The uncertain future of hyperpop
By Ari Lauer-Frey
Hyperpop has proven to be one of the loudest cultural voices within pop culture and contemporary music spaces in the past few years. The label “hyperpop” is, in many ways, a discredit to what is created within the multitude of creative spaces that often fall under the label. It is a musical movement that provides a renewed sense of ownership and freedom to the creator, changing with the needs and wants of its diverse and exclamatory community. This community rejects definitions and makes its ability for change and reinvention the movement’s only true characteristic. Because of this, it becomes complicated to understand the term hyperpop and where its movement is heading. The future of hyperpop is uncertain; its path is as unpredictable as the music.
Hyperpop has garnered significant attention recently but has been growing for over a decade. The hyperpop aesthetic is often traced back to PC Music, a music label and art collective known for the array of Avant-pop and electronic artists either signed to or associated with it. The label was founded in 2013 by prominent hyperpop producer A.G. Cook, and has featured artists significant to the genre, such as Hannah Diamond, GFOTY and Tommy Cash.
Though the PC label was significant in popularizing some of hyperpop’s distinguishing characteristics, they didn’t invent the genre. Hyperpop’s roots are various, stemming from many niche music cultures that rose with the advancement of internet culture during the late 2000s and early 2010s. These cyber-DIY music styles — nightcore, vaporwave, witch house, chiptune, cloud rap and more — inspired the practices of experimentation, alteration and over-the-top attitude key to hyperpop.
Part of what makes hyperpop a difficult musical trend to track is its fundamental rejection of barriers. It offers the musical grounds to resist and reach beyond normative boundaries. For this reason, the hyperpop world has become a space for individuals with marginalized identities to access their voice within popular culture and the musical world. It is no coincidence that many of the most prominent names in hyperpop are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, notably 100 Gecs lead vocalist Laura Les, production virtuoso Arca, and the late SOPHIE. It is the attitude behind the creation of hyperpop art that makes it hyperpop, rather than a specific type of production, achieving a unified identity in the appreciation and acceptance of difference.
But these characteristics also make it a challenge to understand what the term hyperpop means. Genre may be hyperpop’s most significant foe. It would be hard to provide any cohesive description of the sonic characteristics of hyperpop. The sound of hyperpop varies widely, and any one song may blend many genres into a single piece. Dubstep, death metal, nu-metal, ambient, breakcore, internet rap, K-pop, ska, orchestral music, punk and more are all turned into musical tools for hyperpop artists to utilize in their process. Boundaries fall apart, organize anew, and thicken into a sound that is both too varying and too specific to be easily classified.
Despite the relatively unhelpful nature of the term “hyperpop,” it is this label that has helped artists gain recognition. The term has also achieved a cultural relevance, and with that has come mainstream acceptance. Many large artists have now co-opted some of the sounds and behavior of hyperpop, notably Lady Gaga’s 2021 album “Dawn of Chromatica.” The album is filled with sparkly, maximalist sounds, and many pieces feature significant hyperpop artists such as Arca, A.G. Cook, and Dorian Electra.
It also seems significant that Dawn of Chromatica is an album of remixes, a popular trend in the hyperpop community. The remix has been used by many hyperpop artists, producing works that entirely reshape their old songs, often in collaboration with many other artists. Notable examples include 100 Gecs’ “1000 Gecs and The Tree of Clues,” Dorian Electra’s deluxe release of their My Agenda album, and Rebecca Black’s absurdist remix of her notorious single “Friday.”
However, this moment of acceptance also presents a conflict for the future of hyperpop. With such success comes the possibility that its commercialization will be its downfall. When the power of the movement leaves the hands of its creators and moves into the hands of the hegemonic and profit-based giants of the music business, the movement’s ability to be a space of inclusivity suffers. Songs with too much edge to their sociopolitical commentary and discussions of identity will likely fall out of favor.
Even at this point in hyperpop’s growth, though it is a genre known for its inclusivity, it is still lacking in considerable ways. It is and has been a space for the queer community, yet many of this community and others remain unrepresented. Particularly, despite the many artists of color who have made important contributions to hyperpop, such as Rico Nasty, Tama Gucci, and Namasenda, the “mainstream” hyperpop scene has been an overwhelmingly white one. If hyperpop’s blending into dominant culture and commercialization continues, the logical assumption is that the accepted and promoted identities of the culture will become increasingly narrow. Its possibilities for inclusivity and range will dwindle.
The concerning influence of corporations can be found in simply questioning the term hyperpop. The name was first coined by Spotify when they decided to make an official playlist for the overall genre. Unsurprisingly, both the name and the playlist fail to fully describe the various sounds and ideas that can be understood as hyperpop. The tracks displayed on Spotify’s official hyperpop playlist are an essential but partial selection of songs. For the most part, the songs found in this playlist represent the most pop-adjacent forms of hyperpop; songs with shiny autotune, maximalist but professional-sounding production, and consistent dance beats. Spotify’s actions could be seen simply as a giant company’s attempts to understand a complex musical trend. Or they could be seen as a giant company’s attempts to control the trend by applying a definition to it that conveniently limits it.
Hyperpop faces the same challenges that countless subversive musical movements have faced before it. Similarly to punk culture’s history, hyperpop is challenged by what often seems like the inevitable effects of commodification. Where hyperpop will go from here seems unclear. Perhaps its origin as a place that rejects definition will allow it to remain rebellious and experimental in nature. But it is an attitude and community that originates from this place, not a term. And what is considered hyperpop (outside of the world of Spotify, at least) is more so this community than it is any one sound, and presumably, a sound is easier to commodify than a community. It seems the term is not a necessity. What becomes of hyperpop, then, is inconsequential. The name may fizzle out, but the tradition will not. This age of the internet community of creatives who defy boundaries and urge change will continue to do just that.