artists like John Coltrane as much as they were electronic producers—some might call this style “hyper-jazz.” Bo en also takes from J-pop and Shibuya-k of the 90s and 2000s. Producer Yasutaka Nakata (and his band Capsule) was an inescapable reference for so much of the Internet music output in the 2010s (including that of SOPHIE and A.G. Cook), and Pale Machine mashes his style with contemporary electronic production sensibilities and a taste of theatricality. There’s an alluring lightness to Pale Machine. But the album is unmistakably complex, layered, and brilliantly written. It subverts pop music structures while adhering to the catchy melodic references of its inspirations, and it mashes genres and eras to the point of becoming something wholly unique.
I’m not saying bo en was the first to experiment with these elements—one of his biggest influences, Avec Avec (also a Maltine member), was doing similar things. But there’s something about his album’s bubbly tone, the influences he was combining together, and the methods of his songwriting that feel present in so much Internet music of the 2010s. It is therefore a great encapsulation of that period, and an important album in hyperpop history. The sound has evolved, but break down a project like Pale Machine into its core elements and you begin to uncover individual aesthetic strategies that have proliferated throughout hyperpop to this day. You'll also unveil ways of thinking about music, and that is something that can never die.
Unicorn Kid was at the forefront of the chiptune and seapunk movements in the late 2000s and early 2010s. His sound oscillated between those influences and EDM and rave aesthetics. In terms of trying to define major elements of “Internet music,” or hyperpop, it’s probably important to include someone who had his hands in some of the most influential early Internet music movements and combined them and filtered them through his futuristic pop vision.
Unicorn Kid, born Oliver Sabin, only has one full-length album: 2014’s Brain Wash. The album is the epitome of the futuro-rave vibe, containing a blend of euphoric vocal samples, tropical rave/Seapunk/vaporwave aesthetics, and highly-digital, often-chippy synth leads wrapped in this dreamy, utopian package. He then uses this style to create cathartic electro-pop bangers. It almost sounds like James Ferraro releasing something on Ed Banger records.
On Brain Wash, Unicorn Kid is as in love with 90s house music (The KLF was one of his biggest influences) as he is campy rave sounds and the lures of modern music production techniques. This album, and Unicorn Kid’s music in general, is self-aware and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it also emanates joy and creates a space for all these elements to co-exist in a coherent fashion. It’s Interent music to a tee.
Prior to the album’s release, Unicorn Kid had released music under Ministry of Sound, and played Coachella and supporting slots for Major Lazer. He was well on his way to EDM stardom. But in 2014, following the release of Brain Wash, Sabin ditched the Unicorn Kid project and has been elusive ever since. If he continued, it’s plausible that Unicorn Kid would be mentioned right there with PC Music and SOPHIE as one of hyperpop’s biggest influences. Instead, he’s more or less a memory of Internet music’s past, a cherished relic for those who were there.
By 2015, two years after the official founding of PC Music, the lore surrounding the London-based imprint was already feverish. A.G. Cook spun PC Music out of his friend group’s art school Tumblr experiment, Gamsonite, and immediately confused the hell out of everybody. Publications put out big thought pieces asking many of the same questions: Should I be taking this seriously? Is this a parody? Is it a fad?
In hindsight, the discourse that surrounded PC Music seems silly. Of course they were being serious! The music was great. But pundits spent so much time discussing the label’s ideological underpinnings that few managed to predict just how prescient the label’s genre-mashing, deconstructed pop-electronic style actually was. For many observers, calling PC Music the “pop of the future” was a way to describe what they thought the sound was supposed to represent. In reality, for the members of PC Music (most likely), and for a community of DIY SoundCloud artists (most certainly), the sound instead showed the very real potential of the kinds of pop music that could be made right now: sincerely cheesy experimental electronic tunes created from your bedroom, straight into your laptop.
To be sure, there absolutely was some meta-commentary imbued into the label’s designed mysteriousness. In addition to its front-facing vocalists who embraced an amplified sense of artifice, there were anonymous artists with no face at all putting out sparkly electronic marvels and off-the-wall DJ mixes. Random names (later revealed to mostly be A.G. Cook) would pop up and release new music as if they were a new artist on the label. This tactic made visible what is meant to remain obfuscated in pop music culture: the manufacturing of persona.
