The contemporary sonic soundscape of pop music toward the end of the 2010s lent itself heavily to a sort of anti-melodicism, a particular dissonance that sprang up in the likes of queer underground artist collectives. Listen to the jagged lilt of a Charli XCX tune, or even the awry and positively mechanical-esque sounds peppered throughout some Arca, Kim Petras, or Slayyyter songs and you will quickly feel a sort of futuristic undertone; a wedding of mechanical noise with melody which characterizes hyper-pop.
Dubbed in its early iterations through the moniker of PC music, the collective and sonic trends of the hyper-pop movement can be traced back to the likes of artists A.G Cook, 100 Gecs, and the late visionary SOPHIE. The genre, in its most potent and evolved form, involves a certain sort of post-ironic kitsch, an over-aestheticization and parodical manifestation of pop music pushed to its extremes. Songs like Click and fan-favorite ‘Track 10’ by Charli XCX (which has reached almost mythical status in queer spaces) are both camp, kitsch, and futurism all rolled into one. Digital synthesizers are crunched, stretched, sped-up and warped, testing the very limits of compression, often leaving one’s speakers warbled, with bass and high-frequency notes squelching and competing for space within the monitors, it is, in the words of Brian Eno, “the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart”
Further to this, artists such as Slayyyter, Ayesha Erotica, Kim Petras, and Sophie, wholly emblematic of the movement, have all at one point or another utilized the aesthetics of pop culture in similar ways, spoofing and extremetizing the hallmarks of late nineties and early 2000’s icons like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. All midriff, rhinestones, and coquettish tongue-in-cheek sex appeal, the visual world for these artists revolve around a certain reverence for and fetishization of consumption, a post-modern acknowledgment of the consumer culture that brought us the heyday of pop music in its most confectionary form.
In a way, the sonic and visual world of hyper-pop is a perfect symbiosis for an artistic movement, where the clanging dissonance of its digital instruments serves to reveal the constructed, synthetic, and fallible nature of digital synthesization, and the uber-femme hyper-sexualized and commodified aesthetics of these artists serve to reveal the equally constructed, synthetic and fallible nature of the consumer society that wrought popular music and culture in its current iteration. In this way, hyper-pop is resolutely post-modern in its acknowledgment of its own constructed-ness and its self-reflexive obsession with irony, kitsch, and camp.
It, however, harkens back to a certain utopian vision of culture manifested by artists of the early avant-garde in the 20th century. That of artists with a resolutely modernist disposition, who sprang up within the modernist era. Hyper-pop, to be sure, sounds like the future, and for whatever reason, the abrasive sonic and visual components that these artists string together beget a certain vision of where culture is headed, where human emotion and melodicism blend with machinic noise. The utopianism of the futurists, for all of their quixotic reverence of the city and the machine and the world of noise and industrial culture, were seated firmly at the precipice of the industrial revolution and were reacting to the exponentially rapid advancement of technology and industry within urban centers. Luigi Russolo in his manifesto on The Art of Noise, quipped ““Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibilities of men.” Having created an entirely new class of instruments whose dissonant and industrial sounds created a new sonic vocabulary, one can’t help but see Russolo’s reverence for “noise” in its digital iteration as Hyper-Pop.
Are not the hyper-popists amongst us rather equally quixotic in their reverence of noise? In their nostalgia for and obsession with hyper-aestheticized consumerism and the amplification of the sonic world of the digital, it wouldn’t be completely off-base to look at the likes of SOPHIE, Arca, and A.G Cook, as post-modern auteurs of a sonic and aesthetic neo-futurism, brought on by a self-reflexive but concomitantly romanticized perspective on the hyper-reality in which we now live.
Of course, musical niches and subcultures, it’s been argued, operate outside of the dominant culture while remaining engaged in a continual act of negotiation and renegotiation with the mainstream. However, no matter how anti-establishment their intentions are, subcultures always seem to arrive at the same fate: The commodification and aestheticization of their resistance by the very central structures they seek to resist. What is there left to do, then, other than to embrace that fate?
In many ways, Futurism and the avant-garde utopianism of the early 20th century gave way to the contemporary post-modern period. No longer are we enamored by technological progress in the ways we once were, and in some senses, collectively, the cultural consciousness has receded into a sort of ideological and existential nihilism as capitalism encroaches upon any cultural subversion to the status quo.
The avant-garde simply became canonical in the collective cultural consciousness, and to a large extent, Hyper-Pop reflexively and intuitively understands the ephemerality of both the signifiers and aesthetics of culture and their continual regurgitation and transience. Instead of existing steadfastly in opposition toward the mainstream as the Futurists did, Hyper-Pop, and the general attitude of a post-modern neo-futurism, is a sort of pastiche; an acknowledgment of the overbearing presence of commodification and an aestheticization and sonic caricaturization of its omnipresence within the digital, with no real aim other than to probe creative possibilities within this paradigm.
Pastiche, according to Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” is “like parody, the imitation of a peculiar mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs.” In this way, hyper-Pop is wholly emblematic of the contemporary socio-cultural milieu in the almost planned obsolescence of the movement, based purely on its ability to mine and mimic the pop-cultural consciousness until the well has run dry; ultimately with little to say of this mimicry, other than to unearth the constructed-ness of the signifiers of pop culture. Jameson speaks of this tendency in post-modernism as being inherent to the collapse of the high-modernist ideology of style, writing “the producers of culture have nowhere to turn but to the past: the imitation of dead styles, speech through all the masks and voices stored up in the imaginary museum of a now global culture.”
The aughts and the now reverent nostalgia for an unencumbered and mythological era of consumer capitalism encompass a wealth of aesthetic symbols to regurgitate and re-appropriate, and along with contemporary nostalgia for Y2K aesthetics, hyper-pop and its tangential association to the return of the aughts marks a move toward the next phase of “masks and voices” in the “museum of global culture”. In this way, hyper Pop’s planned obsolescence perfectly encapsulates the consumer kitsch it seeks to create pastiche out of. The product life-cycle effortlessly embodied in its own death and demise completes the cycle of consumer interest, where a new craze or sub-genre, and a thousand simulacra are sure to follow. As acts have now begun capitalizing on the term, and as Spotify’s Hyper-Pop playlist incorporates more and more acts that are largely tangential to the apotheosis of the movement, hyper-Pop becomes another phase, another genre another signification in the lexicon of the global museum. In the immortal words of Charli XCX “RIP Hyperpop.” Hyper-pop is now dead. Long live hyper-pop.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.