A Starter Kit for Getting Into Hyperpop, the Wild Gen Z Genre of Electronic Music
Although hyperpop can sound loud and over-stimulating, it's cool as hell, and one of the most interesting scenes in music right now.
In recent years, there have been a handful of undeniable trends shifting the music industry in exciting new directions. Latin music and K-pop have become increasingly popular global forces, pop punk made a resurgence in the mainstream, and in many ways, pop music progressed—getting a little bit weirder and experimental. Specifically, hyperpop became a thing in pop music entirely. Before 2019, it didn't even exist—at least, it didn't have a name—but since then, it's been codified, inspiring dozens of rising artists who have garnered a massive following, particularly among Gen Z.
According to Spotify Senior Editor Lizzy Szabo, who heads the streaming service's Hyperpop playlist that has more than 272,000 subscriptions, hyperpop is the kind of music that "when you hear it, you know it, but it's also a ton of different things." At its heart, though, it's categorized by a maximalist electronic sound, and is loud, frenetic, and fun. Although it might not click for everyone (frankly, because of how chaotic it can sound), it's nevertheless one of this generation's musical youthquakes. Like punk, rap, and even rock 'n' roll before it, it's the kind of music that parents today beg their teens to turn down that racket—but it's definitely one of the most exciting genres to emerge in recent years, and has the power of a very online community behind it which continues to propel it into more mainstream popularity.
Though the genre's life is short, you can find it everywhere. Even the most tame characters on Euphoria are blasting it through their headphones, it constantly soundtracks viral TikTok trends, and it's possible it surfaced on your most recent Spotify Wrapped, making you wonder just what the hell it is. Whether you've seen hyperpop discussed online or you're unfamiliar with it entirely and the thought of checking it out makes you feel like the Steve Buscemi "how do you do, fellow kids" meme, it's worth opening up your Spotify, Soundcloud, or Bandcamp and diving into one of the wildest forces in music today. Here's your Starter Kit to everything you ever wanted to know about the splashy genre.
What is hyperpop music?
If pop punk and futuristic pop had a child, that would be hyperpop. Melodic rap with extra spastic production and some hardcore sensibilities—that's also hyperpop. And so is the sound of the boot-up jingle from your desktop computer in the early 2000s, or a hard drive going through a wood chipper, or the record a DJ is spinning backwards at some unhinged Bushwick warehouse party.
Hyperpop is a lot of things—but largely, Szabo says it can be "boiled down to super maximalist pop with heavy, digital, glitchy, electronic elements. It can veer into glitch rap, bubblegum pop with a lot of Auto-Tune use, [or it can be] trappy, sometimes very emo." But at its core, it's largely "over-accentuated pop" where voices are altered in one way or another and tracks tend to be loud with frantic synthesizers and drum machines colliding all at once.
Depending on the artist, the sound can branch in different directions: more stylish, glistening pop, a la genre purveyor Charli XCX;l interpolate rap like someone like ericdoa and Tony Velour; or something entirely experimental and outrageous, while somewhat hinging on pop punk, like the DJ duo 100 gecs. As a genre that's primarily led by its musicality, hyperpop's lyricism isn't necessarily a top priority, although it does often fall within themes of earnestly exploring angst, driven by its emotionally intelligent Gen Z artists—or being entirely nonsensical and full of in-jokes.
What's probably most important to remember about hyperpop, though, is to not take it so seriously. Of course, the artists within the genre are spearheading an objectively creative, interesting sound and are masters of their craft, but this is music that's meant to be enjoyed with head-banging abandon. Trying to find meaning in a lyric like, "You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck"—which plays over extremely hard production in 100 gecs' breakout single "money machine"—would diminish the whole experience of simply enjoying the track for what it is.
What is the origin of hyperpop?
Although hyperpop as a name for the genre didn't become a recognized term until 2019, it had been percolating inside the pop stratosphere since the early 2010s. Many trace its sound to the influence of PC Music, a London-based record label and art collective founded by English producer A.G. Cook, which allowed for the rise of the late electro pop powerhouse SOPHIE, Charli XCX pre-pop superstardom, blog favorites QT and Hannah Diamond, and others. With many of PC Music's artists inspired by cyberculture and making bright, synthetic, hyper-feminine pop, the label was groundbreaking upon its debut—inspiring many music blog thinkpieces—but its legacy has only recently become fully realized. Now, many of the arty, pop-leaning artists in the hyperpop scene today point to PC Music as an influence of theirs, and some artists who came out of the movement like Charli XCX have embraced the term or contributed to the conversation around it.
While there's undeniably a connection to PC Music, there was also a moment in 2019 when hyperpop seemingly appeared out of the ether, like it had arrived from an AI time machine from the future. It was when St. Louis-based duo 100 gecs, made up of producers Laura Les and Dylan Brady, started releasing their music on Spotify, and by the power of the algorithm, people were discovering it, having conversations about what the fuck is a "gec," and whether the project was serious or not, but loving the electronic ridiculousness, regardless.
"When the 100 Gecs album [1000 Gecs] came out in 2019, it definitely had elements that reminded you of SOPHIE and A.G. Cook, but sounded completely different," says Szabo, who was familiar with Brady and Les as producers at the time, but hadn't heard their own music and was curious by all of the "underground momentum, especially with artists" around their debut. She says they first put the group on Spotify's Fresh Finds playlist, its hub for independent, experimental artists, "but didn't really feel like we had the perfect place to kind of celebrate what was happening."