But come on, wasn’t that kind of obvious? Certainly there was no need for magazines to belabor that point over and over. Instead, they could have joined the artists who began taking influence from the label in a shared realization: this shit sounds good. It ultimately took them years to catch up.
While PC Music was one of many net-labels at the time exploring the intersections of experimental electronic music, eurodance, nightcore, J-pop, and bubblegum pop (just to name a few references), it’s hard to deny that the media infatuation with the label was an essential catalyst towards the mainstream recognition of what we now call hyperpop. Thus, their inclusion.
On PC Music, Vol. 1 (a compilation of pre-released material), the gang's all here. A.G. Cook, EASYFUN, Lipgloss Twins (A.G. Cook + Felicita), Hannah Diamond, Danny L. Harle, Thy Slaughter (A.G. Cook + EASYFUN) and GFOTY; almost every artist originally associated with the label makes an appearance on the project. And the tracklist consists of some of PC Music’s most classic pre-Charli XCX material. Hannah Diamond’s “Every Night,” for example, is as PC Music as you can get: its vibrant, bubbly synths, crafty vocal chopping, and stocky drum sounds combined with Diamond’s robotic yet emotionally resonant performance provide that cathartic, PC-Music pop bliss. And that blueprint has become so entrenched into hyperpop culture that it’s hard to believe that it was once considered experimental.
A track that does still baffle is “Wannabe” by Lipgloss Twins, a zany experiment in MIDI sound design. But even amongst the shallow chaos of the song is a central, snappy vocal passage; even when PC Music presents you with their most confounding work, they can’t stop themselves from throwing in a gratifying melody.
The compilation closes out with my favorite PC Music track, “Laplander,” which EASYFUN also released on his Deep Trouble EP. The song’s soundscape is pure euphoria: the soaring sample in the chorus, the layers upon layers of squealing, full-bodied synths, the pitch-shifting vocals—these elements work in tandem to create a distinct pop-electronic sound that will always be recognized as PC Music.
It was tough to choose which SOPHIE album to put on this list. There’s Product, the compilation project that consists of singles she released from 2013-2015, and Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, one of the most groundbreaking electronic albums of the millennium with hyperpop’s biggest anthem in its tracklist. I ultimately went with Product.
To be sure, the cultural impact of OOEPUI is impossible to ignore. You can’t understate its importance. In 2018, SOPHIE unveiled that she was a trans woman in tandem with the release of this tectonic body of work, eternally linking her art with trans expression and communication. Here was a woman, already an idol to so many artists in this movement, spawning out of her shadow of mystery, revealing her true self to the world while simultaneously showcasing the most fleshed-out, stunning, ambitious music the hyperpop movement had ever seen. If it wasn’t clear before this album, it was certainly clear after: hyperpop was and is a trans music movement.
That’s a legacy-defining piece of art. But the release of that album also recontextualized Product and the sounds SOPHIE was innovating years earlier. Remember, in 2015 Grimes accused SOPHIE of appropriating femininity as a male producer (comments that have aged horribly). But now it’s easy to see how early SOPHIE was intermingling trans identity with her wholly unique production style. She was, from the very beginning, an intensely cerebral artist.
Product introduced to most that industrial, hyper-synthetic sound design that became SOPHIE’s (and hyperpop’s) most recognisable aesthetic. That production style—compounded by all those pitched up vocals—-was indisputably influential on a musical level. But the ideas she brought to the table, which became more visible following her transition, were essential to the very fabric of hyperpop. SOPHIE’s style on Product highlighted the artifice of digital music production as it relates to the artifice of the body (an important theme of her’s). Through the computer you can alter sounds, your voice, and express yourself in a way your body might not allow you to. For an Internet music scene full of LGBTQ+ individuals going online to seek respite from the isolation of the real world, you can’t understate the importance of such a musical philosophy.
Product also simply contains many of SOPHIE’s most iconic songs. Every track on the compilation is revered by the hyperpop community. Whether it’s an industrial trap banger (“MSMSMSM”, “HARD”), fist-pumping club music (“VYZEE”), or squeaky, hyper-bubbly dance-pop (“BIPP”, “LEMONADE”), SOPHIE always brought that beloved combination of experimental electronic instrumentation and melodic pop catharsis—a combination that has become massively influential. Product, for many, is the hyperpop blueprint.
But SOPHIE was more than just her music, and certainly more than just hyperpop in terms of what she meant to people. She is a dearly missed public icon. And it’s hard to listen to “JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE” without shedding a tear.
Henrik the Artist has likely been left out of hyperpop conversations because he’s been seemingly MIA for several years now. But for anyone involved in the scene in the middle of the 2010s, the Norwegian producer and Rytmeklubben member is a legendary figurehead of that era.
With Friendship, a 6-track package released by Activia Benz in 2016, you can hear the vibrant, rubbery synths and erratic, Jersey-club inspired drum rhythms that would come to define “bubblegum bass” during this time period. Henrik the Artist incorporates those elements into an accessible, dance-pop framework, an approach that influences hyperpop producers to this day. Henrik’s penchant for melodic, emotive dance tracks can be heard best on project highlight “Lose You”, a buoyant track that swells with lush flute leads, club-bass tones, and an irresistible vocal sample.
Henrik the Artist represented to the underground Internet music scene a pathway to mainstream success, having released music for Diplo’s Mad Decent imprint before receding from the public eye. Where he is now, I have no clue. But his music lives on and can be credited as a huge inspiration to a vast array of artists.
You could make a case for a few Charli XCX projects to be on this list. Vroom Vroom, an EP entirely produced by SOPHIE, was Charli’s first collaboration with PC Music and marked her venture away from Top 40 pop stardom (and commerciality itself was a detour from the experimental-leaning dance pop of her early mixtapes and debut album). Another could be How I’m Feeling Now, which was very much a central part of the 2020 pandemic hyperpop explosion that brought her a heap of new listeners that’d been sleeping on her twisty career arc.
But Pop 2 is so clearly the choice here. It is Charli’s most beloved album and the apex of her and PC Music’s creative fusion. It also cemented her (at least amongst her fans) as a criminally underrated pop star doing groundbreaking things under the surface of the mainstream. Just look at the title. Sure, it’s a bit self-aggrandizing to label your album the literal sequel to pop music—but was she wrong? Charli and her collaborators made a pop music album that truly sounds like it came from the future.
(Number 1 Angel is wildly underrated, and Charli is, in my opinion, her second best album. But it’d be harder to argue that those projects are as definitive to the hyperpop movement as her others).
There isn’t much to say about the album that hasn’t been said a million times, so I’ll list a few bullet points of thoughts:
Did Charli XCX create hyperpop? No. But she did help centralise it, for better or for worse. She helped mold the archetype for the contemporary underground pop star, and showed a commercially viable path for this kind of experimental pop music. Pop 2 is the climax of that narrative arc, and thus one of hyperpop’s most important albums.
Few artists in the Internet music movement embody the ethos of the scene more than the Ohio-based galen tipton. Her sound design-oriented experimental electronic compositions push sonic and structural limits. She uses her recovery girl alias to mold that production style into pop bangers, and she fully embraces community-building with her music creation, frequently stacking her projects with members from the Internet music space (as well as encouraging inclusivity and accessibility through her new community garden label).
nightbath, galen’s semi-breakthrough 2018 album, is a great encapsulation of all of those values. The project is a 45 minute journey through a diverse array of sounds and ideas. It takes you through a parallel universe replete with industrial sound design and fantastical instrumentation embedded into electronic genres like Jersey Club, trap, bass-music, footwork, house, and more. It’s like an EDM album made by an alien who heard EDM once and decided to recreate it by filtering it through their own world’s musical language—it doesn't get more hyperpop than that.