Ultimately, it led to the codification of hyperpop. "We started looking in our backend to see if there was something else happening with this. Like, who are the collaborators? Who else has worked on this project? Who else do Dylan and Laura like? Through a mix of research and actually looking at metadata in the backend, one of our data scientists, Glenn McDonald, who assigns subgenre names to new sounds, assigned 'hyperpop,'" Szabo says. Feeling as though the name couldn't have been more fitting, the Spotify team put together a list of similar artists, developed a piece of glitchy artwork to use as a cover image, and launched the playlist in August 2019, just a few months after 100 gecs' May 2019 release.
The playlist had its first big moment when Charli XCX was put on the cover in spring 2020, which she shared on social media. Szabo says, "From there, the playlist really started to take off and, of course, [led to] so much conversation online with, 'What is hyperpop? Where does this term come from? Is that what we [as artists] want to be associated with? Is it glitchcore? Does it have a name? Where are the origins? Where's the conversation happening?'"
In that early discourse, memes abounded (very online artists calling it "hyperpoop" was a big one), but it ultimately only made hyperpop even more of a centralized scene. "We could see conversations unfolding in real time, pay attention to them, and be a part of them by reflecting what was going on online within the playlist," says Szabo. "Whether it was a new artist that the scene seemed to be supporting, or if there was a particular, silly throwback like 'Like a G6' that people were joking about, and use those clues to participate in the conversation happening online and show artists that we see them. Really, when it comes down to it, our goal was just to provide a space on our platform for these artists to thrive and feel like they didn't need to conform or make a sound that people had heard."
The hyperpop artists you need to know
With so much going on within hyperpop, it can be daunting to choose an entry point. The easiest and most delightful place to start is probably Charli XCX—someone on the glitzy pop side of it who continues to make fun, sleek, and approachable alternative music. She's someone Szabo suggests, as does teenage fan Bryson Hetzel, who runs a Hyperpop Updates Twitter account and fell down a Soundcloud rabbit hole into the scene after discovering 100 gecs with the release of their 2020 remix record after being a major Charli and SOPHIE fan for years. Szabo also notes because Charli and her frequent collaborator A.G. Cook work with hundreds of other artists, they're a great jumping-off point to find other names. "They're just so, so supportive of rising artists and so passionate about what they do, and so passionate about the scene," she says.
The two also name glaive and ericdoa, teenage artists who fall more on the pop rap spectrum and have quickly become recognizable names in the movement. They might lead you to quinn (or p4rkr, as she's found on streaming services). The three make hyperpop that's greatly influenced by hip-hop beats and is often very emo with heart-on-their-sleeve lyrics, which tend to take a more introspective approach (as opposed to aughties Myspace bands that might've vilified their exes). From there, aldn is a great, young name to check out who's worked with glaive and makes glitchy, sweet pop.
While they might be the most outrageous of the genre, you also simply have to check out 100 gecs. They are leaders of the sound and "some of the biggest names in the scene," according to Szabo. Their beats are chaotic and their lyrics are often outlandish, but with their pop punk fusion and rambunctious energy at the helm of whatever the hell it is that they're doing, you may not be fully "hyperpop pilled" until listening to them. (As someone who's seen them live, trust me: The reason that teens aren't hanging out at the mall anymore might just be because they're hanging out at the gecs show. They're it, baby.)
Why hyperpop is an essential music scene
Pop has been at its most interesting in years as of late—and that's thanks in part to hyperpop. While its most extreme songs may never get Top 40 radio play, the sound is shaping what's being crafted for the mainstream, and many hyperpop producers are getting in the studio with or remixing a wide variety of big names, from rapper Rico Nasty to Lady Gaga. Essentially, if you're curious about the music of tomorrow and who to look out for, hyperpop is the weird, thrilling place to look.
It being the music of tomorrow goes hand-in-hand with how young the scene is, with fans utilizing the internet as new ways to connect, make, and promote music. Bryson Hetzel of Hyperpop Updates says, "Many of the younger artists use Discord, Twitter, and SoundCloud [just as much as their fans], so they’re very in tune with their audience and other artists." On those sites—the chat platform Discord, in particular—artists, or fans who have been inspired to start making music themselves, congregate to form their own collaborative music collectives. And that aspect of a digital community ladders into the listening experience. Hetzel says many are willing to watch virtual festivals, in part because those kinds of online-first performances have less of a "stigma against Auto-Tuned, pitched vocals, and music produced on a laptop."
That acceptance of innovative pop and altered vocals can also be attributed to just how unabashedly queer the scene is. Hetzel, who identifies as gay, says, "Hyperpop as a genre is probably one of, if not the, most LGBTQ-dominated genres, both in its artists and its fans. Many artists are trans, like Laura Les of 100 gecs, quinn, blackwinterwells, Alice Gas, d0llywood1, and the late SOPHIE. There are many non-binary artists—Kid Trash, Siouxxie, underscores, angelus, dltzk, Fraxiom, Dorian Electra—and I think PC Music, Shygirl, That Kid, and Sega Bodega have a lot of [queer] fans, which represents a large faction of listeners." Where many genres have historically been heteronormative or have had few breakthrough queer hitmakers, hyperpop stands out as a space where it's not only the norm, but embraced.
From its often totally out-there sound to diverse roster of artists and fans, hyperpop is a force in music that isn't going anywhere. "One of the most fascinating things after two years of the pandemic is watching these young artists—some that are still in high school and two, three years into making music—finally connect in person with a real audience after developing and everything online," Szabo says. "The reaction of fans is like they're meeting a Beatle! I think it's super cool, super inspiring, super validating for artists that are doing something absolutely non-traditional and anarchist almost to see that reaction. It's not surprising, given how much excitement has been around this kind of movement."