And then there’s the list of collaborators on nightbath, which consists of a scattering of Internet music mainstays. There’s TOASTY and Water Spirit, who are both from the original roster of Hyperpop Records. There’s Atlas Moe, who just released a project with galen this year. There’s also dynastic and Space Candy, two legends in their own right. And not to mention the project was released through Deskpop, a legendary online label responsible for platforming a number of influential Internet music artists. nightbath is a capsule of Internet music—a project of fun, experimental electronic music made with friends from the online community. It’s important to recognize such an artifact as important in the history of hyperpop.
One could argue that 2019 was the year that hyperpop truly began. 1000 gecs dropped in May of that year, which lead to the creation of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist and the packaging of this loose, experimental pop music scene into a coherent genre. The playlist was many people’s first introduction to “hyperpop,” and the artists initially included likely defined the movement for those fans.
Dorian Electra’s Flamboyant, also released in the summer of 2019, repeatedly found itself on those playlists, and was a big part of the general cultural consciousness’ early identification with hyperpop. The album is, to this day, one of the scene’s more popular releases, and Dorian Electra one of its biggest stars. You can’t deny the impact this album had - and you also can’t deny its top-to-bottom quality.
Flamboyant’s fusion of bubblegum pop and new wave influences with epic, loud synths, EDM breakdowns, and Dorian’s characteristic, wild vocal deliveries make for a luxurious listening experience. Dorian’s style on this album is inseparable from camp: their glossy, decorative visual aesthetic and over-the-top, self-aware musical sensibilities make Flamboyant what it is. And camp, defined by the embrace of conventions rejected by mainstream aesthetic norms, can’t be separated from queerness: itself a central theme of Flamboyant. Dorian is a smart, thoughtful artist, dismantling ideas of gender through their content and allowing that exploration to inform the sound. Flamboyant is campy. It’s, er, flamboyant. It’s hyperpop.
The songwriting on Flamboyant is phenomenal. Dorian brings excellent performances and melodies to each and every track. Songs like “Flamboyant,” “Career Boy,” and “Mr. To You” are bombastic, infectious, and decidedly weird. And album closer, “fReAkY 4 Life,” is somewhat of a hyperpop anthem and a calling card for what the movement represents. It's is easily one of the most prominent and important hyperpop albums out there.
In 2015, a St. Louis-based squad of artists banded together under the name CAKE POP and released their self-titled project on SoundCloud. Featured on that project were names such as Dylan Brady, Robel Ketema, and Lewis Grant—a sample of a larger group of St. Louis artists that also included Aaron Cartier, Ravenna Golden, Pritty, and Kevin Bedford. On tracks like “Do You Think I’m Mean,” “Poison,” and the loosie “Sticky Fingers” (which recruited production help from osno1, aka Laura Les), you hear this wild concoction of pitched-up, auto-tuned vocals, intense distortion, EDM-esque drops with occasionally silly sound design, and trap drums. I wonder if this squad knew they were laying the early foundations for a new sound—the sound that hyperpop is now most commonly associated with.
Fast-forward four years and two of those artists, Dylan Brady and Laura Les, made a new album under the name 100 Gecs, 1000 gecs. The project was a sequel to their self-titled 2017 EP, and it continued many of the same aesthetic ideas they’d been playing around with for years. But this time it was louder and it amplified - or incorporated - more influences. 1000 gecs is a digital emo, pop-punk, and pop album with ska, hip-hop, hardstyle, nightcore, hardcore, trance, eurodance, metal, dubstep, experimental, and noise elements. I can’t believe I just typed all that out. And I can’t believe that approach became a formula for an entire aesthetic movement that’s now being commodified by the mainstream music industry. But I did, and it was.
There was kind of a full circle moment when 1000 gecs dropped. Just like when PC Music started getting attention, all of a sudden publications scrambled to figure out what it meant. But Les and Brady weren’t as enthused with the hoopla, making it clear that if you got some greater meaning out of their songwriting then that’s great, but in reality they just simply liked these crazy sounds. They didn’t set out to spark the catalyst for an entire music movement—to them it was coincidence. Perhaps it was that lack of pretension—and the general readiness of the music climate—that finally catapulted this Internet music scene to a more mainstream audience and into the eyes of major labels who were more than prepared to capitalise on this new hyperpop thing. Of course there’s more to it than that—100 gecs were also incorporating sonic ideas that had more broad, trendy appeal than most of what came out of PC Music. But there might be something to the organic creation of 1000 gecs, and the fact that it wasn’t made for anything, that made it so widely appealing.
At the end of the day, though, nothing indicates definitiveness of an artistic movement more than the fact that when something was released, nothing sounded quite like it, and now, it’s basically normal. That’s 1000 gecs for ya. And it all started in St. Louis.
The hyperpop movement is inextricable from Y2K sonic and visual references. From Slayyyter, Kyunchi, Ayesha Erotica, to international pop stars Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama, there is an abundance of artists in the scene who take influence from pop music culture of the late 90s and early 2000s. However, few work in that style as faithfully, and with as much charisma and songwriting consistency, as the Denver-based That Kid. And few projects can match the sheer fun of his 2020 mixtape, Crush.
That Kid spent the latter half of the 2010s spitting out crazy banger after another, with tracks like “Dial Tone” (ft. Slayyyter & Ayesha Erotica), “Rocket” (ft. Holliday Howe), and “Booty Call” representing some of the best contemporary Y2K recontextualizations the Internet music scene had to offer. That run culminated in Crush, a project that’s full to the brim with salacious lyrics, indelible melodies, and vibrant, glossy production.
With beats coming exclusively from Donatachi, Ayesha Erotica, and Ms. Cheeseburger, Crush finds That Kid bringing his effortlessly memorable songwriting and magnetic personality to each and every track. Project opener “Go Fast” is a punchy, epic extravaganza with vrooming synths, cartoon sound effects, and evocative imagery; “7 MInutes In Heaven” bounces, twists, and features a wonderful Ravenna Golden appearance; and “Taco Bell,” a song about having sex in the infamous fast food chain, is as funny as it is catchy and tender. And then there is “Kiss Me Thru The Phone,” a Jersey-club cover of the Soujia Boy classic. That track is the perfect encapsulation of hyperpop’s seamless ability to take cultural artifacts of the past and filter it through a chaotic, contemporary lens.
Hyperpop is evolving past its glossy Y2K obsession towards a grungier, more pop-punk oriented presentation. Perhaps that’s for the best—nobody has matched Crush’s immediacy, humor, and full-throttle impact. Not before or since.
I was in a packed 300-cap Brooklyn venue watching food house, the duo consisting of vocalist/producer Fraxiom and producer Gupi. Frax took a pause to shout at the colorful, lavishly decorated audience.
“This is a queer album!” they screamed to the emotional cheers of impassioned fans. It was hard at that moment not to recognize the significance of Fraxiom, food house, and the band’s self-titled debut album.
Food house first started gaining attention with “Thos Moser,” a collaboration between Frax and Gupi before the two even announced food house as a project. “Thos Moser '' was one of the first major dominoes in the early pandemic period that led to the hyperpop’s eruption. The track’s goofiness, absurd genre-mashing electronic instrumental, and instant catchiness was the perfect representation of hyperpop’s vibe just as people started paying deeper attention to the scene. Additionally, there’s this chaotic quality to the song and its video that feels so Internet—an intangible sensation that not only marked a watershed moment for the hyperpop community, but soundtracked for many the discombobulation of early 2020 as the world fell apart and everyone retreated into their digital spaces. Thos Mosers’ release represents a vivid time capsule in my brain.
So for those reasons, and for the fact that Frax & Gupi quickly became some of the scene’s biggest stars, food house is a must mention. But to return to my starting anecdote, you really can understand how important this group’s music is after observing a crowd dancing like crazy to each and every one of their songs and witnessing their reaction to Frax’s aforementioned declaration.
As a lyricist and online presence, Frax is strikingly vulnerable and honest about their experiences with depression, creative struggles, and trans-identity. It’s hard to understate how important it must be for people going through similar life experiences to hear someone they look up to relate to them with such candidness, and to have food house’s music to go to for solace. The impact of Frax, in the middle of their show, to confirm that the music is indeed made from queerness, and is for queer individuals, is strong enough to qualify as some defining shit. Lest we forget: Hyperpop is an Internet music scene born out of marginalized groups, the LGBTQ+ community in particular, congregating online to form a music scene away from the toxic constraints of IRL, mainstream music culture.
Not to mention that Frax and Gupi have been around the Internet music scene for a while, having been a part of the Hyperpop and Rora collectives, respectively, in the middle of the 2010s. They understand this scene’s musical and cultural ethos. On food house, the duo combines Frax’s cutting lyricism and playfully melodic delivery with Gupi’s endlessly creative, diverse, and luminsicent production style to craft an album that’s as fun and silly as it is emotional and earnest. There’s a free-spiritedness to this album that’s infectious—Frax and Gupi’s personalities shine bright across the track list. This is no better displayed than on “51129,” one of my favorite songs to come out of this scene, period. The song’s instrumental mixes synth-pop, electric guitar chords and dubstep breakdowns while underlying Frax’s heart-tugging melodies and lyrics. “I know the silence and the time limits and small cerebral riots are the perfect storm/No I’d rather you’ve gone and gotten help/One day I really hope you learn how to be yourself,” they sing.
With food house, the duo created something that truly resonated with people, and they did so by staying true to themselves. For that reason, the album will stand the test of time and become an important piece of hyperpop history.
underscores is so fucking talented. Their stylistic range is vast. They came up in the Internet music scene with artists like knapsack (now gabby start) making indie-pop-future-bass bangers. As a member of experimental electronic collective six impala, or in their production work for artists like That Kid, you can hear their penchant for maximalist, chaotic EDM sounds. And with their side project band Papaya and Friends, you can hear their knack for smooth, gentle bedroom pop.
On underscores’ beloved 2021 album, fishmonger, they wrap their distinct melodic and lyrical style with a combination of those sonic ideas. The album is essentially an indie-pop-rock-punk-hyperpop bonanza. It kicks off with “70%,” a splashy surf-rock track with an erratic, screeching performance from underscores. This immediately transitions to “Second hand embarrassment,” a rich indie-pop song mixing plucked guitar riffs, whispered vocal deliveries, and a jovial electronic beat with bubbly, gliding 808s. There’s also “Kinko’s field trip 2006,” where underscores pitches up their vocals over a rousing chorus and crunchy guitar chords. And there’s “Spoiled little brat,” a supremely catchy tune that closes with a chaotic stuttering breakdown and raucous guitar riffs. Fishmonger, in general, contains some of the best use of guitar rock influences I’ve heard from the hyperpop space. Not much sounds like this album.
Fishmonger skyrocketed underscores into vaunted air within this scene, and for good reason. It’s fun, accessible, detailed, and impeccably written. It shows the possibilities of combining hyperpop aesthetics with genres and sounds not commonly associated with the movement. Again, not much hyperpop sounds like fishmonger. That’s because it shows where the scene is headed.
(Also shout out underscores’ late-year addendum to this album, fearmonger).
Digicore, the newest evolution of the hyperpop scene, has continued the tradition of underground innovation on SoundCloud. As PC Music entered the mainstream music industry and the ubiquity of streaming began to strip away the sturdy community-building infrastructure of Internet music, there was a wide open space on SoundCloud for a new scene to emerge. 2017-2018 was a dark period for the platform—the net-label culture began to dwindle, and digital community sites and events disappeared. On top of that, many of SoundCloud’s biggest names outside of hyperpop—which included all the punk and emo inspired hip-hop artists of the middle of the decade—were poached by major labels.
Enter: a perfect storm. Gaining steam throughout 2019 was a new cohort of predominantly teenaged vocalists and producers, inspired by the likes of 100 Gecs, Drain Gang, Focus Group, and SoundCloud rappers ranging from XXXtentacion to Summrs, who entered the fray to create a new era of SoundCloud. And then the pandemic hit, putting everybody inside, including these kids who spent all their time hanging out on Discord and putting music up on the Internet. And their audience had nothing else to do but pay attention.
As a result, this scene, which is now known as digicore (a term popularized by SoundCloud and legendary scene journalist Bill Bugara) exploded seemingly out of nowhere—though the come up was likely accelerated by 100 gecs’ inclusion of artists like osquinn (aka P4rkr) on their edition of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist in the summer of 2020.
Digicore music is unlike anything else while simultaneously adhering to established conventions from other genres—so, in addition to existing primarily in online community spaces, it contains many of the same philosophical ideals of previous hyperpop scenes. It's a digital music scene that produces a hyper-digital version of pop and rap, often incorporating pop-punk, J-pop, and an assortment of electronic genres into its musical simulation. If PC Music made sounds so artificial it forced you to recognize its plasticity, then digicore instead immerses you into robotic soundscapes that feel as real as can be. Stuttering, pitched up vocals with emo and Drain-inspired deliveries; heavy layers of distortion; bruising, futuristic synths; and explosive trap drums—these are the basic foundations of digicore. But that still doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the wide breadth of sounds found in the scene. Digicore is more about the community and the musical ethos, not the specific sound. That’s hyperpop for you. As amorphous and confusing as ever.
That’s also how you get two defining digicore albums that basically sound nothing alike and yet still seem to be in conversation with one another. First, there’s Teen Week by dltzk, the first digicore album to raise the ceiling for projects coming from the scene and create a blueprint for what they might sound like. The project, which dltzk revised to be simply an EP ahead of their other groundbreaking 2021 album, Frailty, was an aesthetically, tonally, and thematically cohesive package. It displayed the potential for what a digicore album could be. It was a full artistic statement, not just a loose assemblage of chaotic singles.
Suddenly, digicore was gaining critical recognition—Teen Week forced the world to listen to these wildly talented kids. This is why I chose it over Frailty, despite that project revealing even more avenues for digicore as it evolved dltzk’s sound into realms of indie-rock and shoegaze. Teen Week displayed (and perfected) many of the hallmarks of digicore’s sound; robotic vocal processing, bizarro electronic instrumentals, and random bursts of breakcore samples fill up the project’s tracklist. But most importantly, Teen Week showcased dltzk’s emotionally resonant songwriting as they sing about teenage angst, familial disappointment, and social alienation. There’s a reason the artist/producer has attracted such loyalty from their fanbase. Teen Week cemented digicore as the alt-emo genre for Generation Z.
Then there’s the other titanic digicore album that came out six months later. osquinn, who initially blew up off the backs of singles like “i don’t want that many friends in the first place” and “bad idea,” completely shattered expectations of what her debut album would sound like.
Drive-by lullabies is an eclectic smorgasbord of ideas, playing around with everything from acoustic, experimental-leaning indie-folk, to lofi, MIKE-inspired hip-hop, to emotive pop over 2-step drum patterns. The closest the album gets to conventional digicore is “from paris, with love” with its brooding, dark synths and saturated trap drums. But even that track devolves into absolutely demonic EDM noise in the second half. Quinn’s production style on the album is so varied that to call it one single genre would be doing it a disservice. What makes the album digicore, above everything else, is the osquinn name itself. Osquinn is to digicore as A.G. Cook and SOPHIE are to the generation before. She is arguably the most beloved artist in the scene and heavily responsible for its popularization.
While aesthetically different from Teen Week, what makes drive-by lullabies equally as significant an album is its similarly mature songwriting. On “Silly,” for example, quinn has multiple vocal layers singing in a round on top of a heart-wrenching piano arpeggio—it’s simple but immensely effective. Throughout the project she taps into this harrowing tone as she brings us into her angst-filled world. Again, digicore is the new music movement for online kids. And it’s exciting as hell to see how osquinn and dltzk, at only 17 and 18 years old, will inspire the next generation of Internet musicians.
MAYA by M.I.A. (2010)
Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans by Uffie (2010)
Colours by Nadia Oh (2011)
My Teenage Dream Ended by Farrah Abarham (2012)
Intro Bonito by Kero Kero Bonito (2014
Riot Boi by Le1f (2015)
Big Juicy by Ayesha Erotica (2016)
Neō Wax Bloom by Iglooghost (2017)
Rina by Rina Sawayama (2017)
Reflections by Hanniah Diamond (2019)
Slayyyyter by Slayyyter (2019)
Hey by Petal Supply (2020)
punk2 by brakence (2020)